News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2005


Decatur must rethink priorities to recruit residents

Elected officials throughout the Tennessee Valley are salivating over the possible influx of residents as a result of the anticipated expansion of Redstone Arsenal.

Those officials need to prepare now to assure that they don't find themselves in the predicament of the proverbial dog that, after expending its energy chasing a car, doesn't know what to do once it catches up.

Last week's announcement that Redstone will gain about 1,600 jobs can be great news for area communities — if they are prepared.

Those 1,600 jobs could translate into 5,000 or more additional area residents when spouses and children are factored into the equation.

New residents will mean more shoppers and an expanded tax base. Competition will be fierce among Huntsville, Madison, Athens, Decatur and other cities to recruit the additional homeowners and consumers.

Huntsville Mayor Loretta Spencer immediately asked for and obtained $100,000 from her city council to spend on recruitment efforts targeting the incoming families.

In contrast, Decatur's budget allocates nothing for its recruitment effort — although Mayor Don Kyle said the council may revisit the issue now that it is almost certain Redstone's mission will expand.

In addition to allocating funds to recruit new residents, officials need to rethink their priorities and decide exactly what will make Decatur more attractive than Madison or Huntsville.

We have heard consistently for the past few months how Decatur doesn't have the funds for projects that would improve the quality of life; for improving schools with the International Baccalaureate program; or for completing a new boat launch in a timely and first-class manner. As a result of the financial pinch, city officials are considering privatization of Point Mallard Park because it does not operate at a profit.

New residents will result in more students in already-crowded schools, more drivers on already-busy roads and more of a strain on the public infrastructure.

If Decatur is to recruit many of these new residents, we must improve those quality-of-life projects that now seem to be low on the priority list. Quality of schools, streets, parks and housing stock are the primary factors people look at when deciding where to move. Decatur's housing stock appears to be sufficient to accommodate new residents. Its park system is an engaging asset as long as the city is willing to maintain it.

But the city must invest in its schools and infrastructure today if it is to prosper tomorrow.

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