The executive director of The Grounds wants to inject some youth into the Mobile City Council and has decided to run for the District 6 seat.
Josh Woods has lived in the district for more than a decade and doesn’t have much negative to say about the incumbent, Councilwoman Bess Rich.
“She has represented our district well and I appreciate everything she has done,” he said. “However, I feel it’s time to offer a new focus with new leadership.”
Before being named executive director of the local fairgrounds, Woods served on its board and used his finance degree from the University of South Alabama to work in commercial lending.
“It has been a lot of fun since,” he said of working at The Grounds.
His experience in finance and as the head of The Grounds has prepared him for city government, Woods said.
“There’s the finance aspect, but The Grounds helped me learn how to manage people,” Woods said. “I’ve seen what it takes for companies to stay in business and thrive.”
In 2019, Mayor Sandy Stimpson led an annexation push that would’ve added roughly 13,000 residents and a number of retail businesses in three unincorporated areas of Mobile County to the city. The area included a sizable portion of West Mobile.
The Mobile City Council had to approve the measure with a supermajority of five votes to allow the residents of those areas to vote to join the city through a referendum. The move fell just one vote short, with only four members voting in favor.
Woods said he is “pro-annexation” and believes any “planned, purposeful growth” is a good thing.
“The three areas included in the last annexation [pitch] make sense because they are already receiving some benefits from the city and not contributing much to the tax base,” he said. “I’m always for allowing people to vote. I see no harm in giving people the choice of whether or not they want to join the city.”
Established as a way to improve the city’s infrastructure needs, the city’s capital improvement program (CIP) takes $21 million in revenue from a sales tax increase and splits it evenly among the seven council districts. Woods believes the city might be better served if the delegation of those funds is reevaluated.
While the infrastructure in District 6 must be properly maintained, most of it is among the newest in the city, he said. Woods believes the infrastructure money could be better used elsewhere.
As an example, Woods mentioned regional planning groups, like the Mobile Metropolitan Planning Organization, which dispenses funding based on need over equality. A system similar to that may serve the city better, he said.
Woods also believes it might be time to look at repealing the sales tax that supports the program. Instead of an increased sales tax, he said, it might be time to charge a garbage fee.
The city, at one time, instituted a garbage fee through water bills. But some residents simply refused to pay the portion of the bill that included the garbage fee, so the city did away with it.
While District 6 may not have the infrastructure needs of other areas of the city, Woods called traffic management one of the biggest issues facing the district currently and in the future.
The biggest area of frustration for drivers in District 6 is Hillcrest Road, he said.
“Something has to be done about it,” he said.
As Amtrak and the freight rail companies prepare to battle over the use of railroad tracks in the Mobile area, the City Council’s funding of a project to bring passenger rail back is still contingent upon a modeling study that may not ever be completed.
After a year marred by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Amtrak decided it could move on from the study it, Norfolk Southern and CSX had all agreed to work on together to gauge the impact passenger rail would have on freight rail.
Woods said he would like to know what those impacts are as well before committing to fund the train’s operation for three years.
“It would be nice to have it,” he said of the study. “I don’t think an intelligent decision can be made until the study is completed to determine the impacts.”
As a new plan to build a bridge across the Mobile River is being discussed, Woods believes something has to be done to help move vehicles across the bay. He said he’s against tolling existing pathways to Baldwin County.
“I don’t think tolling everything is the right thing to do for Mobile,” he said.
Instead, he backs an affordable toll across new construction that would disappear as soon as the project is paid for.
“I understand that whatever has to happen has to be financed,” he said.
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