PHOTO: Last week, a penny sales tax increase was proposed at a work session of the Fort Payne City Council to fund future projects. We've since caught up with each member of the council and Mayor Larry Chesser to see where they stand on the issue. Some of the projects include improvements to the city's sports complex (top left), the marquee on the DeKalb Theatre (top right), work on the high school (bottom right) and cleaning tree debris out of Big Wills Creek to make it usable for recreation (bottom left). (Tyler Pruett | Southern Torch)
By Tyler Pruett, Managing Editor
FORT PAYNE, Ala. — (Watch the full presentation of the plan at the bottom) Last week, a Capital Improvement Plan to improve the City of Fort Payne and a penny sales tax increase to fund it was introduced by Councilman Wade Hill at a special work session of the Fort Payne City Council. As of Monday, the issue was taken off the official meeting agenda, but a revised agenda sent out earlier today included a discussion of the issue.
The issue has caused discussion about the future plan for Fort Payne, and if current city finances will sustain it, and if not, what is needed to do it. Many in the city are against raising taxes, but alternatively, many recognize that improvement projects require more money, and that tax plans must be changed to deal with changing expenses and revenue situations. Here's how the mayor and council feel about the issue going into tonight's meeting:
Mayor Larry Chesser: "I'm for it. I have been involved in trying to scrape up money now for going on five years. It's a difficult task. Expenses keep going up and revenue keeps going up, but not at the rate they expected it to go up," Chesser explained.
"Sooner or later something has to be done. The decision needs to be made whether we want to go ahead and borrow money to do what has to be done in the next couple of years, or are we going to do something to solve the problem. I think we need to solve the problem, and quit kicking the can," said Chesser.
Council President Brian Baine: "I just think we need more time to see where we are going. We've got to work on a strategic plan. We're tying to do what's best for not just our employees, but for everyone. It'll take a solid plan to move everything forward," said Baine.
Councilman Johnny Eberhart: "The biggest thing I'm saying, we've all got a little bit different ideals and all, and this thing doesn't have to be done right now. I think on school funding, I think we are going to have to sit down and talk to the schools on Monday (July 17). I think everybody is wanting to do a little more studying on it. I've been here a long time, and I've always been a conservative. And I'm not just a tax and spend type person," explained Eberhart.
"I can't tell you what I'd rather happen on voting for sure. At the present moment I'm against it, because I don't know enough about it. We've got some things we need to do. Wade had a very good plan. We've got to pick what we're going to do and what we don't have to do. We'll have a bond issue that will pay off before, and we're going to have to look at a lot of things," he continued.
"I'm not going to vote for anything until before I've studied it real good," said Eberhart.
"During the forum, when we were running, I stated, we have a lot of senior citizens and a lot of folks that don't have a lot of money. It may not bother some folks, but it will some folks. And I'm for the little guys, and old folks, they built this place, and I don't want to put a burden on them. We've got to sit down and do some planning. You've got to get a plan together before you start doing things, and we actually don't have a plan, that's some of the stuff that Wade said we could do. Well, we've got to sit down and decide what we are going to do, and what we have coming up in the future, and that type thing. We have some special money, we've spent our reserves. I've been there 21 years and we've built our reserves," Eberhart said.
"When we had a recession, yes we used our reserves, because we had to. When you buy a bulldozer, (it's) going to last a long time. You don't have to buy a bulldozer every year." explained Eberhart.
"I'm saying let's slow down, and let's get a plan together, I'm not telling you one way or the other the way I'll vote, but I am anti-tax and spend. I've been that way for a long time. They are going to have to convince me that we've got to have it. Schools? Sure. But you don't build schools on sales tax, you build them on Ad Valorem Tax, so we need to ask the public to extend the Ad Valorem Tax, and it won't cost anyone anymore than they are paying right now."
"Some of this stuff needs to be discussed with the school board, so I think we need to sit down and actually communicate, and do some studying before we do anything," said Eberhart.
Councilwoman Lynn Brewer: "I want what's best for the totality of Fort Payne, not just for one person who would like to have a business. I've heard some people saying, 'so and so is not for it because they have a business and they might go somewhere else and shop.' I have business too, and you can't look at it how it's going to affect you personally, you have to look for how it's going to help Fort Payne collectively," explained Brewer.
"I do think we need a strategy and a plan, and we are going to hire someone to help us do that. It's someone that I trust much more than myself, because he's done it. He's proved himself over and over and he won't have to reinvent the wheel which I like," Brewer said.
"So, I want the things we need done first. The 'have-to's,' and there are some things like the sewer system that if we are smart and do them the right way, we can have some recreational things attached to it, with the grant money, and it's not because we're just trying to dream up things to spend on, because there is grant money, and there is a smart way to do it. I want to be smart about it, and I don't want to just be one of these that's 'vote yes, and let's just randomly spend a lot of money.' We've just got to have a plan and a process for doing this," said Brewer.
Councilman Red Taylor: "I take it real seriously, and I think we need to go slow. And I think we need to get a lot of public input, and we got a lot of talking to do before we are ready to do it," explained Taylor.
"It's a big step, and a big thing to put on the people of Fort Payne, and we need to go easy on it," said Taylor.
When asked about the improvement plan, Taylor said, "I've got mixed emotions about that, I think we've got a good but infrastructure wise, the sewer and all that, I'd like to that expanded, and that will cost a lot of money, but we need to look at the option of grants. We could use the extra money on our road paving, but we've only got so many employees and you can only do so much, without having to hire more employees."
"We just really need to slow down, look at it, and get a lot of input from the citizens," said Taylor.
Councilman Wade Hill: "We'll see what tonight brings, because I really don't know who's going to speak for it or who's going to be there to speak against," said Hill.
"But if we don't get this, we don't have nothing to do but exist. I mean we're just barely going to get by for the next three years, and then we'll have to pass this tax, and that's not the way you want to do this," said Hill.
**The meeting will be held tonight (Tuesday, July 18), at 6 pm in the city council chambers at Fort Payne City Hall. The matter will be open for public discussion.**
Watch the Full Video on the plan: