The issue first arose in September, when Alderman David Harris met with residents of the area near the fire station property. Harris then drafted a letter to council members outlining citizen opposition to the fire department location. Residents expressed concerns about the dangers of increased truck traffic, and fears that the shop building would hurt property values in their residential neighborhood.
During the October council meeting, Highland Mayor Richard Smith responded to Harris' letter. Smith explained that, during Phase 1 of the city's sewer project, left over funds were earmarked to construct the building at the sewage treatment plant. Because pumps, a generator and other equipment was more expensive than originally thought, the shop building was not constructed. With the city now in Phase 2 of the sewer project, it has been told there should be enough funds from the grant to allow the city to construct the building.
The mayor said city vehicles would save a considerable amount on fuel if the building was at the fire station, instead of the treatment plant away from town. Smith said the fire station location would produce sales tax benefits, while drainage problems and underground hazards would be challenges to deal with at the treatment plant. The Mayor added that building at the treatment plant would require dirt work and a costly 40-foot by 100-foot concrete pad, while a pad is already in place at the fire station, and the new building's exterior would match the fire station's exterior.
Because the city owns the property, the proposal was made to build the facility on the lower level behind the station. Many residents who live near the proposed location, including Alderman David Harris and his wife, Georgia and members of the Highland Assembly of God Church, signed and submitted a petition opposing the location. Georgia Harris made a visual presentation which included architectural renderings of the proposed maintenance building and photos from surrounding cities' maintenance facilities, to emphasize shop buildings with trucks and equipment stored on the property are an eyesore, that should not be put in the "heart of the city," where property values can be harmed. With the exception of Ash Flat, other city maintenance buildings in the area are located off main thoroughfares. Harris suggested that, by not developing the land proposed for the building, the city could hold on to the property and sell it later to promote growth.
After her presentation, questions were taken by council members, and Alderman Jack Kimbrell intervened to try to calm the situation. Kimbrell suggested that Alderman Harris, who owns commercial and residential property near the fire station, has a conflict of interest, and should not be personally involved in supporting opponents. Kimbrell also said the Mayor may have been wrong to take too much authority in deciding the best place to build the maintenance building.
"I have a little problem in how this problem has been handled," Kimbrell said. "At the last meeting, I intervened, to be an intermediate person to solve an issue that had got completely out of hand. I don't think the rules have been followed in the way this situation has been handled."
After more discussion among council members, and comments from the original architect, Larry Bronson, a motion was made by Alderwoman Linda McQuire to locate the shop building at the sewer plant, as originally proposed, instead of behind the fire station. The motion was seconded by Harris. Aldermen Larry Allen and Joe Black, voted against the proposal. With the majority voting to build at the sewage treatment plant, concerned citizens who attended the meeting thanked council members for their vote.
The Highland City Council meets the second Tuesday of each month at 6:00 p.m. At Highland City Hall.