Powell: Sky is not falling
Published 9:51 am Thursday, August 2, 2012
The only Andalusia candidate who is unopposed in his bid for re-election told a gathering of about 100 people “the rest of the story” in a city hall forum Thursday morning, assuring local residents that “the sky is not falling.”
Councilman Terry Powell, who also serves as mayor pro tem, said he was responding to pieces of information being posted in various media and discussed in coffee shops about the city’s long-term debt and its finances, jobs, utility rates, and projects accomplished in the city of Andalusia in the past four years.
“It has been said that the city has $38 million in debt,” Powell said. “That is absolutely true. As of April 30, 2012, the city had $38,185,254 of outstanding debt.
“Now, for the rest of that story,” Powell, who is the financial officer at Shaw and a Baptist minister, said.
Powell said that the total indebtedness includes $16.64 million of debt being paid by the Andalusia Board of Education, the Andalusia Utilities Board, and by an industrial tenant (See related graph). He said that tenant – SaeHaeSung, now employs 250 people. Before the city agreed to work with the company to build the facility, its owners had planned to leave the community.
“That would have been 250 jobs gone,” Powell said.
There is approximately $21 million in long-term debt served from taxes and fees collected by the city. Beginning in July, the Airport Authority assumed the full payment for a 2006 bond issue for hangars at the airport, leaving $19.75 million.
That total has increased by about $7 million over the last four years as the city refinanced its old debts at lower rates and borrowed money to complete the goals it set at the beginning of the current administration, Powell said.
“We were smart to take advantage of the rates just as many of you refinanced homes,” Powell said.
The current administration wanted to refurbish River Falls Street, Johnson Park, and Church Street School. The projects were done with public/private partnerships, he said.
“I want to point out that these three projects were on the table as goals of the previous administration. They were seriously looked at, but things that prevented that from happening.”
The city received $1.5 million in federal stimulus money for River Falls Street. The Andalusia Ballet invested $500K in the renovation of Church Street School as a cultural arts centre, and Johnson Park was completed with lots of work by city employees and in cooperation with the county commission, he said.
Turning to claims that there have been “no new jobs” and “no new business” in the city in the past four years, Powell enumerated 473 new jobs, and listed an additional 98 expected to be added in the next year.
“I also point out that sales tax revenues have increased every year from 2005 through 2011,” he said. “2012 is currently 1.2 percent ahead of last year. This indicates the revenues of businesses have gone up, year over year, in total.”
A candidate’s suggestion that he would lower utility rates for senior citizens is actually illegal, Powell said.
“There are laws that prohibit discriminatory rates among the same class of customers,” he said. “That means only one rate per rate class.”
Rates are set by the utilities board, not the council, he said, adding that Andalusia’s rates are the fifth lowest in the PowerSouth system.
Powell said current Mayor Earl Johnson is taking most of the heat for the city’s decisions.
“I point out that only one project of significance that we accomplished was not approved unanimously by the council,” he said.
Asked during the question and answer period about that decision, Powell said, “The purchase of the Bass property adjoining city hall,” referring to the office complex that once housed the employment office, the LAAC, and several other businesses.
He was interrupted at that point by mayoral candidate Blaine Wilson, whose mother is Sue Bass Wilson.
“I don’t think you need to refer to it as the Bass property. You bought that from Mr. Tisdale. You had an opportunity to buy from the Bass family for less than what you paid for it.”
Powell agreed that the property was purchased from John Tisdale.
After the meeting ended, Johnson attempted to discuss that with Wilson, saying that he tried to purchase the property from the Bass family before it was sold to Tisdale, but was told they weren’t interested in selling it, as they had several tenants and the property was income producing.
Wilson refused to listen, but responded that the city was not holding Tisdale to an agreement made in the purchase of the property, adding that Tisdale has Johnson campaign signs on his property.
When Johnson attempted to answer, Wilson, who was walking away, turned and said, “Hey you can’t hide the moon, the sun or the truth. Remember that.”