Pelham officials split on City Park bathroom repair

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

The Pelham City Council will seek legal advice during its Feb. 7 meeting as it decides how it will return a pair of bathrooms at Pelham City Park to working order.

The announcement came after council members voted 4-1 during its Jan. 24 meeting to ask City Attorney Butch Ellis or one of his representatives to attend the council’s Feb. 7 meeting to provide legal advice on the issue.

Council members Bill Meadows, Steve Powell, Karyl Rice and Council President Mike Dickens voted in favor of tabling the issue and requesting Ellis’ presence at the February meeting, and Councilwoman Teresa Nichols voted against the motion.

The council voted to table the motion after a lengthy discussion with Pelham Parks and Recreation Director Billy Crandall during the council’s work session before the meeting.

During the work session, Crandall outlined four plans the council could follow to repair the pair of bathrooms, which are on the southern end of the park property. The septic tank serving the bathrooms recently failed and was removed, leaving the bathrooms inoperable.

Crandall said the council could either allow a contractor to run a sewer line from the bathrooms under several playing fields to a pump station on the northern end of the park, run a sewer line from the bathrooms southward to a manhole near the First Baptist Pelham Annex, install a new septic tank or install above-ground sewer lines.

“Running a line under the playing fields (to connect the bathrooms to the pump station) could mess up the fields. The expert basically said not to do that,” Crandall said. “And I think you really can’t get a price on installing above-ground lines. The expert said he wouldn’t recommend that either.”

Running a sewer line from the bathrooms southward to the manhole likely would cost the city between $49,500 and $55,000, and the contractor could have the project completed by March or April, Crandall said. The city would rent portable toilets to serve its spring sports teams until the bathrooms are repaired, he added.

Installing a new septic tank would cost the city between $8,600 and $10,000, but would void a current city ordinance requiring property owners to tie into the city’s sewer line if they are able.

The City Council could vote to amend the ordinance to allow the city to re-install the septic tank, but some council members said they would be against changing the ordinance.

“I don’t want to hear that the city operates one way and that they treat private businesses another way,” Meadows said, as he urged the council to make any ordinance revisions also apply to private businesses.

Dickens and Powell agreed with Meadows, saying they didn’t think the city should make an exception for itself.

“I’m not in favor of changing the ordinance just because we have the ability to do that,” Powell said. “It goes against my core values to change the law just because it benefits the city of Pelham that particular time.”

But Pelham Mayor Don Murphy said connecting the bathrooms to the sewer line would be a “waste” of taxpayer money.

“I don’t like to see us go out and spend money we don’t need to instead of just changing the ordinance,” Murphy said. “It’s (the council’s) job to change ordinances. I can’t.”

Although Ellis and one of his partners previously reviewed the sewer ordinance and gave their legal opinions to the city, some of the information in the opinions was unclear, Rice said.

“I move to table this motion until our next meeting due to the fact that we have conflicting information from the attorneys involved,” Rice said during the council meeting. “This is not going to slow anything down. I think it’s the best thing to do.”