At a news conference Monday, Prichard Mayor Jimmie Gardner blamed City Council members and local media for disseminating what he claimed was false information, following the council’s decision at a special called meeting Sunday morning not to purchase two fire trucks.
Gardner called the news conference in order to “dispel rumors” related to the $562,000 purchase agreement for the two fire engines. While he blamed councilors for suggesting the engines would cost more than $1 million total, Gardner said “nothing is further from the truth.”
“The truth needs to be told and it’s going to be told today,” he said.
However, the nine-year lease/purchase agreement with First Government — which Gardner read aloud to reporters — states the deal comes with more than $500,000 in interest, making the total more than $1 million if not paid off early. Gardner said the trucks could be paid off as early as March 2019, following what are traditionally the city’s most financially sound months.
Gardner asked assembled reporters to “investigate” claims made by councilors before airing or publishing their comments.
“You need to vet a lot of the things being shared, instead of just sharing it,” he said. “You don’t just put a mic in someone’s face and let them say whatever they want.”
Councilors voted down Gardner’s proposal because they felt the interest would be too costly. Gardner told reporters the city’s poor credit rating made it hard to get a better interest rate on the deal.
“I will fight for our citizens to have a better quality of life,” Gardner said. “We will no longer put Band-Aids on equipment. It’s gone on for too many years.”
Councilman Lorenzo Martin said councilors were working with Regions Bank on a better rate for a single truck instead of two.
“The council is trying to get a better deal,” he said.
In fact, at the same time Gardner was holding his press event, councilors were working to possibly finalize a deal on one engine. The only difference between the truck sitting outside the front steps of the complex Monday morning and those Gardner wanted to buy is that the city owns a two-seater model, Martin said; councilors want one with a crew cab.
Martin said the truck the council is trying to buy costs $240,000. The city would purchase it with cash or finance it, using the money that would have gone toward two trucks to hire a permanent fire chief.
With what is left of the $10,000 per month slated to pay for two trucks, Martin said the council would also like to give firefighters a raise, buy new equipment, hire a certified diesel mechanic and do minor repairs to the fire station.
In addition to explaining the fire truck purchase, Gardner asked for city leaders to come together for the good of the residents. He wanted to sit down with councilors and discuss the issues, suggesting there has been a communication breakdown.
Prichard has not paid a bill for its fire hydrants in almost a full calendar year, Gardner also told reporters. The issue has resulted in a lawsuit.
The city has stayed current on the bill it pays for water service at its buildings. However, Gardner refuses to pay the total amount for hydrants he says don’t exist or are malfunctioning.
“Citizens don’t want me to pay for things that don’t work properly,” Gardner said.
Gardner also said he doesn’t believe all of the nearly 1,200 hydrants the city is billed for each month exist. In addition, he said the Prichard Water Works and Sewer board hasn’t produced addresses for each of the hydrants, even though a court order compels them to do so.
Gardner used an example from a fire over the weekend to prove his point. He said firefighters were unable to find a hydrant they were told existed near the site of a structural fire and instead had to pump water through hundreds of feet of hose. He said the distance the water was pumped decreased water pressure.
“The issue has gone on too long,” he said. “I’m going to fight tooth and nail against it, with or without the council.”
The water and sewer board, which is appointed by the council, has an obligation to fix the issue before it’s properly adjudicated, Gardner said.
The court has ordered the city and the water board to work together to inspect all of the hydrants, but the entities can’t agree on whether they are functional and haven’t completed the inspections, Martin said.
Martin said he would like the city and the board to hire an independent inspector for the hydrants.
As for whether all the hydrants exist, Martin said he believes they do and suggested the city is responsible for identifying them. He said some of the confusion comes from hydrants in the city’s police jurisdiction, which is still the responsibility of the city.