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Council considers $3 million wish list
Decatur officials reach consensus on funding

By Chris Paschenko 340-2442

Streaming wireless Internet to Point Mallard Park's campground and installing filters to trap trash at a Decatur creek were the only two items shelved Friday during a capital budget meeting.

City Council members, Mayor Don Kyle and Gail Busbey, the city's chief financial officer, reached a general consensus on how to fund a nearly $3 million list of equipment purchases, repairs and improvements with $2.57 million in net revenue.

Busbey said the city's budget and expenditures are based on prior year revenues.

"Each department head justifies expenditures that are increased from the year before," Busbey said. "It's proven to be a good way to control expenditures in a conservative budget."

The council whittled $225,000 in repairs and construction from the budget. It decided to fund a new roof for the fire station on Alabama 67, repair the city car wash and install restrooms at Ingalls Harbor with a portion of the city's Heritage Trust Fund.

Those items qualify for funding from the Heritage Trust Fund, Busbey said, which is Decatur's share of proceeds from drilling for oil and gas of the Gulf Coast.

The council debated the department heads' priority lists and removed $150,506 from the capital budget by cutting the campground's wireless Internet and trash filters.

Those two cuts balanced the capital budget with $9,494 to spare.

Council President Billy Jackson said he wants to explore alternative funding for the campground-Internet request. He also said the city should clean the debris from Dry Branch Creek before installing the filters.

Busbey, who spoke on behalf of the city's Information Systems Director Todd Russell, said Internet at the campground was intended for city business only. Russell had concerns about allowing everyone to tap into the city's computer system, Busbey said.

But once the wireless Internet is there, Busbey said, the city could explore alternative means of allowing campers to surf the Web, possibly through a third-party vendor.

"I want wireless Internet at the parks," Jackson said. "Decatur has some great recreational facilities. ... Other city's are providing it, and we need to be competitive."

Mark Petersohn, director of the city's Engineering and Public Works departments, said he could trim $10,000 from the estimated price of the creek filters, prompting the council to remove the $70,000 item.

Parks and Recreation Department Director Jeff Dunlap submitted a $733,000 list of capital items, the most of any department, but Police Chief Ken Collier was a close second at $688,042.

Collier asked for 12 cars for investigators and an in-car camera system for 72 vehicles.

Councilman Gary Hammon asked if the city should consider hybrid vehicles for non-patrol police functions and for the Community Development and Planning departments.

Councilman Ronny Russell said the city isn't equipped to repair hybrids.

"We might be able to justify maintenance training on 16 cars," Hammon said.

Busbey said the council would likely approve the capital budget during its next business meeting March 19.

"We've got some items in there that are pressing, like at the aquatic center, that we need to get moving on," she said.

A $65,000 refrigeration system would likely correct a condensation problem at the indoor ice rink, and $25,000 would fund fixing pool leaks and plumbing.

Ray Metzger was the only councilman to object to spending $40,000 for a new sign at the aquatic center.

Patrons should also find more places to relax at Point Mallard this year. The council will likely approve $53,000 for 100 picnic tables, 25 beach chairs, 25 umbrellas, 75 lounge chairs and 10 tables.

"I've had inquiries from customers who said they would have come more often if there were more places to sit," Kyle said.

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