BY JONH MULLEN
Take, for example, garbage trucks.
“I’d like to see a justification for some of those leases because in some cases the argument can be made we get a new garbage truck every three years,” Fairhope City Council President Jack Burrell said. “But if you can get six or seven years out of a garbage truck and the purchase price of that is somewhere in between three or four years of lease, you don’t get the benefit of those two or three years of not having a payment on it.
“I’d like to see some justifications on some of these things.”
And, months after they began, the fiscal 2018 budget discussions in Fairhope continue.
“Like I said,” Mayor Karin Wilson said, “these are things we could have been talking about for three months. I don’t know what your questions are because you are not asking me. I kind of have to forecast what your questions might be and present them again. It’s been very time-consuming for us.”
Burrell said he needs no explanations.
“I don’t have questions that need explaining to me,” he said. “I understand what the requests are and why they’ve been requested. My questions have more to do with ‘OK, what can we do without?’ So when you come back with it I can give you a number and we need to hit this number.”
Three months into the fiscal year Fairhope still hasn’t passed a budget and it will be at least four months into it by the time the council meets again on Jan. 18. Wilson said during a council work session on Dec. 18 she wanted to bring her budget up for a vote in the council meeting to follow. But council members were still working through the proposal and wanted reductions. The issue was moved forward to Jan. 18.
“Personally, I feel like this budget is not being put as a priority,” Wilson said. “In sending it to Jan. 18, that’ll be four months into the fiscal year. One-third of the year has gone by. I’ve already said it’s a little confusing comparing year to year — every time we wait further into the year, the numbers are skewed.”
Burrell said he and other council members are still working on adjusting the budget and expenses.
“I know you want it passed and I understand that,” he said. “Robert [Brown] and I spent a considerable number of hours on it this week and we tried to get it on there tonight but we just couldn’t get there. We’re not there.”
The city can keep operating as usual, and has, Burrell said during the work session.
“If there are items that are needed we can also approve line items until we get there,” he said. “So, we are not completely stymied as a city. We haven’t passed the whole budget, but if there’s something that you’ve got to have between now and the next meeting you can put it on the agenda, and we didn’t deny any of those. They were all approved. Anything that’s budgeted comes back to the council for final approval anyway. It’s not that we can’t move forward.”
The City Council also spent about 45 minutes in the work session discussing whether or not to vote in an entertainment district in downtown. Declaring the district would allow patrons to leave bars and restaurants with drinks in unbreakable cups and stroll around downtown.
Council members generally were lukewarm to the idea, but Councilman Keith Boone is dead set against it.
“It’s going to get bad and it’s bad for Fairhope,” Boone said. “That’s my position.”
Police Chief Joe Petties voiced concerns an entertainment district might bring new problems to town.
“If y’all decide for the entertainment district, we will enforce the rules and regulations,” Petties said. “With the entertainment district, I feel like we’re going to get a new breed of crowd to come into town. We want people to come into Fairhope and enjoy it, but I don’t want it to get to be the place where the drunks hang out.”
The council also talked about having the district just during special events downtown such as First Friday, tree lighting, Mardi Gras and Christmas parades, and arts and craft events.
A motion was made during the regular council meeting for unanimous consent to immediately consider an ordinance permitting the entertainment district, but Councilman Jay Robinson voted against the move.
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach each have two entertainment districts and there are others in larger cities in the state, including Mobile, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Montgomery.