Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard enjoys a lighter moment before the start of Tuesday’s Albany City Commission meeting. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)
ALBANY — While most of the fireworks at Tuesday’s Albany City Commission work session focused on the resignation of City Manager James Taylor and the surprise vote to name former Water, Gas & Light Commission interim General Manager Tom Berry as Taylor’s replacement, commissioners still managed to consider a full slate of agenda items, including moving forward with the city’s proposed multimodal transportation site.
Assistant City Manager Wes Smith told commissioners the working budget for the project currently stands at $4.8 million, $3.9 million of which will come from federal funding. But Smith noted a potential hurdle that might again disrupt the project that has been on the drawing board for more than a decade.
“We are not allowed to negotiate a price for acquisition of the property at the preferred site until we’ve completed an environmental assessment,” Smith said. “And while I’m comfortable the project will be in line for additional funding — the governor told us that if any state funding was available, we’d get it — we can’t apply for additional funding until the EA process is completed.”
Ward VI Commissioner Tommie Postell asked Smith about a “ballpark cost” of the preferred site, the current home of the Trailways bus depot and the city’s Transit Authority at 300 W. Oglethorpe Blvd., but Smith again said he could not get an estimated value of the property until the environmental assessment is completed.
“These property owners are not going to sell that land at a discount to help us,” Postell said. “I’m looking at $3 million to $4 million. What are we going to do then? Are we going to pay them what they want or start this whole process over again?”
Smith presented three multimodal options for the commission to consider, and Postell said he favored the least expensive one. But Ward III Commissioner B.J. Fletcher said her research indicated another option might be better.
“I’ve been there and looked at all three options (presented),” Fletcher said. “It would cost a few more dollars, but I think Option 3 would help existing businesses like Carter’s Grill, Jimmie’s Hot Dogs and the Civil Rights Museum.”
Smith said that option would be the most attractive and offer the most opportunity for future growth, and the board voted 4-3 to accept the option preferred by Fletcher. The site is in Ward III.
The commission also voted to approve a sewer line extension project that would pave the way for a McDonald’s restaurant at the southwest corner of Gillionville Road and Westover Boulevard, which is located in the unincorporated area of the county. Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard said that area should be annexed by the city, and Postell complained that the county should pay for the work since the property is in the unincorporated area. Smith pointed out that McDonald’s would pay for the work, and the Ward VI commissioner rescinded his objections.
The board tentatively voted to approve $200,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding for Flint River Habitat for Humanity, money that would be used to make HVAC and door repairs on 28 homes in the community.
Water, Gas & Light Commissioner Chad Warbington addressed the board “as a private citizen,” asking that a charter change previously recommended by WG&L be tabled due to the “confusion” and “distrust” the matter had generated among utility employees and city officials.
Following Warbington’s comments, Postell remarked, “I appreciate your input, but I don’t need it.”
Mayor Dorothy Hubbard said, “I appreciate Mr. Warbington coming before us,” and Postell replied, “I appreciate him coming over as an individual, but I don’t appreciate him coming over here and telling us what to do.”
When Hubbard said, “We are all, as citizens, entitled to express our opinions,” Postell replied, “I’m expressing mine.”
The mayor chastised Postell, saying, “I don’t think we should criticize any citizen for exercising his right to come and speak before this board.” The Ward VI commissioner said, “He has a right to speak, but he doesn’t have a right to tell us what to do.”