Building work may affect Fairhope budget

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FAIRHOPE – While revenue is expected to be up slightly for the upcoming budget, a large number of capital projects costing several million dollars needs to be considered, Fairhope Mayor Karin Wilson told City Council members.

The city of Fairhope has been holding budget hearings and should vote on a spending plan later this month, Council President Jack Burrell said Friday. He said city department heads have been asked to look at ways to cut spending in agencies throughout Fairhope.

Revenue in Fairhope is expected to be increase from $29.4 million in the 2018-19 budget to $30.7 million in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, according to city budget estimates.

Costs, however, are increasing. The city is expected to have to pay about $300,000 more for health insurance coverage in the upcoming year, Kim Creech, budget director, told council members at a Sept. 30 hearing.

The city also has many capital projects that will require funding soon, Mayor Karin Wilson said.

The building that houses City Hall and the Fairhope Civic Center needs a new roof and awning that will cost, at a minimum, $1.3 million, the mayor said. She said city officials need to start considering whether fixing or replacing the current building is more practical.

“We do have to look at this building and say what do we want for the future because we’re investing a lot of good money into something that’s, design-wise, not fitting our needs,” Wilson said. “We’ve outgrown office space. Everything that we’re putting into the budget every year for just band aids on a very old grocery store.”

The city building on North Section Street was built in the 1960s as a store. It was later purchased by Fairhope and renovated, becoming the City Hall and Civic Center in 1984.

Wilson said other capital needs include maintenance and a new roof on the Public Works building at a cost of $400,000, a police patrol precinct at a cost of $700,000, repairs to the Welcome Center at a minimum cost of $150,000 and other projects.

“You’re looking at, conservatively, $3.5 million in maintenance needs that are critical,” Wilson said.

Richard Johnson, public works director, said the average cost of office space in the Eastern Shore region is about $350 a square foot. For the $1.3 million needed for immediate repair, the city could build a new 3,700-square-foot facility.

Johnson said city officials are preparing a plan to repair Fairhope facilities over the next several years.

“We’re going to take these facility issues and kind of put them into a five-year plan matrix. I do want you to know these are. Most of these are issues that we have had on the burner. We know that it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” Johnson said. “We know on this building (City Hall) there’s a limited time frame on roof. It’s got issues and it’s not going to get better.”

Burrell said he was not told of the proposal for a police precinct until the issue was raised at the Sept. 30 budget discussion and that he needed to consider all the proposals before adding items to the budget.