By Michael V. Hannigan/HCN
We learned this week the Cain Center rehabilitation project will continue, but there is still debate among Athens City Council members about how much to spend.
The council discussed the issue during its regular meeting Monday night, which saw a standing-room-only audience and nearly an hour of citizen comments, almost all of which were in support of moving forward with the Cain Center.
The turnout was fueled by a split in the council last month when Mayor Monte Montgomery and Councilwoman Toni Garrard Clay wanted to continue forward with the project, while Councilmen Ed McCain and Robert Gross argued to stop work and send the question to voters in the form of a bond election.
The confusion stalled the project.
“We have no idea what you want,” Interim City Manager Gary Whittle told council members
It became clear Monday, however, there are enough votes to continue the project with Interim City Councilman Aaron “Bubba” Smith being seated to once again complete the council. He joined Montgomery and Clay in support of moving forward.
The questions of how much to spend on the project and what services to provide at the Cain Center still need to be answered, however.
The original plan, announced in August 2016, was for the City to take over and “permanently relocate its administrate services to the Cain Center, including the Police Department and Fire/Rescue Administration. In addition, the City will consider improvements to the recreational uses at the facility, including a complete overhaul of the Cain Center pool.”
The money for the plan — along with some smaller projects — was borrowed through Certificates of Obligation (COs), which the City issued in December 2016.
But some factors have changed since then. The original cost estimates for the project were revealed to be too low and an unexpected deed restriction made it unlikely City offices could be moved to the Cain Center.
In addition, the City discovered the need to make expensive water system repairs over the next few years.
In November, Montgomery and McCain both said the City should shift at least some of the money from the COs toward water repairs.
How much much of the money can go toward water depends on how low council can get the price for the Cain Center. That number, of course, will also go a long way toward determining what citizens can expect when the Cain Center is re-opened.
So, important decisions remain.
The council is expected to talk about the funding issue at a special meeting set for 12:15 p.m. Friday, Jan. 12, at the Athens Partnership Center.