PHOTO: Councilman Wade Hill discusses the city's finances and funding long term projects at Tuesday's Work Session. (Tyler Pruett | Southern Torch)
By Tyler Pruett, Managing Editor
FORT PAYNE, Ala. — (Video at the Bottom) In a work session held earlier today (July 11), the Fort Payne City Council discussed raising the sales tax by one cent. Councilman Wade Hill presented a detailed breakdown of the city's current financial status and the revenue needs for the future.
The council, mayor, department heads, representatives of Fort Payne City Schools, and citizens were all in attendance at the meeting to hear the proposal. Hill began by presenting a "Capital Improvement Plan," to the public on Fort Payne's current financial status, and a strategic plan to move the city forward.
"The five of us has spent the last nine months together, trying to figure out where Fort Payne's going to go. We know where we are; so we want to know where we are going to go and how we are going to get there," said Hill. Hill explained that the council analyzed the numbers and listened to input from the public, and, "tried to put together a wish list of what we need to go forward."
He then explained that the city was in good financial standing the last decade, but the loss of several hundred hosiery jobs, combined with the economic downturn that hit in 2010, took it's toll on the city's general fund revenue. The general fund revenue is comprised of Alcohol Tax, Sales Tax, and Property Taxes. In recent years, the city's alcohol taxes have declined, due to other towns going "wet" in the area. Sales tax revenue has also decreased due to the loss of hosiery jobs and the subsequent economic downturn in the area.
"Our sales tax is going up, our bond debt is going down, but our revenues and expenses are kind of paralleling each other, to where we really aren't gaining any ground," said Hill. "We've got to make some decisions now to see where we're going to be in six or seven years."
Hill then discussed the situation with the city's cash reserves. The city's cash reserves have been decreased by half since 2010. The city draws from these funds to, "offset drops in revenue or purchases of capital," said Hill. "We peaked out in 2010 at over $12 million, but we're down a little over six (million) now. That's a serious decline. What we are having to do now, is basically take money out of our savings account to pay our bills."
Hill explained that while six million in the bank can seem like a lot of money, but the city's payroll alone is, "half a million dollars every two weeks." And that the city is a multi-million dollar operation.
Hill then explained both short term improvement projects (1 - 5 years) and longer term items that need to be addressed:
Short-term improvement projects (1-5 years):
- ALDOT Highway 35 West project ($1 million)
- The Alabama Department of Transportation is going to, "totally revamped and new interchange system at the 218 Exit, you will have both sides of the interstate will be totally redone. Airport Road and Jordan Road will be lined up facing each other. And there will be turn lanes put in place where people can " The total cost of the project will be $5 million, with the city contributing $1 million, and the state contributing $4 million towards completion of the project. Hill said, "We'll be seeing this project pretty quick."
- Sewer Plant and Infrastructure ($2 million)
- "Things wear out, but things at the sewer plant wears out quicker, because they are 24/7, 365 (days a year), things are always going through it."
- Public Buildings ($1 million)
- The Police Department (built in the 1940's), the DeKalb Theatre (redoing the aging front facade), The DOE Building on 5th and Godfrey (the city hopes to build a military museum in the building and use the back as a maintenance shop), The Coal and Iron Building (the upstairs must be redone, hopefully this winter), major renovations at the city pool (Built in the 1980's), and improvements to the Sports Complex (adding soccer fields and renovations to the electrical system; the complex was built around 30 years ago).
- Sanitation ($750,000.00)
- "Our sanitation department is at the point in their lifespan where we've got to expand the footprint in a few years. We've got back a million (dollars) to close the current landfill, make it a nice, big, green, grassy field, and move up the valley. We've got to buy some more property to build some more holding ponds to catch our runoff. That's all going to take money. We took the garbage truck we needed out of the budget, that's got to go back in."
Additional improvements needed:
- Increase road paving:
- Fort Payne has approximately 192 miles of paved streets to maintain (excluding the roads maintained by the state, i.e. Highway 35). Paving currently costs the city $62,000 per mile. At the rate the city is going, it will take 38 years to pave all the streets. Some roads have to be paved every 10 years.
- Sewer to Northwest Fort Payne
- The city needs to begin Phase III sewer improvement project, which would add gravity lines to a portion of the north end of town; from the Dead Man's Curve to Earthgrains (Including Terrapin Hills Lagoon). The project will cost approximately $200,000 per year.
- Mapco Purchase
- The city currently has a verbal agreement with the MAPCO CEO to purchase the gas station across from the Coal and Iron Building. The city will need funds to purchase and improve this property, once a final agreement is reached.
- Cobble Building
- The building needs improvement, as it's in the city's historic district. If the building is transferred to private ownership, it must be improved before being sold.
- Aquatic Center
- Hill also discussed the need for an Aquatic Center, which should draw in revenue from surrounding areas.
- Basketball/Tennis Complex
- Currently, the city doesn't have an outdoor basketball court. The only tennis courts are the four that's at the high school.
- Develop the property next to Jefferson's
- The property next to Jefferson's is below the flood plan, and requires "fill" to be made available for commercial development. This is prime property and it would benefit the city to improve the property for future businesses.
- Pursue Green Space trail along Wills Creek
- Build a Miracle Field
- A handicap accessible baseball field, set up with no trip hazards for people with disabilities. Hill also mentioned adding a handicap playground next to the field.
- Cleaning up Wills Creek for small Watercraft
- The city would like to clear the debris out of Wills Creek to allow use of small watercraft (kayaks, canoes, tubes, and rafts).
- Mountain Bike trail
- Expand Senior Activities
- Expand and enhance schools
- Improve Pre-K Program (Child Resource Network)
- Move kids out of the old high school building and into a newer facility.
The city will have a reading of the measure and open the meeting to public comments on July 18 at 6 pm at the regularly scheduled meeting.
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