St. Albans City Council agreed to continue a lease agreement for the Alban Arts & Conference Center and bade farewell to council veteran Helen Warren in a brief, action-packed meeting.
The Alban center is owned by STARDA, which is a partnership among the city, the St. Albans Regional Development Authority and the Friends of the Alban.
Councilman Stephen Donelson, whose term ends June 30, said he is not against the Alban center but is against "using taxpayer money and not accounting for that money.
"The original lease, in 2008, was for one year," he said. "We have not renewed that lease, ever. Originally, the theater was to be self-sufficient in 18 months. It is five years later. They're still not self-sufficient. The city is putting about $39,000 a year into it. I asked, 'When will it be self-sufficient?' The answer I got is, 'It'll be a few more years.'"
Councilman John Boles Jr. said, "You have to have a magnet. That magnet is the Alban Theater. This facility draws people into the city. They spend money -- they eat, they shop. I would say this is an ongoing lease. The residuals we get from that far outweigh what we put into the Alban.
"In my estimation, the Alban Theater is a driving force for revitalization of downtown."
Councilman Robert Keiffer, a real estate agent, said, "People are always commenting and bragging about the Alban and the arts center and how they like it and what their children have done there."
Councilwoman Warren said the Alban "is another avenue where we're spending tax dollars for our citizens. The Alban is another area that gives people something to do."
Joseph Bradford, 13, a member of the audience, received permission to speak. Bradford said the Alban gave him a place to go and something to do. He said he has made new friends there.
Bradford received a round of applause for his comments.
Donelson repeated, "I'm not against the Alban Theater. It's a business and it's not making enough money to cover its own bills. How long are you going to finance it? If this committee wants to finance it for the rest of eternity, that's fine. But I want an accounting for that money. And I asked for a vote. Do we want to continue? When is it going to become self-sufficient?"
In a roll call vote, only Donelson and Councilwoman Cheryl Thomas voted to end the lease. Voting to continue it were Councilmen Bowles, Keiffer, Lee Roberts, Dan Cain Sr., Desper Lemon, Jerry Cogar, Kevin Pennington and Ronald Colby, and Councilwomen Warren and Loretta Griffith.
In other action, Mayor Dick Callaway presented Warren with an embroidered blanket and thanked her for her nearly 40 years of service on council.
"It's a big step," Warren said of her decision not to seek another term. "I just want to thank people for voting for me all of those years."
Warren received a standing ovation.
Also at the meeting, Donelson said a skate park has been in the works for four years.
"Nine thousand dollars has been raised plus a $6,000 donation from the St. Albans Partnership," he said. "I assume, since this is my last council meeting, that this will continue to grow. However, one of my donors asked if he could get his money back until the park is built."
Council agreed to return a $3,000 donation to John's Cyclery upon receipt of a written request. "They'll re-donate once the park is under construction," Donelson said.
Turning to other matters, council authorized Mayor Callaway to submit a contract to the state Development Office for a $7,500 state grant to purchase a van and sound equipment for the Friends of the Alban.
In other action, council agreed to buy a thermal imaging camera for $11,811 and four self-contained breathing apparatus for $19,600 from Premier Safety & Service of Oakdale, Pa. The equipment is for the Fire Department.
Council also gave final approval to an ordinance dividing the Womens Club property into three lots. The property is currently divided into two lots.
Council re-appointed Don LeRose, Don Burford and Fred Roncaglione to the Zoning Board of Adjustments; Allan McVey to the Planning and Zoning Commission; Sandra Ashley to the Fire Civil Service Commission; and Debbie Keener to the Parks & Recreation Committee.
Councilman Lemon praised the Neighborhood Watch in Ward 7, the area that he represents. Lemon said the organization has remained active since organizing in October 2010.
Councilwoman Warren praised Public Works Director Orville Browning for finding a way to save some money on street work and for using the savings to clear some of the brush along the Kanawha River.
Councilman Cogar noted that he has served on the council's Ordinance Committee with Councilmen Donelson and Lee Roberts, who are finishing their terms. Cogar thanked them for their service.
Callaway noted that city offices would be closed Thursday, which is West Virginia Day. St. Albans Parks Director Scott Tweedy noted that Riverfest is next week.
The next council meeting is scheduled for July 1.