The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

September 21, 2013

Proposed city budget includes money for sidewalks, paving, raises

By Jean Cole
jean@athensnews-courier.com

— More sidewalks, paving projects and employee raises are among the spending proposed in the fiscal 2014 budget the Athens City Council will vote on Monday.

Council members and city department heads gathered to review the $25 million proposed budget Friday. The budget includes $25 million in revenue, $24 million in expenses and  $549,455 in revenue remaining after expenses.

The plan includes a 3 percent cost-of-living increase for city employee — the first in three years. It also includes money for paving and sidewalks throughout the city with the promise of more money for those purposes each year.

Revenue increased a hefty 6 percent or $1.45 million over last year’s $23.6 million, City Clerk Annette Barnes told council members. The increase resulted from the 1 percent sales tax increase the previous council enacted in November 2012 and which went into effect in January, Barnes said.

The additional sales tax from the penny hike enabled the council to earmark money for more sidewalks and a list of road and paving projects. The hike generated about $900,000 for infrastructure alone in fiscal 2013, which ends Sept. 30. (Part of the proceeds from the additional penny sales tax is earmarked for other needs, such as schools.) The hike is expected to generate $1.2 million for general infrastructure in fiscal 2014 and thereafter because it will have a full fiscal year to accumulate, Barnes said.

A total of $2.9 million of it will be set aside — at a rate of $600,000 to $700,000 a year through 2017 — as matching funds for the $8.26 million in Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Projects. Those projects include the paving of Lucas Ferry and Sanderfer roads, and three beginning in 2014 — Lindsay Lane and Browns Ferry (January bidding), Cambridge Lane bridge (March bidding) and Tanner Crossroads, for which the county is paying half (April bidding). Work on nine others will begin in the coming two to three years, Barnes said.

“If not for the additional sales tax, we would not be able to do the ATRIP projects,” Mayor Ronnie Marks told council members.

Barnes noted that while the ATRIP projects are said to require a 20 percent match from the city, the match actually runs closer to 35 or 40 percent because of the city has to pay some cost that are ineligible for the grant in order to complete the projects.

Savings from other completed projects will help bridge the gap, Barnes said. By redirecting a portion of the 2009 warrants that remained after the completion of fire stations 1 and 3 and by transferring money left over after other projects, including Athens Vision Center, Pryor Street, Schilling Street drainage, Lindsay Lane paving and other paving projects, the city came up with $310,164 to put toward ATRIP grant matching, Barnes said.

Other paving projects

The other half of the $1.2 million a year in infrastructure money generated by the additional penny sales tax will be set aside for general paving projects through 2017, Barnes said.

District 4 Councilman Joseph Cannon, District 2 Council President Harold Wales, as well as other council members, have pressed for more sidewalks citywide and they see the additional sales tax as the ticket to get there.

The council has already identified five general paving projects on which to spend $900,000 generated for infrastructure in 2013 from the additional 1-cent sales tax plus $160,000 in annual gas tax revenue — a total of $1,060,000. Those projects will include $550,000 to extend Old Decatur Road ($300,000 to be contributed by the developer), $150,000 for paving at Whitfield and Winslow subdivisions, $150,000 for Hobbs, Marion and Clinton streets, $110,00 for paving Airport Road and $100,000 for sidewalks.

Raise

For the first time in three years, the mayor said city employees might be getting a raise. The proposed budget includes a raise — a total cost of $575,000 split by the city and Athens Utilities, Marks said.

Recreation

Parks and Recreation Director Ben Wiley told council members Friday more than 450 residents used the fields at the Sportsplex of U.S. 31 this summer for youth baseball and softball, and the increasing numbers mean the city will have to add more ball fields soon, which the council has previously discussed. Planning for a recreation center and more parking needs to get underway, the mayor said.

The council is expected to vote on the budget at their 5:30 p.m. meeting Monday in the municipal courtroom of the Athens Police Department on Hobbs Street.

For more on what the budget will mean for residents, see the results of the council meeting online at www.enewscourier.com on Tuesday or in Wednesday’s print edition of The News Courier.