Columbus City Council made an offer to one of the finalists for police chief during an executive session meeting Thursday morning, but no further details have been released.
The council held a roughly 50-minute executive session before the regularly scheduled work session to discuss the three finalists for the position. Mayor Keith Gaskin announced afterward the council did agree on a candidate, but that his name would not be released until negotiations are complete.
“We had three excellent finalists, and it was not an easy decision,” Gaskin said. “We are in the process of contacting the candidate, but we won’t say anything further until we have an acceptance from the candidate.”
Natchez Police Chief Joseph Daughtry Sr., retired Chattanooga Police Chief Russell Jason Irvin and Douglas County, Nebraska, Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Wayne D. Hudson were the three finalists. Interviews concluded Monday.
The three were selected from a field of about 40 qualified applicants, and each has about 25 years of law enforcement experience. The hire will replace Fred Shelton, who retired in August.
Woody’s on the Water
Columbus Redevelopment Authority President Marthalie Porter and Board Member Jason Spears suggested a revenue split if the organization is successful in finding a tenant for the Woody’s on the Water Building. They also fielded questions about the Burns Bottom redevelopment project.
The city has owned the Woody’s building, located at the Columbus Marina, since February 2020, when then-owner John Young donated it.
In January the council voted to sell the building to businessman Thomas Genin, who wanted to turn it into a restaurant and seafood market.
The CRA was tasked with marketing the site by the Robert Smith administration, and Porter told the council she wanted to continue under the previous arrangement. If the property sells, the city would get 60 percent of the proceeds and the CRA would get 40 percent.
“We’re sorry that the deal didn’t go through, but that happens,” Porter said. “We still feel like it’s a great place and that it would add something to Columbus. This is a new administration, so we thought it was a good time to revisit the agreement.”
Spears told the council the CRA had been drilling down into a lot of data about the Burns Bottom redevelopment.
“We’re looking at how we can serve industry and its housing needs down there,” he said. “We’re looking at the needs for Columbus Air Force Base. We have data showing what the housing allowances are for the people who come there, whether they were officers or enlisted.”
Growth in Burns Bottom will also drive growth downtown, he said.
“Residential growth in Burns Bottom will push growth into some of these empty spaces downtown,” he said. “… Unlike downtown, with commercial downstairs and residential upstairs, you can have both stories be residential. If you bring more people downtown, you will push commercial spaces into usage.”
Spears also said the infrastructure in the former residential area needs to be assessed.
“It would be advantageous to explore what’s there,” he said. “The housing may not be what we wanted, but we need to look at the infrastructure. If we could go through and evaluate it and see it would support the builds we’re talking about, the (development cost) would come down.”
Earlier this week, the CRA announced a developer had made an offer on two parcels but did not identify either the developer or the parcels in question.
The CRA was founded in 2015, and in 2017 the city issued $3.2 million in bonds to buy and redevelop about 15 acres in and around the Burns Bottom area, focusing on a five-block area between Third and Fourth Street North and Second and Seventh avenues.
It also brokered the sale of the former Lee Middle School property on Military Road for private development in 2018.
To pave or not to pave
City Engineer Kevin Stafford told the council that there was about $400,000 left unspent from the city’s 2020 issuance of $5 million in general obligation bonds. The money was specifically to pave the worst streets in town.
“We brought you a list in 2019 of about $6.5 million in needs, and y’all bonded out about $5 million,” he said. “That left about $1.5 million on the shelf, and since then we’ve added to it as phone calls come in.”
Brought into “today’s dollars” the cost is around $4.6 million, he said. That includes sidewalk work.
“Costs are up about 40 percent,” Stafford said. “Asphalt was $100 a ton in 2020, we’re easily seeing $140 a ton right now.”
Chief Financial Officer James Brigham said the city also has about $2.7 million in internet sales tax funding on hand currently.
“That money can be used to pay back bonded indebtedness for roadway projects,” Stafford said. “… If you just spend $400,000, your price is going to go up and you’re not going to get as much bang for your buck.”
Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens was skeptical of taking on more debt.
“We’ve been adding more money on top of more money on top of more money,” he said. “I know we need these streets, but I believe in paying off debt. Would it be feasible to take this (internet sales tax) and use it to pay off some of the debt that we’ve got?”
“You could go either way,” Brigham said. “Some municipalities are using that tax to fund a new bond issue, and that bond issue does not count against the city’s debt limit. You could also use the current $2.7 million to pay down debt, so there are some alternatives where we could pave and pay down debt at the same time.”
Brigham estimated the city will be getting “just north” of $1 million per year in revenue. To continue receiving it, the city needs to start spending it in 2023.
Brian Jones is the local government reporter for Columbus and Lowndes County.
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