Piedmont City Council facing budget decisions
by Laura Gaddy
lbgaddy@annistonstar.com
Sep 01, 2013 | 4099 views |  0 comments | 89 89 recommendations | email to a friend | print
If a few empty storefronts such as this one could get filled in downtown Piedmont, the City Council's budget-balancing job might get a tad easier. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
If a few empty storefronts such as this one could get filled in downtown Piedmont, the City Council's budget-balancing job might get a tad easier. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
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Piedmont’s City Council is preparing to draft its budget as the start of a new fiscal year looms Oct. 1; given years of economic decline, the task is unlikely to be easy.

During a recent meeting, Councilman Frank Cobb said sales tax revenue now stands at about $1.6 million a year. Seventeen years ago, in 1996, the city collected about $2 million in sales tax.

Repeated attempts to get budget information from city officials this past week were not successful. The city clerk was away at training in Tuscaloosa and Mayor Rick Freeman has been away from meetings on several occasions due to health concerns.

Evidence of the dwindling sales tax revenue manifests itself in the vacant buildings that stand on most city streets. Most of the major employers — textile mills and other manufacturers — closed years ago. And this year the city lost one of its staple institutions — a main street pharmacy.

While the city keeps a close eye on revenue, at least $1 million in upgrades are needed to keep the city’s municipal electric system operational, city officials have said.

In the past year, the city built a new salt water pool, and in recent years it has funded a major renovation of the high school’s football field. The pool project cost the city $1.8 million of $4.4 million borrowed through a 2010 bond issue, city officials have said.

The stadium project and athletic facility construction projects cost the city $4.5 million and was also funded with bond debt from 2010. The debt for both projects is being paid back in monthly installments.

Councilman Bill Baker, who is also mayor pro tem, said department heads are busy working on their budget wish-lists, which will be tweaked to take out excess expenses. Later, the city clerk will present that information to council members and the council’s budget committee, Baker said.

“I think it’s going as planned,” Baker said. “It’s almost ready for review.”

Baker, a longtime member of the council, said he doesn’t think the budget will include any major changes. He added that the city will continue to fund the necessary programs, but funding in the former mill town is hard to come by.

Cobb is worried that almost two decades of decline will eventually catch up with the town.

“We don’t have money trees in this town, I figured that out,” he said

According to Cobb, sales tax revenue is key to the city’s success. Other major forms of revenue for Piedmont, mostly income from the electric and other utility services offered by the city, give the council less leeway, he said.

“That money is already spent before we get it,” Cobb said.

Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LGaddy_Star.
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