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Councilman Congress responds to budget concerns

Dear editor, The Times,

This letter is in response to your front page (letter to the editor) from Concerned Citizens expressing their views and concerns for the projected City of Demopolis budget shortfall for 2012, dated 9/21/11.

I share their concerns but, may I point out, that I did not see any mention of the $4.5 million already spent on the Port of Demopolis that the mayor said recently “may not yield any actual benefits for a year, maybe two years or more.”

I, too, am concerned about our reserves and I applaud those citizens whom I know well and respect. I know that we were left with a surplus when Mayor Caldwell and Mayor Williamson left office. I do take our fiduciary responsibility very seriously. I, too, am a Citizen of this “great city” and share in their desire to not function at a deficit.

Our county, our state and our city are all struggling financially.

The Sunset Road project is not new and it has been in the works for a number of years and is needed badly.

I am at a bit of a loss with all due respect to my comrade Councilman Bill Meador when he says he is concerned about how we are going to pay for all of this. Mr. Meador voted for the bond issue package and stated in the last council meeting that he still whole-heartedly supports the $4.5 million venture.

He wants to suggest ways to cut the bond issue but he is aware that we passed a joint motion to pave Sunset Road, run water lines to Lem Wilson Road and renovate the fire station on the corner of Cedar and Capital Streets and vote for it as well.

He is also aware that we gave the mayor the green light to borrow $4.5 million from Regions Bank with a note payable by December 2011 in a lump sum payment. This payment must come from the bond issue.

Mr. Meador added to the bond issue when he stated that there were some streets that had been brought to his attention in his district that were in disrepair. Then, I am not certain but I think the mayor suggested that we add those streets suggested by Mr. Meador and each councilman submit streets in their district that needed paving to the bond issue, and we did.

The Sunset Road project has been on the back burner for years. This was promised to them and we are following through on that promise. They have no sewage, paved roads or fire hydrants. Their insurance is astronomical. We knew when they were annexed it would cost the city more to provide these services and the city should have foreseen this from a financial perspective.

Mike Baker was then assigned by the mayor the task of taking those streets suggested and looking at them, reporting back the ones that were in the worst shape and to form a priority list of 10.

We then accepted those streets and added them to the bond issue. Mind you, Mr. Meador initiated this new project at a cost of $1.4 million. The only thing that we were waiting on to go forward with the bond issue was the final figure for the renovation of Fire Station No. 2, downtown.

I motioned a compromise figure of $750,000 – one that was between the needed $902,000 and the $646,000 that was recommended by the Building Committee, comprised of Mr. Meador and Mayor Grayson and myself by a 2-1 vote. That recommendation was received by a vote of 3-3 and did not pass (editor’s note: Congress, Yelverton and Moore voted in favor. Meador, Grayson and Cooley voted against). The $750,000 figure was passed by a vote of 3-2 (editor’s note: Congress, Yelverton and Moore voted in favor. Meador and Grayson voted against. Cooley was absent).

The concern came only after the raises that we promised the fire department that some say was only a maybe, not a promise. I recall us saying that we would give the police department a raise last year and go department by department, beginning with the fire department.

When an issue arises concerning the fire department, there is always concern for “where are we going to get the money?” I asked and motioned that we purchase a $7,000 Thermal Imaging Camera for the fire department. That camera would save the lives of firefighters and citizens. This was met with a vote of 3-3, with only Thomas Moore, Melvin Yelverton and myself voting in favor.

Mr. Meador and the rest of us are aware that a joint motion was made to approve the bond issue inclusive of all projects or none before the $4.5 million was spent on the Intermodal Complex, which still remains empty. I was led to believe that one of our local industries would, as soon as purchased, occupy a third of the building.

This has not happened. If the building was leased as projected when we were told that we need to get on this “now” because the seller was getting “antsy” and we would lose out on a great opportunity to bring in industries and jobs.

Mr. Moore’s district received $500,000 from our CDBG Grant for his district to do the Jackson Street water, sewer and paving project.

What is being asked of us is to rescind our votes to do the projects in our districts that are vital to the residents in those districts and are needed badly. I cannot in good conscience relent on the needs of my district, “the Sunset Road project”, nor the needed renovations for the fire station downtown that is an eyesore. I am certain that Mr. Yelverton won’t either from the passion expressed in his concern for water on Lem Wilson Road and other needs of his district, as well as those of the other council members.

No one has mentioned in their concerns the $4.5 million port project. This seems to all revolve around all the other projects. I will support a motion to remove the $1.4 million street projects that was added by Mr. Meador but not Sunset Road and Lem Wilson road, nor the renovation of the fire station. We are all aware of the state of the economy when we voted and how much we had in reserves.

This within itself will free up $1.4 million, which will stop the transfer from our reserves.

I have asked for documents this year and last year that were submitted by department heads in their request for funds for their individual budgets and was refused even after I paid for them.

But when others asked for documents concerning the budget, they are released. Let me be clear. I am not ignoring nor criticizing the citizens nor those of councilman Meador. I am merely trying to lend some clarification as to how we got to where we are.

Respectfully,

Mitchell Congress

Councilman District 2

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