BY STACIE LETT CAIN
Should the current Statesville City Council be bound by a decision made by a previous council?
That question is now at the center of the council’s debate over whether to proceed with construction of new headquarters for the Statesville Police Department on city-owned land in South Statesville.
During Monday’s meeting, council members again discussed the wisdom of proceeding with the project, which initially including space for a new fire station and Iredell County EMS personnel but was subsequently scaled back by the council. Once again any forward movement was delayed by vote of the council.
After much debate over the ramifications of revoking a prior vote allowing City Manager Ron Smith to enter into contract agreements with G.L. Wilson and Simcon to begin Phase I of the project, council members voted to postpone any further action except those having to do with funding for the project.
“We have a new council and a unique opportunity to set priorities for our city,” Councilman Steve Johnson said after making motion to revoke the prior contract on the project. “Debt limits our future ability to control our finances and we have to take stock of our priorities and our financial limits to be responsible to the citizens of the city.”
But new Councilman Frederick Foster questioned whether it was correct for the council to reverse a direction set by a vote of the previous council.
“Why are we going back and forth with this?” he asked. “The previous council already voted on this and I believe it’s wrong to go back and undo what they had the votes to do before. If we keep going back and revisiting everything, we will never get anything done.”
Councilwoman Doris Allison said the council’s actions go well beyond wanting to be fiscally responsible.
“If this conversation was about investing this much money in any other area of this city, I don’t believe it would still be an issue,” she vented. “Are you trying to say, with this motion, that you don’t believe South Statesville is worth an investment of $11 million?
“The reality is we are taxed every day for projects whether we like it or not. This project would benefit South Statesville for a change and this council made a promise to invest in South Statesville,” she added. “It hasn’t done that yet.”
Foster agreed that project is much more than a building to house the SPD. It represents hope for a decaying area of the city that needs it.
“This municipal building is an investment that will move mountains,” he told fellow council members. “If we got this building, maybe we could get a grocery story and a pharmacy and housing in this area too.
“I’m begging you here to do what is right and let this issue proceed the way the previous council voted it to.”
Councilwoman Amy Lawton, who was elected in November, also has reservations about the backward movement.
“This issue has been decided already and we are going back on that decision,” she said. “Doesn’t that vote, and our word as a council, mean anything?”
In the end, after exhaustive discussion, the council voted to again postpone a decision on the matter until more information could be gathered about the proposed location and the needs of the police department.
The council will take the issue up again during its annual retreat in February.
The council’s action prevents the signing contracts with G.L. Wilson and SimCon, meaning financial terms could changed or the contractors could walk away from the deal. The city would then have to start the process of find new contractors. If the city council ends up shelving the project, the nearly $1 million invested in design, the purchase of the land and staff hours devoted to the project would be lost.