The Mobile City Council and the mayor’s administration have already sparred over a three-year extension of a 20 percent sales tax increase passed in October 2012 and a new plan to spend part of its revenue might spark more disagreement.
A proposed amendment to the tax ordinance would split $21 million of the expected $30 millionin tax revenues seven ways, with each councilor getting $3 million to spend in his or her district on capital improvements. The rest of the money, roughly $9 million, would be split among citywide for capital expenses and economic development.
If approved by the council, the amendment would go into effect next October. Under the guidelines, the remaining $9 million would be split three ways. Each year, $5 million would be earmarked for economic development, $2.5 million would be allocated for public safety capital expenses and another $2.5 million would go to the general fund.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson said last week he had concerns over splitting the money evenly between the districts. He said it would be an encumbrance on districts that might have more needs in a given year than others.
Councilman John Williams said the council is not using all of the money generated from the tax for their individual districts and argued the mayor didn’t want the extension of the tax in the first place.
“The council may have a difference of opinion on where we need to spend it, but we believe there are sufficient capital improvement needs top to bottom, left to right, across the city,” Williams said. “This will provide a guideline to allow for improvements to all districts.”
The amendment would not make the money discretionary, Williams said, and a supermajority of five votes would be required to approve any project using the funds.
Williams said $3 million could be used in his district to fix drainage issues caused by faulty catch basins and inlets. The money could also be used to improve its 10 or so parks, he said, in use by hundreds of kids each season, ranging in size from “pocket parks” to major sports fields.
“Every park needs some kind of major facelift,” Williams said. “Mims Park has had some Band-Aids, but it’s an ailing park.”
Separately during the budget process, the council voted to take half of the $3 million Capital Improvements Fund earmarked for city parks to put toward a proposed county soccer complex project. Williams and Councilman Joel Daves cast the two votes against the move.
Williams added he would also like to see some striping work and more signage in his district.
Councilman Fred Richardson, one of the sponsors of the amendment along with Councilman C.J. Small, said it is the only way to make sure money goes specifically to needs within each district.
“Unless there is a deliberate effort to program money for our needs, we’ll never get anything,” Richardson said.
He said he’s written the mayor with requests to complete infrastructure projects within his district and nothing has been done. Instead, Richardson said, Stimpson has focused on complaints on the city’s 311 reporting system. Using complaints generated from phone calls, the administration made a map of red dots showing more than 800 areas of concern in the city.
“I’m not one of his dots,” Richardson said.
The District 1 representative also complained that the infrastructure improvement plan unveiled late last month by Stimpson did not address key concerns among his constituents. For instance, Richardson said, there is no available money to fix drainage issues along parts of Old Shell Road in midtown.
“There has been no money transferred to take care of that drainage issue,” Richardson said. “He’s doing whatever he wants to do.”
Instead of repairing guardrails in other parts of the city, Richardson would like to use money to cover about 42 open ditches in one neighborhood in his district and get streets resurfaced in others.
Daves, chairman of the council’s finance committee, said he disapproves of the idea slated to come before the committee Nov. 14, saying he thinks it would “handcuff” and prevent the city from using funds needed in an emergency, like after a hurricane.
Instead, he believes in a long-term master plan that would prioritize infrastructure improvement projects, one developed by the administration and reviewed by council, he said.
“I think it’s unwise to say we’re going to spend the same amount of money each year,” Daves said.
He added that infrastructure improvements in each of the council districts help every citizen in the city, not just those in the district where the money is spent. He said citizens travel through all of the districts.
Councilwoman Bess Rich said she hasn’t decided how to vote on the measure because she is waiting on the mayor to share a list of priorities and allocations for her District 6. Rich said she’s provided the mayor a list of where capital money should be spent within her own district.
Among those are improvements to the tennis courts and playground at Medal of Honor Park. Striping, resurfacing and drainage also need to be addressed within the district.
The council will discuss the measure at Friday’s committee meeting. The amendment is likely to appear on the council agenda Tuesday, Nov. 18.