BY STACIE LETT CAIN
Even though there are three new faces on Statesville’s City Council, the arguments at Monday night’s meeting sounded very familiar as the Municipal Services Building was revisited.
Even though the previous council voted to award building contracts to begin construction of the project, it didn’t stop some members of the council from once again putting the brakes on the project.
“I think we are in a pivotal moment in our city and we need to look at the city’s economic status and figure out where it is we want to go,” Councilman Steve Johnson said, voicing concern over the $11 million project.
“We can’t just tax our way out of this. We need a plan for economic growth before we take on this debt. This has morphed into a police station, not a police and fire station, without any approval or action by this council, and tonight is the first site plan we have seen. In all my years of doing this, I have never had this process for a new building go this way.”
Johnson urged the council to delay any further action on the project until the city staff and council could assess the economic standing of the city, including a prioritization of capital needs, and address how the city can proceed without raising taxes.
Statesville Police Chief David Addison stressed to the council that his department is working in tight quarters.
“The reality of this is that we are going to have to deal with this situation at some point in the very near future,” Addison explained. “Our current lease on the Depot will expire early in 2020 and then it becomes the decision of the North Carolina Department of Transportation, the current owner of the building, as to whether or not the lease will be continued.
“If it isn’t, nearly 60 employees of the department will be displaced and an already difficult situation will become nearly if not totally impossible.”
Councilwoman Doris Allison expressed her concerns about the SPD being scattered among several facilities throughout the city. She said the council’s hesitation to move forward on the project was troubling.
“The reality of life is that we are going to disagree and we always seem to disagree about taxes and money,” she vented. “But this is also about public safety. Our police station is not satisfactory and we can’t expect them to do their job under these conditions. If we wait it is just going to cost more. This is for the greater good of the city and we just need to move forward.”
As the discussion continued, Councilman William Morgan looked beyond the council’s disagreement to a more practical look at the issue.
“This has been a discussion in this city for ten years or more,” he explained. “It has been discussed with various options and we, as a previous council, voted to award contracts on this project and we need to move forward. We are basically moving backwards and revisiting this issue and I do not support doing that.”
The fact that the project started out as a facility for police, fire and emergency medical services and has been scaled back to a home for the police department, has created division among city officials.
“I am struggling with the fact that we have changed this plan to solely a police building and we, as a council, have not determined that this would be the ideal location for this type of project,” chimed in Mayor Costi Kutteh. “I think when we changed courses, we never really did the analysis to determine if this is still the ideal location for this project.”
For Allison, the issue went beyond location or even cost.
“Just because $11 million is going into South Statesville, why isn’t it just a city building in Statesville,” she demanded of other council members. “Why do you keep putting South Statesville in a box? Are we not part of this city too? Is that your problem? You don’t want to invest $11 million in a project in South Statesville? That’s sure what it looks like and I’m sick of that. We are still a part of this city.”
In the end, Council voted 5-3 to delay further action on the municipal services building until council members review information on the location, site plan and a needs analysis. Contracts, which have not been executed at this time, will be delayed until further action by the council.