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City agrees to fund cost overruns for CAFB firing range

 

Martin Andrews was sworn in by vice mayor Gene Taylor to be the new chief of Columbus Fire and Rescue at Tuesday’s city council meeting.

Martin Andrews was sworn in by vice mayor Gene Taylor to be the new chief of Columbus Fire and Rescue at Tuesday’s city council meeting. Photo by: Nathan Gregory/Dispatch Staff

 

Nathan Gregory

 

After tabling the matter two weeks ago, the Columbus City Council has agreed to pay cash for half of cost overruns after the lowest base bid for the bullet trap and building for the shooting range for Columbus Air Force Base exceeded the initial project budget. 

 

That portion of the new facility to be located near the old Maxim Medical Building the city and Lowndes County each use for storage was originally estimated to cost $900,000 to build. The lowest bid was $1.082 million. All told, the city will pay an extra $46,000 for the building and shooting range and another $100,000 for dirt work. Lowndes County supervisors have already agreed to pay those same amounts for the project. Advertising for the dirt work can now take place with the city's approval. 

 

The Golden Triangle Development LINK received a $1.365 million grant for construction of the facility on the condition that Lowndes County and the city of Columbus match 20 percent of that amount.   

 

The county and city previously agreed to those terms through "in-kind" services and land donations instead of cash. That would have meant using in-house manpower and equipment for dirt work required for the project. City and county leaders later decided that the manpower and equipment needed to construct a backstop to re-direct bullets was not feasible because it would compromise the ability to meet the demands the county and city already are obligated to. The only other option to fulfill the grant obligation, then, would be to match with cash. 

 

Councilmen previously tabled the request based on the understanding that there were no budgeted funds for the match because the original plan was for the match to be through in-kind services. Kevin Stafford of city engineering firm Neel-Schaffer told the council Tuesday that, in fact, there was $203,000 in city funding budgeted. 

 

City chief operations officer David Armstrong said it was discovered between the previous meeting and Tuesday that there was $203,000 allocated specifically for the range. 

 

CAFB officials conveyed to the LINK, city and county that a range able to accommodate their mission was a high priority for the base and having one in place prevent it from being part of the next round of Base Realignment and Closure cuts in 2017.  

 

The grant is awarded on the condition that construction of the facility is complete by October 22. 

 

 

 

Council sticks with Juneteenth grace period 

 

Another item on the agenda was discussion of beer sales on Sim Scott Park property during the upcoming Juneteenth festival. Councilman Marty Turner brought up the matter in the interest of uniformity among all festivals held in the city in terms of where alcohol can and cannot be sold.  

 

City code prohibits the sale and consumption of beer on public streets, sidewalks and parks but gives the council authority to allow such activity during nonprofit events. 

 

Juneteenth-Columbus, Inc., a non-profit organization, begins sponsoring the annual event this year after the dissolution of its previous sponsor, the Afro-American Culture Organization. County supervisor Leroy Brooks had been the president of the latter organization but does not serve in that capacity with Juneteenth-Columbus, Inc. This was done to comply with recently established Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau by-laws that prohibit funding festivals led by public officials. 

 

Turner noted that Juneteenth was the only festival held in the city where the sale of alcohol was allowed on park property while other festivals only allowed it on city streets. The city granted Juneteenth a three-year grace period in 2012 to allow beer sales in Sims Scott Park. 

 

"I have nothing against Juneteenth, but I do kind of have a problem with selling (alcohol) on park facilities," Turner said. "The last time this was done, I was not a part of this council." 

 

City attorney Jeff Turnage then explained that the city previously had no ordinance regarding consumption in parks, but after Juneteenth began to grow in popularity each year, a policy was eventually adopted to give councilmen the authority to allow consumption on park property on special occasions. 

 

Councilman Kabir Karriem noted that a sitting council could rescind a previous council's decision, including the three-year grace period it allowed the festival, but did not understand why it was being brought up again this year. Turner again said rules should be equal for all festivals. 

 

"They're selling in the street at Market Street, they're selling in the street at Seventh Avenue Festival and if they're selling it in the street at Juneteenth, I don't have a problem with the selling," Turner said. "We need to have some uniformity." 

 

Brooks and Juneteenth-Columbus, Inc. President Cindy Lawrence stepped forward to respond to Turner's concern. Brooks said not allowing the sale of beer in the park would mean the cancellation of Juneteenth as some of the money the festival receives to pay for entertainment comes from local beer distributor Mitchell Distributing.  

 

"A park is city property. So are the streets," Brooks said. "If you look at Southside and say it's not in the park, the street runs through the park, so technically it is in the park. It's all city property." 

 

Brooks added that he and Juneteenth organizers had "trouble" in the past with the CVB and "every other imaginable group that wanted to kill" Juneteenth. 

 

"I would hope that the issue here is not to kill Juneteenth," Brooks said. "The police department has worked diligently with us. We have not had any problems. I hope that the motive is not predicated on some personal thing. To put a cloud over Juneteenth at this juncture makes it difficult to raise money to move forward." 

 

Councilman Bill Gavin said the council should honor the agreement in place. Brooks then alluded to a a difference in opinion between himself and Turner and assured the council that the festival is being run properly and according to city code. 

 

"If it makes it easier and more palatable, sit down with Mrs. Lawrence or we will invite you to our next meeting and go through the whole details," Brooks told Turner. "We've been audited by the Secretary of State. We are cleaner than fresh, washed chitlins. If you need us to turn it inside out and shake it, we can do it."

 

Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.

 

 

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