The Mobile City Council unanimously approved the 2018 Capital Improvement Plan, which continues to pump money from a nearly 20 percent sales tax increase into infrastructure projects.
A focus on parks, drainage and roadways highlights the final official year of the plan, which began with spending in the 2016 fiscal year.
Councilman John Williams said councilors had been discussing the project for months with a city-hired consultant from Hawksley to continue to put a dent in more than $100 million in needs. Focusing on parks, Williams said, councilors signed off on projects for new lighting, concession stands, restrooms and other projects at many of the city’s recreational facilities.
In a statement, Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s office said the CIP looks to “address critical maintenance and repair needs in parks, including drinking fountains, tables, grills, bleachers and athletic fields.” The CIP also helps the city implement an Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility plan at local parks.
In addition to parks, the 2018 CIP will begin reconstruction work on portions of St. Louis, Texas and Glenwood streets, according to the statement.
“The Capital Improvement Plan has enabled us to attack the estimated $250 million backlog of infrastructure projects and position Mobile for a new era of growth and a higher quality of life,” Stimpson said in the statement. “Our commitment remains that we will listen to our citizens as we identify projects and that we will be transparent with every dollar we spend. The City Council and I hear every day how much our citizens appreciate the improvements in our sidewalks, streets and parks.”
It’s unclear what will happen when budget negotiations take place after 2018, the final year of the three-year program. Several councilors have shown support for continuing the tax hike in order to keep funding the infrastructure projects.
Councilwoman Bess Rich thanked the members of city staff who helped organize the projects for 2018, but said at the meeting she hoped the city could look to other forms of revenue besides sales tax in the future.
Rich was the council’s point person on a citizens’ ad hoc committee on taxation formed in 2015. The committee recommended the city replace the 20 percent sales tax increase with a 10 mil property tax rate. The committee made other recommendations, but nothing more has come out of those discussions.
In other business, Stimpson’s acting Chief of Staff Paul Wesch told councilors Carnival Cruise Line plans to stay in Mobile through November 2018 and will experiment with longer cruises on the Fantasy to more ports of call.
Wesch said Carnival is looking at expanding to 7-day and 11-day cruises to the Panama Canal and Key West next year.
“We hope those cruises are successful,” he said.
Carnival Fantasy will also sail from Mobile to Grand Cayman beginning next year, according to a statement from Visit Mobile.
The city signed a 13-month contract with Carnival in September 2015 to allow the Fantasy ship to return to the city and sail from the Mobile, Alabama Cruise Terminal to ports in Mexico and the western Caribbean beginning in November 2016.
The council, at Wesch’s request, delayed for another three weeks a vote on two contracts related to recycling. The first was a $125,000 contract with Emerald Coast Utilities Authority for the processing and sorting of recyclables and the second was a $900,000 contract with Amwaste for the transportation and rental of the equipment.
Council President Gina Gregory said the city requested more time to discuss the issue with the Solid Waste Authority. At a previous meeting, members of the SWA had requested copies of the contracts for review. The SWA, which owns the city’s waste stream, was concerned Waste Management might view the new recycling program as a violation of a 1993 contract with the SWA. WM has previously won a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the SWA for breach of contract.
The new single-stream compactors are currently being picked up and transported to Cantonment, Florida, through a minor contract Stimpson signed with Amwaste. Williams initially questioned the mayor’s authority to agree to the contract without council approval, but Don Rose, the city’s procurement officer, said the city is allowed to agree to terms on a contract of less than $7,500.
The city reached an agreement with Emerald Coast Utilities Authority to process the recycling without signing a contract. The agreement was on a trial basis, Rose said.