The Semmes City Council voted to withdraw from a nearly $6-million contract to build an 18,000-square-foot city hall that had been passed late last month before a new mayoral administration was set to take over.
The unanimous 6-0 vote at a specially called meeting Thursday evening reversed a previous decision to move forward with the project, which allowed former Mayor David Baker to sign the contract ahead of current Mayor Brandon Van Hook taking office on November 2.
Both Van Hook and Councilwoman Helen Joyce repeatedly said they were not against the project, but thought $6 million was too steep a price tag. Joyce said the two bids for the project came in “almost double” the amount budgeted for the project, which was around $3.5 million.
“When the bids came in it should’ve gone back to the finance committee,” she said. “Someone should have questioned that.”
Councilman Jason Herring agreed, saying the project, which includes office space, a council chambers and a community center is “too large” for the city.
“I don’t think it was the smartest decision,” Herring said. “We need to focus on the citizens and services the city can actually offer them.”
Van Hook campaigned on the issue of making more money available for infrastructure projects and public safety. He drove that message home again before the council vote.
“There has been little to no money spent on public safety, infrastructure or economic development over the last four years,” he said. “For us to turn around and spend $6 million on offices for city employees … is why I’ll vote “no.”
Before the vote, Baker urged the council to continue the contract. He cited an expected increase of $2 million into the capital budget in 2021 and also warned that prices for materials could continue to rise.
“It’s not just a building; it’s our home,” Baker said. “It’s the home for the city of Semmes.”
Councilman Charlie Watts voted to void the contract, but asked his colleagues about putting in writing that the city would continue to pursue the project and start work on it next year. That decision will be discussed as early as the next meeting.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access. During the month of December, give (or get) a one year subscription with TWO months FREE.