The Mobile City Council on Tuesday passed $21 million in capital improvement projects slated for fiscal year 2017, as some members discussed extending the sales tax increase funding it.
Councilors unanimously approved the 2017 capital improvement plan, made possible by a three-year extension of a nearly 20 percent sales tax increase. It is the second year the city has spent roughly $21 million total on capital improvements throughout the seven districts and there is one year remaining of the three-year, $63 million tax increase.
Before the approval, councilors said they looked forward to discussing the merits of extending the tax increase, but not all had the same idea on how to approach it.
Councilman John Williams said with more than $100 million in projects still unfunded, a decision on the renewal of the sales tax increase is one “we do not need to delay.”
“I was criticized for voting for it and those critics told me ‘you better come through on this one,’” Williams said. “This capital improvement plan … has proven we’re going to do what we said we’re going to do. We need to discuss continuing the one-cent sales tax.”
Councilman CJ Small said he supported the initial three-year extension and has, so far, only heard from residents in his district who support it.
“We’re still far behind in capital needs,” Small said. “I’ll advocate for it to continue.”
Councilwoman Bess Rich said she hoped her colleagues would look at other possible ways to raise revenue. She brought up a recommendation from the council-sponsored taxation committee, which recommended an increase in property taxes and a decrease in sales taxes.
“Sales tax is not sustainable,” Rich said. “We’re already starting to hear that it is stagnating. A 10-percent sales tax … doesn’t help our businesses compete. In a vibrant community, business needs to thrive.”
Although she admitted sales tax can be earmarked, as it has been for the CIP projects, Rich told councilors it was “not a great tool to use.”
The CIP includes more than $2.5 million for drainage repairs, $4.6 million in street resurfacing, $1.5 million for traffic improvements and $1.4 million for sidewalks. Park improvements across the city are also included, along with many other projects.
The council also gave its approval to allow councilmen Levon Manzie, Small and Fred Richardson to use a combined $10,000 in discretionary funds to pay Sustainable Strategies DC to perform a strategic funding plan for their districts.
The contract was approved despite concerns from Mayor Stimpson’s administration over the plan. City attorney Ricardo Woods said during a pre-conference meeting it was a good idea to hire the lobbying firm to assess the districts’ needs and look for federal grant sources, but the administration wanted to expand it citywide and use planning funds to pay for it, rather than the council’s discretionary funds.