News Courier: The city’s most recent financial audit was released last week in a special session. City leadership says the audit paints a positive financial picture. As mayor, what will you do to ensure the city remains on sound financial footing, despite continued economic uncertainties?
Jerry Hill: Based on information contained in the audit report, the city leadership is not providing accurate information to the public concerning the overall financial health of our city.
The general fund is some 46 million dollars in debt which is more than two times annual revenue. In order to improve this situation, we must reduce the size of our city government by putting a limited freeze on any new hires. We must also do more to cut spending through better management techniques.
NC: The city and county have worked together to land new industries over the last two years, while providing an atmosphere that allows existing industries to expand. What specific plans do you have to keep Athens on the radar of any industry or business?
Hill: We have all the resources that normally attract new industry such as location, road network, schools and workforce. We need to do more to spin off of existing industry from Huntsville , Redstone Arsenal and Decatur. We just need to be more proactive because it will not just come to us. We must go out and sell ourselves and our city and county. What is good for our county is good for the city when it comes to jobs for our people.
We need to develop our residential base by being more builder-friendly and share some risk if necessary in order to build to make it happen. Madison has already beat our punch and we need to catch up.
NC: The city recently gave $10,000 for the renovation of the old Trinity School/Fort Henderson project and $10,000 for the renovation of the Beaty-Mason home on the campus of Athens State University. Historic structures can be found throughout the city, yet the city’s Historical Preservation Commission only addresses historic homes in a handful of neighborhoods. Do you think the city needs a commission that would oversee historic preservation of structures throughout the city? Why or why not?
Hill: I really do not believe that we should spend revenue in this manner. That is not to say that historical preservation is not important. However, it would not serve the cause by extending the borders beyond where they are.
NC: The Limestone County NAACP recently asked city leaders to do more in terms of hiring minorities for open positions. As an elected official, what would you do to ensure the city fosters an environment of inclusion and exhibits a diverse workforce?
Hill: Certainly, we need and desire a diverse workforce. We have had good minorities to serve and retire from both police and fireman duties. I do not believe it would be a service to minorities by making them believe that they are not responsible for taking actions to get the jobs they need. However, we do need to prove to them that they will be treated equally and fairly in both the evaluation and selection process.