Both Mayor Sandy Stimpson and Mobile County Commission President Connie Hudson gave glowing reports Wednesday at the 18th annual State of the City and County Lunch, sponsored by the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce.
Highlights of Stimpson’s address included a rundown of the city’s financial improvements, an increased effort to make the city safer and a greater focus on capital improvements.
On the financial side, Stimpson touted taking a $4.4 million deficit and turning it into a $15.4 million balance.
“This was done by working closely with our department heads to create and manage their budgets, which they had not been allowed to do for decades,” he told the crowd. “These cost savings were complemented by increased revenue to the city.”
Stimpson touted the city’s ability to give two separate raises to employees. He added that his administration had started the process of “eliminating capital dollar expenditures on operational items.”
“Going forward, sound fiscal policy directed towards funding core functions of our city government will get top billing during my administration,” he said.
Stimpson said the city is improving in its task of fixing broken infrastructure in the city.
“Neither our rate of repair, nor our response time is where they need to be, but we’re working diligently to improve the procedures, the policies and the people involved in fixing the things that are broken,” he said.
Stimpson touted Mobile Police Chief James Barber’s new model for crime fighting, which includes more public engagement. He used a recent operation in the Campground community as an example.
“Our intention is to earn the respect of citizens for what we are doing and how we are treating them,” he said. “As this occurs, we’re winning support for change.”
Stimpson mentioned the hiring this week of Innovation Team Executive Director Joan Dunlap and brought up plans to hire a chief procurement officer and a supplier diversity manager, as well as a program management consultant to “assist the administration and City Council in capital expenditures over the next two years.”
“These hires are about building thoughtful capacity to address core issues that have been long neglected or need to be muscled-up so that we can produce sustainable results,” he said. “Chasing grants connected to a vast pool of international resources resources can only work in the city’s favor.”
Before closing his remarks, Stimpson said the city would see $50 to $60 million generated by a 20-percent sales tax increase passed by councilors last year.
“By the end of the 2016 fiscal year, both the City Council and I want to see significant capital improvements in every geographical area of the city,” he said. “It is the only way to justify the existence of the penny.”
In her remarks, Hudson mentioned improving financial circumstances, including a decline of the county unemployment rate to 6.2 percent, increases in sales tax revenue and the number of county-issued tags, as well as an increase in gas consumption revenue.
“Residential building permits have plateaued … an improvement following a multi-year decline,” she said.
She credited the improved financial condition of the county with the County Commission’s ability to approve “two staggered, 2-and-a-half percent pay raises for employees,” along with a $500, one-time bonus.
Hudson highlighted several county projects and the work of the three commissioners to pull those projects off. In addition to touting her own efforts to help establish a recycling center off of Hitt Road, she also credited Commissioner Jerry Carl with organizing a district-wide cleanup effort.
Hudson mentioned the controversial plan she spearheaded to bring a soccer complex and aquatic center to the intersection of interstates 10 and 65. Another priority for the commission is the preservation of the county’s parks, she told the crowd.
She also mentioned the county’s Pay-As-You-Go road improvement funds, which was approved by referendum last year. The program will fund $54 million worth of road projects to build 94 miles of roads in all 11 of the county’s municipalities, she said.
Hudson brought up efforts by her and Commissioner Ludgood to partner with the Mobile Symphony for a strings program for elementary-aged children. Hudson said more than $100,000 has been secured for the musical education program.
“I’m pleased to report that the county’s essential role in this strings program earned our county the Arts and Culture Award from the National Association of Counties, the organization representing the nation’s 3,069 counties,” she said.
Bill Sisson, president and CEO of the chamber, said the area has made strides in the manufacturing sector, during his remarks on the State of the Chamber portion of the event.
Mobile has been ranked first, by Forbes, for manufacturing growth among mid-sized cities and second among the top 10 metro areas with highest economic growth potential.
These rankings have a lot to do with Airbus locating an assembly line at the Brookley Aeroplex, he said, but reminded the group of the many other companies — some with an international pedigree — that now call Mobile home.
“One of the things I’m most proud of is our diversified economy,” Sisson said.
He credited logistics, among other advantages, as a reason the Mobile area was so attractive to international companies.
“Whether it’s rail, road, air, or sea, you can do it very efficiently in Mobile,” he said.
He also listed some of the companies that have made an investment in the area in the last year. Alliance International brought 128 jobs and made a $28 million investment in the area, Sisson said. Rural Sourcing, Inc. brought 100 new jobs and a $700,000 investment, Dupont made an $11 million investment and AM/NS Calvert completed a $40 million expansion.
Updated to add Commission President Connie Hudson as sponsor of the Mobile Symphony’s strings program.