Annexation tabled in New Site

Cliff Williams / The Outlook New Site Mayor Phil Blasingame answers questions about possible annexation in the area before more than 40 people who showed up to say they don’t want to be brought into the town limits.

The New Site Town Council tabled a decision on annexation pending further discussion and is entertaining an increase in water rates.

More than 40 residents who would be annexed into New Site made their opinion known at Monday’s council meeting. Almost all agreed they were caught blindly by the action despite growing up with many of the members of the council and Mayor Phil Blasingame.

“It looks like you guys are trying to be sneaky,” Gwen Bishop said. “People didn’t know about it. It looks bad. There are several ways to let people know.”

Like Bishop, John Burgess questioned officials’ motives of keeping potential residents out of the loop. While Blasingame said town officials dropped the ball in notifications, Burgess said with a little effort potential residents were able to contact many people within just a few days on the issue.

“I have 150 signatures on this petition against annexation,” Burgess said. “We only encountered two who declined to sign because they are neutral. We want transparency. We don’t want to be swept under the rug.”

According to Blasingame the current population of New Site is about 785 and he didn’t know what the population would be after the proposed annexation. In the 2016 mayor’s race Blasingame received 225 votes to Curtis Mims’ 146 votes. Blasingame said those annexed in could run for office.

Some questioned whether the move toward annexation is to raise funds for the town but Blasingame said funds were not even a consideration in the annexation.

“We are not looking at it for revenue,” Blasingame said. “We do not qualify for any low to moderate income grants. Those grants we don’t qualify for are because our median income is too high. The ones we do qualify for are competitive and point based.”

Blasingame said if they could get the population numbers up, they would qualify for more grants.

Other possible residents are concerned about increased taxes and fees. Blasingame said he has lived in New Site his entire life and never paid much. Blasingame went so far as to provide funding from taxes the potential new residents might pay. In fiscal year 2018 New Site collected $1,176.10 from the sale of items that have tags such as automobiles and mobile homes. He said that amounts to less than $2 per year per current resident.

Another resident who operates an ATV repair business outside the town limits asked about what extra fees and taxes he would have to pay. Many in the gallery responded they use the business’s services. Officials said he would have to pay $42 for a business license and he would have to collect sales tax which amounts to 3 percent collected by New Site.

“You just pass that along to your customers,” Blasingame said.

Most do not want new ordinances and laws to abide by or the taxes often associated with municipalities.

“There are those of us that choose to live outside the city limits,” Bishop said. “We have the county and state over us. We don’t want any more regulations.”

Others were concerned about what might happen in the future.

“What about tomorrow?” Charlie Smith said. “What about next year? What about in 10 years? What about for my children and grandchildren?”

Blasingame and the council said they would not pass new taxes but could not say what future leaders might do.

Blasingame recommended tabling the issue until more discussions could be held with all sides. Officials with the town have called a meeting at 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 24 to further discuss annexation.

Andrew Crawford from the Alabama Rural Water Association spoke to the council about a water rate study on the town’s water system. Crawford recommended a 3-percent rate increase for all water customers. He also recommended looking at increases in fees such as late fees and cut lock fees. The council asked about the new water meters bringing in new revenue.

“Some places have seen revenue go up with new meters,” Crawford said. “Some places do not. It’s different everywhere.”

The council approved applying for an Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs Block Grant from the community enhancement fund for the renovations to the senior center for the second year in a row. The town’s application was not accepted last year as the center had just opened.

A representative with the East Alabama Planning Commission who again is writing the grant application was at a public hearing just before the council meeting to explain the process and said rising attendance and membership also bode well for the grant this year. The grant is requesting $177,000 in funding and the town will provide $18,000 in matching funds. The project details were designed by architect Mckee & Associates. The renovations will refresh the outside facade, paint the interior, replace the breeze sash in the interior hall, install windows and doors, upgrade the men’s restroom, renovate a room for an exercise space and install a kitchenette with commercial kitchen equipment. An awning from the senior center to the gym will also be installed.

The senior center is also holding a horseshoe tournament starting at 9 a.m. May 18. The council approved purchasing sand, horseshoes and pitching rubbers to help with the tournament.

Blasingame encouraged those in attendance at the council meeting to visit Cazadores, which opened to the public Monday. Pictures on Facebook showed Blasingame with councilmembers Mickey Carter, Leslie Wingler, Michael East and Toby Hanson enjoying a meal at the restaurant Sunday. Blasingame said no meeting was announced and nothing was discussed, although the pictures showed a quorum of the council there. The council approved a liquor license for the restaurant in a previous meeting. It is the first-ever liquor license in New Site.

In other action the New Site Town Council:

• Approved the New Site youth football and cheer league use of the gym. It will have access to the office and cage year round and access to the locker rooms when signing children up for fitting uniforms and equipment.

• Closed a money market at River Bank & Trust in the amount of $4,829.46 and placed in the general fund.

• Was reminded U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers will be visiting New Site on April 23 at 12:30 p.m.

• Was reminded the New Site Volunteer Fire and Ambulance 18th annual fundraiser “Klassic Kruisers” Car Show and Trade Day is Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the New Site Fire Department and New Site Town Hall. There will also be a pancake breakfast at town hall starting at 6 a.m.

• Was reminded ethics forms are due April 30.

The next meeting of the New Site Town Council is at 5 p.m. Monday, May 6.