The City Council majority rejected Councilman Billy Jackson’s attempt Monday to table the purchase of land for a new Southwest Decatur fire station.
In a 3-2 vote, the council approved buying just over 1 acre at 2704 Danville Road S.W. for $375,000 with the plan to move Fire Station 5 to the property. Fire Chief Tony Grande has said the existing Station 5 is too small for most of the department's fire trucks, and its living quarters for firefighters are cramped.
The City Council also approved "Turtles on the Town," a project by 17-year-old Lucy Orr in which bronze turtles will be placed along Second Avenue downtown as part of a scavenger hunt for kids and tourists.
Jackson told the council in its pre-meeting work session that he would like an evaluation on whether it would cost less to demolish Station 5 and then build a two-story station on its current site. The site approved by the council, near the intersection with Modaus Road, is about one-half mile south of the current site.
Jackson said the council could possibly use money allocated for the new Station 5 land to buy property for another fire station farther out in Southwest Decatur “where we’re growing. It would be more practical and cost effective to build on the same location.”
Jackson said saving money and using it on a new Southwest station “is more crucial (than buying land for Station 5). We’ve got an opportunity to save almost $400,000.”
The Southwest Decatur station opened in 1963. Its coverage area is west of Beltline Road Southwest and includes the largest part of the city’s police jurisdiction.
Councilman Charles Kirby sided with Jackson, saying, “we haven’t looked at any alternatives.”
But Council President Paige Bibbee, who was supported in the vote by council members Kristi Hill and Chuck Ard, said the council has discussed the issue enough.
Grande made a presentation on the need for a new Station 5 and a station in the city’s annexed area of Limestone County during fiscal 2019 budget talks.
Chief Financial Officer John Andrzejewski said Grande presented another analysis in June. The council discussed the station again with Grande in September during fiscal 2020 budget talks and added $400,000 in the new budget for the purchase of the land.
“I love that station, and I would love to see a two-story building on that spot, but we’ve discussed this year after year,” said Bibbee, whose late father worked at Station 5.
The council recently gave Andrzejewski and Grande permission to make an offer on the new property. Andrzejewski said the land appraised at $390,000 so council approval was all that was keeping the purchase from closing.
“The process of purchasing the land has come to the point that the council needs to make a decision,” Andrzejewski said. “We don’t want to delay the closing two or three weeks.”
Jackson pointed out that the city used portables while they built a new Station 3 and realized a big savings.
Grande said he did an analysis of Station 5 as part of a creating a long-term plan for Decatur Fire & Rescue.
Grande said Station 5 is only on half an acre and the expense of demolishing the station and renting portables and storage space for use during construction would offset any savings made by not buying land.
The fire chief said he also talked to Decatur Mall management at one time and “they were not amenable” to allowing the department to use a portion of its parking lot for trailers during the wait for the station to be finished.
Grande said moving to the new Danville Road location won’t impact ISO ratings that impact homeowners’ insurance rates. He said he looked at other properties on Danville and Modaus roads, but they are in flood zones and this could increase construction costs.
The new location would allow them to build a station with entry and exit doors that would make it safer.
Jackson said after the meeting he wants to see Grande’s report.
“My biggest concern is the lack of willingness that this council has to protect our citizens’ tax dollars by simply waiting until we can get appropriate figures side by side and make an informed decision. That’s our job in this or any other spending situation,” Jackson said.