The motion to build a new fire station on the former W.C. Whaley Elementary School property on North Main failed in a tie vote by the Monticello City Council tonight. Mayor Allen Maxwell elected to not break the 4 to 4 tie.
Aldermen Sherrie Gillespie, Raymond Hubbard, Al Peer and Beverly Hudson voted in favor of the motion while Aldermen Josh McKiever, Carolyn Brown, Tim Chase and Claudia Hartness voted against it.
Alderwoman Hudson, commenting before her vote to build the station on North Main, said neither location, downtown east of City Hall or the former Whaley school property, is an ideal location but the downtown location is the least desirable of the two options.
Following the tie vote, Maxwell, who declined to break the tie, said he wants to build a station but he wants the council to decide where to build it.
“I think we need to take the emotion out of this and recognize what’s best for the city and go back to the drawing board and try to find a way to get this fire station built,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell said his primary concern is that the city’s ISO (insurance) rating is not adversely affected by the location. “If we do anything to hurt the ISO rating I will be very upset about that,” he said.
The state Fire Marshal in a report last year said the Whaley location would not hurt the ISO rating.
Because there has been opposition to the Whaley location from some North Main Street residents, Alderman Peer suggested that the Main Street residents be a part of the designing process.
“That’s a great idea,” Maxwell said. “I don’t know why we haven’t done that already.”
Joe Meeks, a Main Street resident who is in favor of locating the station on the W.C. Whaley property, told Maxwell that he could have put the issue to rest by voting himself. “If you really want to build a fire station you should not have abstained, you should have voted for it,” Meeks said.
“I wasn’t going to do that,” Maxwell replied. “I told this council several times that I expect them to make a decision on where to build the fire station.”
Steve Davis, who also lives on North Main Street, recommended that the city hold a forum to get input from the public.
“I think it is time to come before the people, not just the council, and ask them what they want and get them involved in the design…,” Davis said. “I think that would make a world of difference.”
Davis then asked the aldermen who voted against the Whaley location why they are opposed to it.
Alderwoman Brown told Davis her reason is financial. She said it would cost more than $1 million to build a fire station that would comply with the esthetics of the North Main historic district.
She said she talked to a building contractor who told her the concrete alone would cost $100,000.
“If you want to save money, build it on a (vacant) lot that we already own,” Meeks said, adding the the ISO circle would move less than two city blocks if the fire station is built on the Whaley property.
“It’s pretty simple,” he said. “Y’all need to come together and get this built.”
After hearing from several others in the standing-room-only council chambers, Alderman Gillespie asked city Finance Director Kim Fletcher how much has been budgeted for the station.
Fletcher said $465,000 has been set aside for that purpose.
“So money is not the issue,” Gillespie said.
Maxwell, however, said the station could not be built for $465,000.
“We find money for anything we want to do,” Gillespie said.
“We’ll find money for a fire station, that’s not a problem,” Alderman Chase said.
Alderman Peer said the discussion has evolved from where to build a fire station to how to finance the station.
“We have the money,” he said. “Let’s come together as a team, the council teaming with the community. And I would reiterate, let Main Street residents and the surrounding (area) be a part of the designing of that building.”
Chase suggested that the city consider more locations.
Alderman Hubbard pointed out that the city’s fire station site selection committee looked at a number of locations last year and the state Fire Marshal said the Whaley location was the best of those considered.
“But we were not looking at a place down here,” Chase said, referring to a site near City Hall.
“We’re going to find a location,” Maxwell said, adding that the city will conduct public meetings and bring the North Main residents in to the discussion.