Anniston City Manager Steven Folks had some bad news Thursday for Ward 2 residents who wanted to know when the government would start collecting the new gas tax and use the money to pave city streets.
The gas tax increase is already here, Folks said, and it didn’t raise as much money as many people think.
“When you talk about paving roads, $100,000 doesn’t go a long way,” Folks said.
Folks and other city officials spoke to a crowd of about 30 residents of Council Ward 2 in a town hall meeting at Carver Community Center Thursday. The meeting was the last in a series of four ward-by-ward meetings the city manager scheduled in January and February as a kind of citywide listening tour. The Ward 2 meeting may well have been the toughest of the four.
Residents of the ward — which covers much of downtown and western Anniston, where industries and residential neighborhoods have long been side by side — peppered city officials with questions about infrastructure, contamination and flooding.
Demetric Roberts wanted to know why the city couldn’t charge industries such as Tyler Union or Boozer Beam extra money for wear and tear on streets from industrial truck traffic.
“It’s tearing up the roads,” he said. “It’s awful on Clydesdale.”
Folks said it was a question he couldn’t answer. Under the city’s council-manager form of government, he runs the city as an appointee, but doesn’t have a vote on the council.
“That’s a political question,” Folks said. “That’s one I can’t address. I’m not a politician.”
Another resident wanted to know why parts of Ward 2 are so dark at night, with broken street lights that never seem to be fixed. Folks had an answer for that one.
“If you look at a lot of the lights that are out, why are they out?” Folks said, making a gun out of his thumb and forefinger. “People are shooting them out.”
As in earlier ward meetings, city officials pointed out a significant year-to-year decrease in Anniston’s crime rate, which police attribute largely to an increase in federal prosecutions of violent criminals. At Thursday’s meeting, police Chief Shane Denham said violent crimes are down more than 50 percent in the past year.
With the city drenched by mulitple days of heavy rain, however, residents seemed just as concerned about flooding, and in particular floodwater coming off industrial sites and into residential neighborhoods. Public works director David Arnett said there was drainage work that could be done to fix those problems, though money was limited.
The city years ago set up a stormwater fee on property to pay for drainage work of just that sort, though the fee has been unpopular with many residents. One man at the Thursday meeting told city officials he’d lost a house due to unpaid “flood tax,” as he called it, and had to pay off the tax to get it back.
Anniston Housing Authority director Sonny McMahand rose to give an update on the progress of plans to tear down and replace some of the city’s oldest public housing projects. Cooper Homes was demolished nearly two years ago, but a later environmental survey showed that the project was built on industrial waste. The Cooper site still sits empty.
McMahand told the crowd the housing authority has a grant to replace the soil and commence with construction.
Ward 2 residents had questions that went beyond one housing complex. Would the same problem crop up at the Glen Addie housing development that’s set for demolition? McMahand said it’s possible.
Others asked if the finding meant everyone in the neighborhoods near Cooper lived on contaminated sites, and how that might affect their health and the resale of their property.
“I guess we’ll have to dig down almost to the point of no return,” said resident Nathaniel Davis.
Resident Tim Brunson rose to urge people at the meeting to particpate in the coming census, and to urge others to do so. An undercount of the area, he said, would cost Ward 2 federal funding it needs.
“On April 1, if you have someone sleeping on your sofa, if you’re pregnant on March 28th and you have the baby by April 1 — you need to count that,” Brunson said.
Folks said he intends to hold ward meetings again in the future, but likely on a quarterly basis.