Mobile Police Chief James Barber got the green light Tuesday to purchase nearly 100 new vehicles for the department’s aging fleet.
The Mobile City Council unanimously approved a plan during its regular meeting to allow Barber to use $3.2 million from the department’s capital fund to purchase a total of 93 vehicles. Barber said the funds became available as a result of reorganization within the department and the MPD’s strategic plan that cut about $5 million total from the budget.
“We are amending the budget to move money from one fund to another fund,” Councilman Fred Richardson said. “I told you a couple weeks ago we weren’t broke and I’m telling you again.”
Richardson said the city has $43 million between the capital fund and the strategic plan fund. He added that he supports the move “100 percent.”
Of the 93 vehicles purchased 69 are police cruisers, adapted from the Chevrolet Caprice and 24 will be unmarked Chevrolet Impalas, Mayor Sandy Stimpson said during a pre-council meeting. He said the order would be placed through Bay Chevrolet and delivery would take six months because the cars will be built in Australia.
“My hope is because of the urgency and status of these police cars you would consider voting on this today,” Stimpson said.
Councilman John Williams asked Barber why the department needed these types of cars specifically. Barber told him that while they have used Ford’s Crown Victoria in the past, those vehicles were no longer used for cruisers. Chevrolet now builds a vehicle, specifically for police.
“They seem to be the best fit,” Barber said. “With a big V8 engine, they seem to have the endurance we need.”
The vehicles will replace a portion of the police fleet that dates back to 1994, Barber said. The older vehicles are expensive to maintain, at about $4,000 per year per car and the fuel efficiency has also taken a hit, Barber said.
Of the 644 vehicles in the fleet, “353 have more than 100,000 miles, 223 have more than 150,000 miles and 104 have more than 200,000 miles.
“I’m very pleased that this incentive was moved forward by the mayor,” Councilwoman Bess Rich said. “It’s a good program and I am pleased to do this on behalf of public safety.”
Barber said it would take a few years to replace the entire fleet of vehicles.
“I expect I’ll continue to come to the City Council in the future to ask for your support on this,” he said.
The council also approved a resolution to allow Stimpson to apply for $161,000 in state grants to put sidewalks along the south side of Old Shell Road in the Village of Spring Hill. The grant money would be put toward a continuing community-funded project to make that area of Mobile a “walkable community,” said Village of Spring Hill President Linda St. John.
“We’re slowly building the only truly walkable community in the city,” she said.
The grant money comes by way of a match, where local funds cover 20 percent of the cost. The local matching funds for the grant will be given to the city through a fundraiser called a Sidewalk-A-Thon, St. John said.
She said children in the community walked through neighborhoods asking for money to help build sidewalks. The children also had sponsors supporting them. The money from the sponsorships and donations will be used to secure the rest of the grant.
The city has to apply for the grant for Spring Hill residents because the village is not a municipality, St. John said. But none of the money will come from city coffers.
The continuing project to add sidewalks throughout the community has already made a difference and is attracting visitors from all over the city, she said. The sidewalks should have a positive impact on other parts of the city as well.
“It’s a mushroom effect,” St. John said. “It affects everybody, not just Spring Hill.”
Richardson voted in favor of the resolution, but said he would task Stimpson and the city’s Community Development department next year with finding the same grants to fund sidewalks along St. Stephens Road in his district.
“We already put sidewalks on the north side of Old Shell Road,” Richardson said. “We don’t have sidewalks on either side (of St. Stephens Road.)”
Richardson added that he’s not suggesting that residents in that community raise the money for the matching grant funds themselves, but said the city had the money to pay for it.
“If that street had millionaires on it that would be one thing, but that’s a low-to-moderate income neighborhood,” he said. “They don’t have the money to match a grant, they need to eat. We’ve got the money to do that down here.”
He said the city didn’t worry about finding matching funds for the widening of Cody Road, or Hillcrest Road and other roadways.
“The same place we got the money for those streets is where we can get the sidewalk money,” he said.
Councilman Levon Manzie said the city shouldn’t forget about communities that don’t have the infrastructure to do what communities like Spring Hill have done.
“All communities deserve sidewalks, he said. “All communities deserve lighting … and all communities deserve the amenities that add to their quality of life.”
Other councilmembers applauded St. John for her work to get the community organized around one goal and encouraged other citizens to get involved in similar projects.
“Linda St. John will come and she will help you get organized,” Williams said. “You have to find a Linda St. John in your community because it’s a 24/7 job.”
In other business, the council approved a contract with James H. Adams and Son Construction Co. for $2.4 million for a drainage rehabilitation project on Ann Street.
The council also approved a contract with American Tennis Courts, Inc. for $32,514 for additional windscreens and scoreboards at the Copeland-Cox Tennis Center.