Despite a couple of months with lower tax revenues during the early part of the coronavirus shutdown, The City of New Albany is still in good financial shape and moving ahead on projects according to Mayor Tim Kent.
Wednesday, the mayor provided updates on a variety of city programs and projects the public has expressed interest in.
Renovation of the former Fred’s building
The city – technically the Light, Gas and Water Department – purchased the former Fred’s store building this past year to use for municipal office space. Later, the city also purchased the adjacent WIC building on Carter Avenue as well. The plan was to use the Fred’s building for the light, gas and water department in one half and the police department in the other half. The smaller WIC building was to be for municipal court and to house a city board meeting room.
“We’ve pumped the brakes on the Fred’s building because of the cost of building materials,” Mayor Kent said. Prices for building materials have about doubled lately, he added, mostly because so many manufacturing plants shut down this spring when employees tested positive for the coronavirus. Interest in home projects increased while people were stuck at home and building product manufacturers are still trying to catch back up with demand.
“We hope to start work on the building by the first of the year,” he said. “We’re going to go ahead and take bids to see what comes in.” Officials hope building material costs start to go back down.
Plans for the renovation are pretty well established and New Albany native Ross Barkley with Eley Barkley Dale is serving as primary architect.
“We cut a few non-essential things out but it’s still going to be very nice,” he said. “We figure we can pay up to $2.5 million and pay for it out of light, gas and water.” That would come from user fees.
The Women, Infants and Children nutrition office is closing before the end of the year and will move out with clients using EBT-type cards to obtain supplies.
Paving discussed since early this year has been delayed during the summer by difficulty in obtaining a paving contractor, the mayor said.
This problem is about to be solved.
“We have a price from Lance Phillips and are waiting on one from Murphree Paving, and will take the lowest one,” he said. One of these will do patching work on city streets and the cost will be kept down by the city’s buying the material. Also, the city has a small milling machine that can mill up to 40-inch widths.
“We have Cook-Coggin Engineers working on specs for the larger overlay project,” he said.
Part of Moss Hill Drive will be fully overlaid, along with a few shorter streets. The spot work will be more like the sections of Highland Avenue that had to be cut for water lines.
“Paving should start soon,” he said.
Some sections will be micro-sealed rather than paved.
The city had a study done of all streets a couple of years ago, rating each by condition, need and cost. This study was part of the basis for determining which streets to pave first. The money available, about $1 million, is being divided among aldermen as wards as evenly as possible. A four-mill tax levy was added the year before specifically for street improvement bringing the total to 7.3 mills for streets.
Wastewater treatment plant
An unfortunate by-product of the city’s growth is the proximity of the wastewater treatment facility to city parks and the sportsplex.
The city may be no more than about six months away from getting rid of that noxious problem.
Mayor Kent said work is proceeding on the new wastewater treatment plant north of the city and completing the construction should take about six months more.
Kent said he has received comments about how nice the downtown parks and tennis complex are, mixed with how unfortunate it is that an odor problem exists.
When the treatment plant was constructed, nothing was near it and city officials did not consider it a problem. However, more commercial development occurred along West Bankhead Street, the Hwy. 78 bypass was constructed, the sportsplex was created and the Park Along the River and Tallahatchie Trails were all established. Depending on weather conditions, odor from the plant can be noticeable at any or all of these areas.
Once the new treatment plant is complete, Kent said the odor problem should almost completely be removed in the downtown area. A pumping station will remain to move the wastewater to the new plant and one emergency pool may be needed, but they should not present problems.
“The odor would be cut down significantly,” Kent said.
“The old site will have to sit for two or three years and dry out according to Department of Environmental Quality regulations,” he said. “They will have to haul away the sludge to a hazardous site in Alabama but then they can fill the area in.”
There are no plans for use of the cleaned-up site at this time.
Although access to some city offices has been restricted because of the coronavirus, and precautions are still being taken seriously, Kent said none of the departments are being limited in service due to employees who have tested positive. The light, gas and water department office had to be closed a few weeks ago because some of the employees tested positive, but that’s all.
The new New Albany-Union County Airport Terminal is essentially complete, although there has been no rush to move in. Some of the furnishings are in, but not nearly all. The new terminal includes a large public area, offices and even a lounge space where pilots can take a nap. The terminal was mostly paid for with federal and state grants.
Plans call for removal of the old terminal building between the new building and taxiway. Kent said there was some discussion about keeping the old building and using it for some purpose but the thinking now is that it needs to go.
Airport officials hope to extend the runway and taxiway and already received grants for new LED runway lighting and other improvements. The airport sees more takeoffs and landings than most people realize and private and commercial aircraft take advantage of the airport’s 24-hour fuel service, getting in and out much quicker than at controlled airports.
Retail sales and tourism tax revenue
Both retail sales tax and tourism tax revenue was down some for August and the reason why is not clear. There was no obvious occurrence to account for a change.
Mayor Kent said sometimes it just comes down to when collections are received during a month.
Although the retail sales tax at $325,658 was down slightly from July, it still was up considerably from the previous year’s August amount of $281,833. Kent said the increase is probably due to more increased sales at the large “big box” stores here.
The lower tourism tax of $72,833 is probably because restaurants still are not up to pre-pandemic levels, but at least that amount is higher than during the first few months of the pandemic and fourth-highest for the year.
CARES money and personnel salary
The mayor said the city is receiving $180,000 in CARES money from the state because of the pandemic. CARES stands for Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security.
“At first we thought the money could only be used for overtime,” Kent said. “But now we can use it for all salaries from March.”
Kent said there is some interest in using part of the money for city worker pay raises as well.
The city budget as originally proposed included a three-percent pay increase for city employees. However, while Ward Two Alderman Johnny Anderson and Ward Three Alderman Kevin Dale White were in favor of the increase, the others were not.
Ward One Alderwoman Amy Livingston, Ward Four Alderman Will Tucker and Alderman-at-Large Keith Conlee opted to cut the raise to only 1.5 percent at a follow-up meeting. They also voted to give no raise to aldermen or the mayor.
Kent said $60,000 from the CARES fund would make the difference between 1.5 and three percent raises. That amount is less than one percent of the total city budget, not even including tourism funds.
“Financially, we’re in good shape,” the mayor said. “The city has $2.3 million in the bank in a CD. Employees need some money. We’ve not been at the cost of living for the past 15 years. We have been very frugal in our finances.”
“We’ve got a bunch of good employees. Many are older and their retirement is based on their best four years. Why not help them?” he said.Fred's, mayor, New Albany, Northeast Mississippi, paving, projects, revenue, Union County