A Mobile City Councilman wants to give his colleagues even more money to work with through the city’s capital improvement program, or CIP.
In a letter to Mayor Sandy Stimpson, Councilman Fred Richardson outlined his plan to bolster the $3 million each district gets from the revenue generated from a 1-cent sales tax increase. Richardson suggested Stimpson float a municipal bond, which would quintuple the CIP funds flowing to each of the seven council districts.
“ … I recommend you bond the $21 million the seven council districts receive per year for five years, which will be a total of $105 million,” Richardson wrote. “When you divide the $105 million by seven council districts, the result will be an immediate availability of $15 million for each council district.”
In addition, Richardson believes the money could be repaid through CIP funds over the next five years.
“Please give this proposal careful consideration,” Richardson wrote to Stimpson. “I’m hopeful you will see that this is the path to using taxpayer dollars in the most efficient and effective way while drastically improving our infrastructure resulting in a better quality of life for our citizens and climate for our continued economic development efforts.”
In a phone interview, Richardson said it would be cheaper for the city in the long run to pay for the CIP projects immediately, rather than five years down the road. He said the city would save money on inflation. In the letter, Richardson doesn’t address the impact interest rates, or the city’s bond rating would have on his plan.
City spokeswoman Laura Byrne said Monday that Stimpson’s office would not comment on the letter. On Thursday, it appeared the administration had been caught off guard by the request. The letter was sent to Stimpson’s office after copies were sent out in a news release to members of the news media and in a Facebook post to Richardson’s followers.
In the past, members of the administration and councilors alike have complained about communication issues between the ninth and 10th floors of Government Plaza. About a week earlier, councilors complained about Stimpson going to the media first regarding USA’s on-campus stadium.
In previous years, councilors have complained about Stimpson’s budget proposal being released to the media before they see it. This year, however, councilors received their copies first.
Councilman Joel Daves said he had concerns about Richardson’s proposal. For one, the city’s financial advisers have said the city is already carrying more debt than it should, Daves said, and it doesn’t make sense to add more.
“Carrying more debt … I think is out of the question,” Daves said. “I’m against anything that creates additional municipal debt. The mayor and council have, over the last five years, reduced long-term debt overall, but we’re still not where we need to be.”
Mobile has approximately $221 million in long-term bonds outstanding, Stimpson wrote in his fiscal year 2018 budget statement, representing a 30 percent reduction over the last several years.
Daves also said he believes the CIP has been very successful as is and there’s no reason to change it. The city now has some financial flexibility and Daves doesn’t want to face the possibility of a credit rating downgrade should the city carry too much debt on its books.
In addition, Daves mentioned the unfunded liability in the police and firefighters pension fund, as well as more than $100 million in deferred maintenance on city-owned structures. According to Stimpson’s budget statement, the city currently has about $350 million in unfunded liability — down from $473 million when he took office.
Council Vice President Levon Manzie said he would have to study Richardson’s proposal before being able to comment.
Councilman John Williams said he also doesn’t think borrowing money is a good idea. Even if the city were to borrow the money and quintuple the funding for CIP projects, the capacity would not exist to execute the projects in a timely manner.
“[Richardson] wants to put a huge amount of cash into a system that can’t handle what it’s got,” Williams said. “Management is a part of it all. Our CIP is already bigger than it should be.”
Additionally, Williams said he wants the city to save $100 million in reserve funds, which would provide about six months’ worth of emergency spending.