Something will have to give and the Alexander City City Council will have to make the call.
The council has almost $7.2 million in capital requests from its enterprise functions. The problem is there is only $1.2 million left after covering a 3% cost of living raise and operating expenses for the light, water, sewer and gas departments and the golf course. The capital improvements are something needed but decades of decisions have only put Band-Aid fixes on major issues that have been rising to the surface again.
“Most of this should have been taken care of years ago,” councilmember Buffy Colvin said. “It’s sad the ball was dropped a long time ago. Now we are trying to make a pass for a touchdown.”
To aid the council’s decision, city finance director Sandy Stanbrough requested department heads prioritize the capital requests before she put them into the budget for council consideration. Those categories are critical and must have; needed but can be deferred and wanted.
Stanbrough said even department heads move many things from the needed but can be deferred category to wanted. At Tuesday night’s budget hearing, Stanbrough presented a capital project request from only the critical need areas from the city’s enterprise funds totaling $1.2 million. Totaled with the fleet program the costs jump to $4 million for fiscal year 2021.
Stanbrough said the city is making conservative revenue projections for this budget due to concerns of COVID-19 pandemic. A decision was also made to present an option to the city council that does not require borrowing money to cover capital expenditures.
No borrowing means the council will have to decide which projects to cut from the critically needed capital projects and the fleet program to spend only $2.8 million.
One project back on the radar for the gas department is the moving of a gas main and valves in the middle of the intersection of U.S. Highway 280 and Highway 22.
“We put it off because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” gas superintendent Chris Hardy said. “We can put it off again but if it leaks we will have to come back to you to deal with it immediately.”
The sewer department is currently vetting a $1.2 million bid to replace a forced sewer main from Coley Creek to Thomas Road. This late in the fiscal year 2020 means the project, if approved by the council would have to be accounted for in fiscal year 2021 according to Stanbrough.
“We have already had a leak in it already,” sewer superintendent John McWhorter said.
The sewer department is requesting $641,000 for more sewer rehabilitation with the cure in place pipe. It is a program the city has been following for a few years now. The proposed section to rehab in 2021 is in the areas of Old Kellyton Road, the housing authority and Walmart — the Ford Road basin according to McWhorter.
McWhorter is also requesting a new CCTV system as the department’s current one used for sewage line maintenance is out of date the company currently servicing is about to close its closest office in Atlanta. For $85,000 McWhorter said a new system could be purchased from a company in Birmingham who would come to Alexander City to train the employees — something not available with the current system.
Wastewater and water treatment has requests for pumping station improvements to prevent sewage spills during rain events. The golf course is seeking approval to improve its cart barn for new carts purchased last year to improve the pro-shop.
The capital project budget presented to council currently has a guiding principle.
“We are funding capital projects in the business funds with ongoing revenue,” Stanbrough said.
The operating budget for the enterprise funds, if approved, will see new positions created for an lineman apprentice to provide backup to the city’s three two-man utility trucks.
“If we have a person out, we are down a crew,” light and power department superintendent Ricky Waller said. “We need this to keep things running smoothly.”
Wastewater superintendent Lynn Miller is asking for a new operator trainee position to have a person trained and certified for the expected retirement of two employees in the next few years.
The COLA of 3% is the first COLA for the employees of the enterprise fund since 2015 when they received 3%. About ⅓ of the employees will also receive raises based on how long they have been employed with the city.
The council made no decision at its Thursday work session. The plan is for the council to meeting again at 4 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17 to go over the general fund budget; have a regular meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 21; hold another budget work session at 4 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24 to discuss the requests and approve the budget at its first meeting in October.