Tensions ran high at the Dadeville City Council meeting Tuesday as councilmembers narrowly approved the purchase of property for a fire department substation by 3-2 vote, despite unanimous acknowledgement it was "bad timing" financially.
Councilmen Darryl Heard and Tony Wolfe voted against the $18,000 purchase.
At no point did the council discuss the source of its sudden economic anxiety; however, last week, city attorney Robin Reynolds told The Outlook the city would be finding out the total bill on its courthouse square construction project in the coming days and the unexpected costs could be "substantial."
Neither Heard nor Wolfe mentioned the courthouse square project, but both alluded to financial difficulties during the council's deliberation over fire department expenditures, including the purchase of property near Gibson and Young's Ferry roads for a new substation.
Wolfe suggested waiting until the city was in "better financial shape," to which Councilman Roy Mathis replied, "OK, now, I can understand that. But if you're going to look at it like that, then we just need to shut the city down."
Heard set a more alarming tone.
"We might not be able to get to pay debt in 2022, if y'all are reading the same thing I am," he said, adding later in the meeting, "I'm not buying no land. I make a motion to not buy no land."
Fire chief Scott Atkins first brought the substation proposal to the council in September, explaining it would be within city limits and would improve Dadeville's ISO fire rating, or fire preparedness score. The lower the rating, the less homeowners have to pay for insurance.
Atkins said property owner Philip Young was offering the land at below-market value on the condition the city build on it within 10 years.
According to Atkins, the fire department has it in its budget to acquire the property using a matching payment on a firetruck grant that, while budgeted for 2022, doesn't need to be paid until 2023. The price being offered on the property, meanwhile, was a one-time opportunity.
However, while ultimately in favor of the substation, councilwomen Brownie Caldwell and Teneeshia Goodman-Johnson questioned its priority.
"I don't think it's a matter of whether or not we want a station," Caldwell said. "I think it's a matter of poor timing. If this station can hold off until we can get some other things paid for then I don't have a problem with that. But right now, we've got some stuff on the front burner that has to be taken care of."
Mathis, however, insisted on the urgency of the fire department spending, not just on the new property, but building maintenance on the Old Susanna substation. He also suggested Dadeville's ISO rating was costing the city economic development opportunities, eliciting a sarcastic "Oh, God" from an audience member.
"We've got to be concerned about the future; we need fire protection. And folks, I was there when Briggs & Stratton walked into the station here in Dadeville," Mathis said, referring to the large manufacturing employer. "It was narrowed down between Tuscaloosa, Auburn and Dadeville to get Briggs & Stratton. And the reason we didn't get Briggs & Stratton was because of the fire department."
Denise Walls, director of projects with the Lake Martin Area Economic Development Alliance, told The Outlook the company was GE, not Briggs & Stratton, but confirmed Dadeville's ISO rating was "a big consideration, because of the chemicals they use, but not the only consideration."
After much deliberation, Mathis made the motion to approve the purchase of the Young's Ferry property, which Goodman-Johnson seconded.
"I'm a woman; I like sales," Goodman-Johnson said. "That's a Black Friday sale."