News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Bond issue right step for Decatur’s quality of life

The Decatur City Council will likely approve a $16.2 million bond issue Oct. 11, a measure that bodes well for the city’s growth.

Councilman Ray Metzger said he wouldn’t vote for the bond because he disagrees with obligating the city to payments over the next 20 years, but the bond will likely go forward with a majority approval.

The City Council has little alternative than to pass a bond issue every three years, as it has done since 1997 because the city hasn’t set aside a specific percentage of its general fund budget for capital expenditures.

Most of Decatur’s capital fund is made up of general fund surpluses, with a smaller amount added from Joe Wheeler Electric Membership Corp. franchise fees. Based on last year’s revenues, city leaders estimated the 2006 surplus at $160,000 — the interest earned on $8.3 million in alcohol taxes. The council wants to grow the alcohol tax fund beyond the $8.3 million cap by returning the interest to it, meaning the capital fund won’t see that chunk of change.

Gail Busbey, the city’s chief financial officer, said the capital fund wouldn’t come close to paying for big-ticket items the city needs, like the construction of three fire stations ($3.9 million) and purchases of 40 police cars ($894,660), six garbage trucks ($649,926) and two water-pumping firetrucks ($618,176).

Council President Billy Jackson is right to advocate an investment in Decatur’s blossoming tourism industry, saying the city should easily see a return on its investment by increasing its share of the state’s tourism dollars. Evidence of the city’s tourism boom is clear, Ms. Busbey said, when she recently compared June 2005 tax revenues with those of the same month this year.

The result, Ms. Busbey said, was an impressive 13.6 percent increase, the majority of which she attributed to soccer tournaments at the Jack Allen Recreational Complex.

Nearly 40 percent of the $16.2 million bond issue will be earmarked for city park projects, like the Jimmy Johns Tennis Center and Jack Allen soccer fields. Another half million is a 6 percent contingency fund on construction project costs.

The city will spend another $2 million in street repairs, allocate $1 million toward the renovation of the new animal shelter on Beltline Road Southwest and refinance the Carnegie Visual Arts Center’s $630,000 debt.

The remaining $714,551 would fund a backup computer server and equipment purchases for the Parks and Recreation and Public Works departments.

Ms. Busbey said only three other cities in Alabama have a better bond rating than Decatur, and that the city will spend the money wisely.

Mayor Don Kyle said part of the reason for the good bond rating is the way the city responsibly manages its debts.

Councilman David Bolding’s simple statement said it best. “I plan on voting yes, for the future of Decatur,” he said. “These are quality-of-life issues, and if we’re ever going to progress in this city, we’re going to have to have them.”

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