Council Delays Vote on Firehouse Money for Third Time; Schedules Public Hearing
The city council will hold a public hearing on additional funding for a new University City firehouse on Oct. 24.
For a third time, a vote on approving funding for a new University City firehouse was postponed.
On Monday night, the city council approved a resolution delaying a vote and instead scheduling a public hearing on the funding issue for the next council meeting on Oct. 24. At the public hearing, the council will also discuss hiring an independent project manager to oversee the construction and hiring of minorities.
Ward 3 Councilmember Arthur Sharpe was the lone 'No' vote on the resolution. Ward 2 Councilmember Lynn Ricci was not present.
Several councilmembers said they hoped to get more public input, especially from residents who live near the proposed firehouse site at Vernon and Westgate Avenues.
A vote on the firehouse funding resolution will be held at the Nov. 14 city council meeting.
The fire department is asking the city to make up a funding shortfall of $674,494. The money is in addition to $200,000 the council already approved for a grant match for the new firehouse.
Monday's firehouse funding resolution said the additional funds needed to construct Firehouse No. 1 would be borrowed from the city reserves.The funds would be paid back at a rate of $100,000 a year to the reserves from the general revenue for the next seven years.
Fiscal Year 2013-$100,000
Fiscal Year 2014-$100,000
Fiscal Year 2015-$100,000
Fiscal Year 2016-$100,000
Fiscal Year 2017-$100,000
Fiscal Year 2018-$100,000
Fiscal Year 2019-$ 74,494
Ward 1 Councilmember Stephen Kraft suggested the seven-year financing structure at last week's council study session.
At Monday's meeting, Ward 1 Councilmember Terry Crow voiced his opposition to the payback plan, questioning whether a council had the authority to bind another council to such a long-term payment plan.
"Can this council bind future councils to make a $100,000-a-year payment? Crow asked City Attorney John Mulligan during Monday's council meeting. "This would not have a binding effect on future councils, as I understand it," Mulligan answered.
Crow said the resolution was essentially window dressing.
Mulligan said there was "nothing illegal," about the payback plan in the resolution. He said the council can sign contracts that go beyond a councilmember's term.
During the citizen comment period, resident Gregory Pace asked council who was going to pay for new traffic signal lights that will be needed. He said nowhere in the construction cost information does it mention the lights, just possible grant opportunities for the signalization.
"These things are not inexpensive," Pace said. "I'm assuming we're planning on the signal fairy to drop some money in our laps for the signals, because I could not find where that was accounted for."
Resident Edward McCarthy urged council to be cautious in green-lighting the firehouse funds.
"It's not that the firehouse is not a good idea. We all know a new firehouse is a great idea," he said. "It's, do we need it? And do we need it in this location?"
McCarthy said the site location is a bad idea. He said a firehouse should not be located in a residential area. "It's just going to get out of control," he said.
Resident Lawrence Taylor took issue with locating the proposed firehouse at Westgate and Vernon Avenues—land that was given free to University City by Washington University.
"Not because we chose it for our planning, and a good location. It just happened to be free," Taylor said. He compared it to someone getting a free tire for a Cadillac and that person buying a Cadillac to go with the tire.
"Your decision today to accept free land and free grant money will cost us somewhere between one and three million dollars."
PUBLIC HEARING ON FIREHOUSE FUNDS SET FOR OCT. 24
So far, no official public notification has gone out to residents living near the proposed firehouse site about what is possibly coming to their neighborhood.
Ward 2 Councilmember L. Michael Glickert said he'd have a hard time supporting the funding resolution without input from citizens living near the proposed firehouse.
Ward 3 Councilmember Byron Price, a big supporter of the new firehouse, also voiced support for a public hearing. "If public input was not given, it should be given," he said. "I would expect that for any other project."
Mayor Shelley Welsch said that while she respects the input of all University City citizens concerning the new firehouse, she respectfully disagrees with those who oppose it.
She said the new firehouse isn't new news, it's been under consideration for more than two years. She said the new location brings fire officials closer to more residents of the city.
"I think tonight is the night we should move forward, and I hope the council agrees."
"I don’t believe this is half-baked," Welsch said.