Community Action Agency plans move from Social Services Center

A Community Action Agency representative said the nonprofit will remain in the Social Services Center in Pell City but will continue to look for a new home with no rent.


PELL CITY – The Community Action Agency will remain in the Pell City Social Services Center for the time being, but it will look for a new location.

“We aren’t upset with anyone, the city or the county,” said Payton Lewis, chief fiscal officer for the Community Action Agency of Northeast Alabama Inc.

She said the nonprofit’s plan is to move from the facility, but it will pay the city the rent for one year while looking for another place to locate. The new rental fee is $300 a month and is based on the space the agency occupies within the Social Services Center.

The agency was not paying any rent before, and tenants are now required to sign a one-year lease.

“This is the only place we pay rent in the six-county region,” Lewis said.

She said the agency is hopeful it can find a new home with no rental fees. Community Action Agency is funded through state and federal grants. The agency assists people in need with their utility bills.

The concept for the Social Services Center, at the corner of Edwin Holladay Place and Second Avenue North, was for the facility to house social service agencies that serve people in need under one roof. Under the concept, the city was expected to break even with the operating costs of the building, but it has not.

“In order to balance the city’s expenditures for the facility, approximately $19,500 per year including necessary capital repairs, it is imperative that all spaces be filled and that all tenants pay an equitable share to defray the costs,” City Manager Brian Muenger said.

Muenger said he talked with tenants about the fiscal condition the city faces with the facility, which he said was worsened in recent years by the departure of three former tenants.

“The Social Services building tenants pay only their monthly rent and their own telecommunications costs,” he said. “The city provides maintenance, electricity, solid waste service, water and sewer and natural gas. Clearly, the facility represents a great value to the tenants, as opposed to private market options.”

Other tenants that occupy the building include the Christian Love Pantry and JBS Mental Health. The Easter Seals of the Greater Birmingham Area has planned to open a free medical clinic inside the facility.

During its meeting Monday night, the council, at the recommendation of city attorney John Rea, approved an ordinance declaring the Social Services building was no longer needed for municipal purposes and to execute contracts for leasing offices in the facility.

City officials said if the Community Action Agency moves out of the facility, the Christian Love Pantry and Easter Seals could split up the vacant spaces.

The Christian Love Pantry Director Allan Foster told the council his nonprofit needed additional space for food storage. That agency provides people with non-perishables food items in emergency situations.

Many of the Christian Love Pantry clients are referrals from the Community Action Agency. Some officials voiced concerns with the Community Action Agency moving from the facility because most people who used these social services have no transportation, making it more difficult to commute from one agency to another for assistance.

Lewis said Community Action Agency would like to remain in the Pell City area because nearly half of the people its serves are from the municipality or the immediately surrounding area.

Rental fees increased for JBS Mental Health from $200 to $300 per month. The Christian Love Pantry pays $600 a month for rent, and Easter Seals’ rent will also $600 a month. The increases will go into effect in July. Easter Seals is expected to start paying rent in September.