By Emily Miller
The fate of Albion’s Union Steel building, and the feral cats who reside inside it, was the main topic of conversation at Monday night’s City Council meeting.
The property, located just behind the Munger apartments, went through numerous owners in recent years until the Land Bank took possession in 2014, according to Amy Robinson, property and project coordinator at the Calhoun County Land Bank Authority. The Land Bank decided to maintain the property as a public property because of the long history of owners not paying taxes.
Since taking possession, the Land Bank has erected a fence around the building in hopes of providing some safety against bricks falling from the second story. The Land Bank also contacted the Environmental Quality Agency and the Environmental Protection Agency about demolition funds for the building.
Currently, the Land Bank maintains the property by mowing the grass on the medians in the parking lot and making sure the building is secure. To move this building up for demolition, Robinson said that Albion would be able to get the demolition grant from the EQA and EPA if the city matches 25 percent of the cost of the demolition, funds the Land Bank doesn’t currently have. Robinson said she did not know how much demolition would cost in total.
Robinson said the Land Bank also reached out to Albion College about the demolition matter because of how close the Union Steel Building is to campus, but said she didn’t know at that moment what the college’s reply had been, and she would ask the Land Bank’s Executive Director Krista Trout-Edwards, who could not be in attendance at Monday night’s meeting.
Without the numbers for a 25 percent local match, the council decided to wait until they received more information from the Land Bank.
This is not the first time there’s been discussion about demolishing the Union Steel building, according to City Attorney Cullen Harkness. In 2012 the council sued the owner of the Union Steel building for maintaining a public nuisance. The verdict was that the owner would have to demolish the building. Once the building was sold at auction shortly after, though, Harkness said that particular owner had “taken to the wind.”
Concerns about the feral cats
After the discussion, Councilmember Marcola Lawler had a question about the feral cats in Albion, many of whom reside in the Union Steel building.
Lawler asked the Chief of Albion Public Safety, Scott Kipp, about the cats.
“If we are able to get this building torn down, I know there’s a lot of concern about the cats,” said Lawler. “People love them, and they feed them. And people are questioning what will happen with the feral cats if we destroy the building?”
Kipp said there are “no resources” for Public Safety to do anything about the feral cats, and that surrounding animal shelters and the Human Society currently also don’t have the resources to house the number of feral cats in Albion. He suggested the council look into reaching out to the Friends of Albion Animals, a group who catches, spays and neuters the feral cats in Albion.
Postponing action on solid waste fund deficit
The next item on the agenda was the leaf pick-up budget, a part of the solid waste fund. According to City Manager Sheryl Mitchell, the solid waste budget ran into a deficit last year, leading to the water fund loaning the solid waste fund $120,000, which still needs to be paid back. Mitchell urged against any modifications to the millage that helps pay for the solid waste pick-up until the loan to the water fund is paid back.
The millage that supports the solid waste pickup collected $213,000 in 2016. Approximately $208,000 of this comes from property taxes. Lawler brought up an issue she’d heard about the solid waste fund from people in her district. There is currently a fine in place through the ordinance where a community member who doesn’t pay the taxes on the millage in time can be fined up to a $100 per day. This language is written into the ordinance itself according to Harkness.
The council didn’t make any immediate decisions on the solid-waste fund or deficit at the meeting Monday night.
The night did include a unanimous vote by the council and Mayor Garrett Brown to make the office of City Clerk its own department. This means the City Clerk will no longer have to report to the finance department. Jill Domingo serves as the current City Clerk.
The night ended with the council looking forward to a goal-setting meeting in the future for 2017. They are several items on the agenda for that particular meeting, a date of which has not been set as of now.