Mayor Tab Bowling is redirecting and doubling the city of Decatur’s annual budget for marketing into a rebranding effort that will use a non-Decatur firm.
Bowling also took a portion of the money left over from this year’s marketing effort and moved it over in the fiscal 2019 budget to pay for the mayor’s upcoming economic development trip to Japan.
Bowling was first up Monday as the City Council began its review with city department heads of the mayor’s proposed fiscal 2019 budget.
Highlights of the first day of budget talks also included the mayor’s car allowance and the city engineer’s 2019 paving proposal.
The marketing budget is in the mayor-council portion of the general fund, with most of the annual $100,000 having gone to McComm Group, a Decatur firm that has handled the city’s marketing for several years.
Another $100,000 was added to this line item in his proposed budget for the new branding effort, a plan to use marketing and advertising to create a positive image for the city.
The city had 21 companies respond to a request for qualifications and six finalists were chosen for interviews. None of the city’s marketing firms are among the finalists.
McComm chose not to apply, and Red Sage Communications applied but did not make the cut, Bowling said.
Bowling said the city issues a blanket $25,000 purchase order to McComm each quarter and city directors order services as needed.
Bowling said some of the services the city paid McComm for this year included marketing for Ingalls Pavilion, creating a city flag for Decatur Fire & Rescue and creating a dog sign for the new Wilson Morgan dog park.
McComm also has created the city logos used on city signs, stationery and website in recent years.
Susan Hood, the mayor's secretary, said McComm didn't do $25,000 of work for the city in the third quarter, and Bowling said McComm officials told him that it is cutting back its involvement with the city and plans to focus on other clients.
McComm did some work for the city in the fourth quarter but Bowling said he’s not sure about the company’s future involvement with the city.
All of the marketing budget is allocated to the branding effort even though the mayor admitted the city will need many of the services McComm now provides.
Lynn Temple, partner and vice president of McComm, said the company chose not to participate in this branding effort because they wanted to concentrate on other clients.
“We have several new clients and our existing clients are doing very well, especially because of the Mazda Toyota plant,” Temple said. “We love the city, but we’re just so busy.”
Bowling said he is going on an economic development trip to Japan with Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield and other Morgan County officials in October that will cost about $3,000.
Councilman Chuck Ard said he’s not sure he's happy with the transfer of the unspent money from the marketing budget to the mayor’s travel budget.
“That money should have gone into unassigned reserve funds,” Ard said.
The City Council debated the mayor’s annual $5,700 car allowance in the session when Councilman Billy Jackson argued against its legality.
City Attorney Herman Marks said previous mayors have chosen between a city-supplied vehicle or taking a car allowance. Then-Mayor Don Stanford created controversy when he bought a $21,000 red Ford Flex in 2008.
Jackson said the IRS classifies a car allowance as compensation and the 2004-08 council approved an ordinance change that says the mayor can’t receive additional compensation after the council sets the mayor’s salary prior to the municipal election. The council set the mayor's salary at $106,000, and the car allowance is in addition to that amount.
“This is not about who is mayor now,” Jackson said. “And it would actually cost more for the city to supply a vehicle.”
Ard argued that a car allowance is a benefit like a life insurance policy or health insurance.
“You can try to rationalize it all you want but the law says it’s compensation,” Jackson said.
The conversation ended without a resolution. Marks said he would seek to get a clarification on the issue. Bowling said he would be OK with whatever decision the council makes on the issue.
City Engineer Carl Prewitt presented a $1.3 million paving list for fiscal 2019.
The list features 12 streets, $75,000 for pipe replacement along 13th Avenue Southeast, $5,200 for the painting of traffic lights on Bank Street and $100,000 for maintenance paving.
The suggested streets are:
• Vestavia Drive Southwest, from Loggers Way to Spring Avenue.
• Second Street Northwest, from 12th Avenue to 13th Avenue.
• Beltline frontage roads.
• Danville Road Southwest, from Eighth Street to Westmeade Street.
• Douthit Street Southwest, from Terrehaute Avenue to Bedford Drive.
• 13th Avenue Northwest, from West Moulton Street to Fifth Street.
• Indian Hills Road, from Ben Poole Road to Burningtree Drive.
• Fourth Street Southeast, from 14th Street to Eighth Street.
• Spring Avenue Southwest, from Bradley Street to Clearview Street.
• Woodall Road, from Old Moulton Road to Alabama 24.
• Douthit Street, from Terrehaute to 15th Avenue.
Prewitt said $100,000 is allocated for 40 to 50 handicap ramps.