A proposed $50,000 increase in city nonprofit appropriations for fiscal 2020 would likely mean cutting the amount Decatur has budgeted to spur residential development, Mayor Tab Bowling said.
Bowling included level funding of $1.77 million for 20 local nonprofits and other groups in his proposed budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. But in a review last week of the nonprofit appropriations, the City Council agreed to $50,000 in increases.
Bowling's budget also includes a $1.1 million residential growth fund that he said the city needs so it can offer a sewer extension or other infrastructure to any developer willing to build a subdivision in the city.
“This is much like we’re doing with the Morris subdivision,” Bowling said.
City officials want to boost residential growth because it has been flat for more than two decades.
Using money from a water sales fund, the city has agreed to run sewer from Indian Hills Road to Old River Road for the Morris subdivision. In return, Howard Morris and family agreed to annex 19.4 acres into the city and build a 55-home subdivision. Expected to cost close to $1 million, the bid opening for the sewer extension is later this month.
The council went through each nonprofit appropriation during a meeting last week and, with a straw vote, agreed on an amount for each group. Council President Paige Bibbee and council member Kristi Hill proposed the increases that were accepted. Councilman Chuck Ard opposed the increases.
Bibbee said she and Hill spoke with Chief Financial Officer John Andrzejewski after the work session to find out how the increase would impact the budget.
“I think this is what Finance (staff) intended, and I’m fine with it,” Bibbee said. “The increase is valid, and several of the nonprofits are very important to our city. The growth fund is also very important.”
Ard said his goal was to put at least $1 million in the new growth fund.
“We know we need money to stimulate growth,” Ard said. “We know from our work on residential growth, they will probably want incentives like sewer and water to build homes in Decatur.”
Bibbee said this is the first time the city has created a residential growth fund for the city, and she’s confident Andrzejewski will find the money if more is needed for a project.
“I don’t care where the money comes from as long as it’s in the budget,” Bibbee said. “We will take care of Engineering if they need money for a project.”
Bowling said he thought “it was best for the city” to keep appropriations level-funded, but he and the Finance Department staff will adjust to the council’s preference. If a project materializes that requires more money than the residential growth fund has available, he said, the money could come out of the unassigned fund balance.
While the mayor proposed level nonprofit funding, the groups asked for about $500,000 in increases.
“I know appropriations are sensitive,” Bowling said. “I find it interesting that, when they (council) first started (in 2016), they were talking about doing away with nonprofit appropriations, and now that’s kind of shifted so they're adding cases.”
Bibbee said the leaders of the nonprofits noticed that Bowling left in the middle of two meetings earlier in August in which they made their pitch for the money. She also said she and Hill were the only two council members to sit through both sessions of nonprofit requests.
“Some of the leaders were a little perturbed that people were leaving when they were trying to make the pitch for their organizations,” Bibbee said.
Bibbee proposed increases for the Mental Health Center of North-Central Alabama, the Carnegie Center for the Visual Arts, the Princess Theatre for the Performing Arts, Pryor Field, the Morgan County Emergency Management Agency, Morgan County Rescue Squad and the Morgan County Entrepreneurial Center, plus a new appropriation of $15,000 for the Huntsville-based HudsonAlpha Institute.
Bibbee said the Carnegie and Princess need an additional $5,000 to pay for a newly required audit since they’re not audited through United Way. However, Ard and Hill did not agree. They did increase the Princess’ funding by $8,000 to $80,000, but they kept the Carnegie at $18,000.
Hill said she would be OK with increasing funding for the Princess and the Carnegie if the money goes to programs “that bring in tourism dollars and bring people in to eat in our restaurants.” She said she does not favor paying for their audit.
Bibbee got the council to give the Rescue Squad $5,000 more, to $15,000, because Fire Chief Tony Grande said the organization allows Decatur Fire & Rescue to use its boats for emergencies.
“Our relationship with the Rescue Squad has really improved,” Grande said.
The council’s most fierce debate was over a joint request by Hudson Alpha Foundation, HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology and Kailos Genetics for $25,000. The straw-poll decision was to give them $15,000.
The firms asked for money to help support Information is Power, a program that offers free and reduced-cost screening of genetic cancer risks.
Councilman Charles Kirby argued that HudsonAlpha’s program does not fall under the duties of city government to provide police and fire protection, garbage service and city infrastructure.
“Does it provide an essential city service?” Kirby said.
Hill said her concern is whether HudsonAlpha is connected well enough locally, but she is OK with giving the company some funding if they use it for marketing the program in the city. Bibbee said HudsonAlpha already has programs in Decatur’s schools.
Andrzejewski said he plans to include in the contract, if HudsonAlpha receives the money, a requirement that it supply data on the impact to the city.
Kirby refused to give input when Andrzejewski asked for opinions on each allocation amount “because I’m probably not going to vote for this budget.”
Councilman Billy Jackson was absent.