With the city of Mobile needing to cut around $13 million in this year’s budget, skaterboarders who rallied for the city’s first ever skate park will have to wait a little longer.
The Jan. 14 City Council meeting came with some bad news for skaters, but all hope is not lost.
Two agenda items went before the council that would help create a skate park at Public Safety Memorial Park at 2301 Airport Blvd., but only one was approved during the meeting. Designating the portion of property for the skateboard park was unanimously approved, but allocating $448,343 for the construction will take more time.
“We all know where we are with the budget,” said City Council President Gina Gregory. “The mayor and his administration are working on budget amendments right now and he has asked we table the appropriation of $448,343 until an appropriate time.”
Mayor Sandy Stimpson announced on Dec. 31, 2013, that the city overspent in numerous operational areas last year and needed to make cuts to the existing budget in order for it to be balanced.
The amendments to the budget are expected to be in around Feb. 1. Until that time, Stimpson said he would like for the decision on the skate park construction costs to be tabled.
“It would be fiscally irresponsible to approve this before we realized exactly where we are and made priorities,” Stimpson said.
The state’s trust fund, which gives Mobile varying amounts of money in April of each year, was expected to pay for the $448,343 construction cost since that money must be used on capital or debt services related to capital.
That means the state’s trust fund money cannot be used for things like salaries, but can be used for road repair, park repair and improvements, lights, etc.
However, the city’s capital fund for 2014 was stripped of $17 million and sent to the general fund to provide for operational expenses. The council seemed to be in agreement that the skate park expenditure should be held off until the new budget is created, but the skaters and supporters didn’t see it that way.
Thomas Ball, who skates, said during the Jan. 14 council meeting that holding off the decision would in effect kill the park.
“I have a feeling if this is tabled, it will be pushed aside,” he said. “This is important to citizens in Mobile and all over the state. The park will bring in visitors and the skate park will pay for itself in probably 10 years.
“If you table this, then there isn’t a place for skaters. It’s illegal to skate on the streets so it isn’t fair to citizens who skate.”
John Hart, whose son Gage Hart is a skater, spoke out against the decision to delay the vote as well.
“I understand fiscal responsibility, but (Thomas Ball) was right. If this is tabled, it’s going to be forgotten about. The movement for a skate park started 10 years ago and it was tabled,” Hart said. “Then two or three years ago (Housing and Urban Development) money was supposed to be available, but that didn’t happen. Now we heard the Alabama Trust Fund money would help, but it looks like that isn’t going to happen. I want to know why.”
Money from HUD was made available, but it was spent on other projects by Mayor Sam Jones.
Gregory explained the budget issues and the reasoning for the delay, but Hart said the promise was already made to the skaters.
“My son is also a boy scout and last time he was here he said the council should be like the boy scouts and honor their word,” Hart said. “You have made a promise and now it’s time to honor that promise. I understand fiscal responsibility, but I also understand disappointed kids.”
When Hart spoke of disappointed kids, nearly every councilor shared stories of parks and communities in need of lights, playground equipment and streetlights.
Stimpson later spoke of disappointing people.
“City employees were disappointed on New Year’s Eve when I had to announce they wouldn’t be getting the pay raise they were promised, but that is what you have to do for fiscal responsibility,” he said. “It’s not where we want to be, but it is where we are.”
Skater Christian Puglisi, who also works at Foosackly’s, did offer some good news. After speaking with Foosackly’s owner Will Fusaiotti, he said the Mobile-based chain is willing to help anyway it can.
That, Stimpson said, is what he is looking for with special interests.
“The fact of the matter is for years the city has been depleting its capital fund to pay for operational expenses. There is $159,000 to maintain the city’s five million square feet of properties,” Stimpson said. “Moving forward the projects that have private sector money with public money will rise to the top. Unfortunately right now the skate park supporters have not raised any money.
“However, I’m very much in favor of improving quality of life. We have to work to get the city financial stable before that can happen.”
Chief of Staff Colby Cooper said it would take $15 million just to maintain the city’s core infrastructure. Any amount over that would go to improvements.