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DeKalb County delays rebuild of Avondale Estates fire station for some reason

Avondale Estates D'ish

DeKalb County delays rebuild of Avondale Estates fire station for some reason

Fire Station in No. 3 in Avondale Estates. Photo by: Dan Whisenhunt
This fire station in Avondale Estates is in need of repair, but the county is delaying those repairs for two weeks.

This fire station in Avondale Estates is in need of repair, but the county is delaying those repairs for two weeks.

I’ve been warned by numerous people that DeKalb County government sets the bar for dysfunction on an almost daily basis.

My natural response as a reporter is to be skeptical, which is my response to most unsubstantiated claims. After attending my first DeKalb County Board of Commissioners meeting on Jan. 14, I understand their cynicism.

At that meeting, I learned there’s a fire station in Avondale Estates that needs to be rebuilt. That project has been delayed for a reason that doesn’t make much sense.

Commissioners voted to defer an item on the agenda. I believe, but am not 100 percent certain, that this item was to award the contract for rebuilding the fire station.

I’m not 100 percent certain because DeKalb County doesn’t post ordinances or resolutions on its website. Most governments disseminate this information on the internet. Even little Avondale Estates manages to put that kind of info on its website for the public to download.

I visited the fire station on Clarendon Avenue. It’s a homely building, its tall triangular roof matching the Tudor style architecture of the rest of downtown Avondale Estates. I believe I saw a fire truck from the station passing by me while I was on my way there, sirens blazing as it raced to answer a call. During Tuesday’s Board of Commissioners meeting, I heard commissioners say the fire station was constructed in 1947 and is now falling apart.

I was able to find some documentation that showed the county was supposed to open bids for the project in September. Because of the lack of information on the county’s website, I can’t tell you who that winning bidder might be or whether anyone won the bid at all.

Assuming what the county deferred on Tuesday was a contract award, the value would be “not to exceed” $1.96 million. It will be paid for with money from a Community Development Block Grant, a federal program overseen by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

I learned Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton requested the deferral. I caught up with the commissioner after the meeting. It was the first time we had met. She was amiable and stopped what she was doing to answer my questions. She told me she had questions about the future ownership of the fire station.

“I was asking for information about how we can make sure that our county buildings are not taken by any of the new cities,” she said. “I want to find a way to protect county property in the future.”

On the surface, it does sound like the commissioner has a point. The county did sell public parks to the new city of Brookhaven after years of spending taxpayer money on them. I could see where that would rankle some on the DeKalb County Commission.

But the more I started pondering her explanation, the less sense it made.

A few things occurred to me:

– If the county couldn’t stop whole swaths of DeKalb from incorporating into new cities, I am not sure how it could stop cities from taking over county assets – which the new cities pay for, by the way.

– The answer to the commissioner’s question about protecting county property will be the same whether the rebuild happens or not. What difference does it make if the county delays this project?

– The fire station isn’t in danger of going to a new city. It’s already in Avondale Estates. I asked if there was some movement afoot for the city to take over ownership of the fire station. Sutton said there wasn’t. I reached out to Avondale Estates Mayor Ed Rieker but was unable to talk to him prior to writing this post. I’ll update when I hear back from the mayor. Updated 1/17/2014: I did speak to the mayor Thursday and he said Avondale Estates isn’t interested in buying this fire station.

– This isn’t a park. It’s a fire station. Its condition is a matter of public safety. I don’t see how the commissioner’s concerns justify this delay.

– The federal government, not the county, is likely picking up most of the $2 million bill for rebuilding the fire station. I understand that taxes are taxes, but the county taxpayers are a step removed from the funding of the project, save for whatever matching money might be required under the terms of the grant.

I beg Commissioner Sutton’s pardon, but why was this deferred again?

I can’t help thinking that this is more about politics than it is about looking out for taxpayers.

I’ve been skeptical of the new city movement since moving to Georgia. I think we should all be skeptical of any movement that creates new white majority cities while depleting the resources of a majority black county. County government is constitutionally obligated to provide certain services to all residents, including fire protection.

The people who want to create these new cities blame the ineptness of DeKalb County for driving them away. Based on what little I saw of our county government in action on Tuesday, I can understand their concern.

Avondale Estates has a fire station in need of repair, and the county has the money to repair it. I’m not sure why it needs to wait.

Editor’s note: I’ve since learned that this is actually a total rebuild of the fire station and have updated the article.