By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
…It depends on who you ask! Mayor Ronnie is the only leader I have ever met that is jazzed, energized, pumped, use whatever word you want about the yearly requirement of Alabama law to not only submit a budget, but make sure that it is one that is balanced. This is the first week of the new fiscal year, and the mayor was more than pleased to announce that the City of Athens is once again in the black. “Now if we could just get the federal government to do what we are required to,” he said with a chuckle.
Mayor Ronnie knows that most people find budgets boring, so he did his best to make my schooling “lean, mean, and clean.” For those of you who are new to the subject of the city budget, there are several things you need to know.
First of all, every budget meeting is open to the public, and the entire process of presentation and approval is transparent. There are several departments whose budgets run from October through September, except for the electric budget, which ties in with TVA and runs from July through June. We have about 47,000 electricity customers, and of the $100 million annual electrical budget, about $90 million is buying power from and selling to TVA.
Water and waste water are part of the general budget, and the need to expand sewer service in anticipation of growth is one of the most challenging parts of the current budget. New sewers are going to need to run down Hwy 31 to what will be the greatly expanded Huntsville-Brownsferry exchange. “There is a critical need for growth, preparation for growth, and a plan to re-coup investments over the long term,” said the mayor. “All of it is about balancing,” he added. He was also glad to report that this fiscal year the General Fund will have a surplus of about $500K, and being in the black was not something that could be said about the City of Athens for many years.
The natural gas budget is about $14 million, and right now gas customers are increasing by 500-600 per year. At some point, there is going to need to be a new fire station built to accommodate the housing development on the south part of Lindsay Lane. The most important need in any city is public safety; and one thing we need right now is to be able to hire more policemen, and make their salary competitive. “We need to get in line with neighboring communities if we are going to get and keep officers who are going to make law enforcement a career,” said the mayor. And it’s not just policemen, it’s all first responders. “We have guys who go out into storms and climb up to power lines to restore power, and firefighters who also put their lives on the line to keep us safe. I think about them all the time,” he said. Even with all that’s involved in budgeting, the mayor remained most positive. It was time to pray and thank God, (even for budgets!) so we did. And then, once again, Ronnie rolled.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner