Utility rates, jobs on radar in Opp

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 24, 2012

Opp mayoral candidates said Thursday that among the top issues facing Opp is lowering utility rates and job creation.

Mayor H.D. Edgar, Councilman Jimmy Rogers and John Bartholomew were each asked what were the top three issues facing Opp, and if elected, how would they address those issues.

Edgar and Bartholomew said job creation is high on their lists.

“We need to get more and better jobs into Opp,” Edgar said. “The way I plan to do that is more work with the gas district economic group and the Covington County Economic board. I’ve made a lot of contacts with aerospace companies in the last eight years.”

Edgar said that the city, under his leadership, has a spec building listed on the state’s website so that prospective industry can find Opp.

“We are completing the industrial park as a state advantage site,” he said. “It’s shovel ready – the environmental work has been done. So that when companies look at Opp, there are no state regulatory hoops for them to jump through. I also plan to continue to work hard to encourage people to come to Opp and have a business.”

Bartholomew agreed there needs to be more jobs – specifically manufacturing.

“We need jobs for the people of Opp,” he said. “We need new manufacturing jobs.”

Secondly, Bartholomew said he wants to attract new retail business and increase revenue for the city.

Edgar and Rogers said that utility rates are another major issue.

“After walking and talking to the people in Opp, utility rates is a No.1 concern of the people of Opp,” Rogers said. “Between 2000-2004, the contribution from the utility department to city hall was $650,000 a year. In the last two administrations, that had to be increased to a $1 million a year, as contribution from the utility department. My intentions are to lower utility rates, and the way to do that is cut spending.”

Edgar agreed utility rates need to come down.

“We will continue to work toward lowering our utility rates,” he said. “We have good equipment that we shouldn’t have to replace. We have had to do that in the last four years, but now we won’t have to spend the money on that.”

Edgar added that utility rates have decreased twice in the last three months.

Additionally, Edgar said he is working with the utility board to implement a prepaid utility plan.

“This for those who have bad credit or fair credit,” he said. “Instead of having to pay a $400 deposit, you will be able to spend that $400 on power.”

Edgar said that the prepaid system would allow participants to prepay for a certain amount of electricity, and the customer would be notified when it was time to add more money to the account.

“This will help cut down on the bad debts,” he said. “Covington Electric is already doing this.”

Bartholomew said the city has extended its self with excess debt.

“We have to have a large company to increase the retail business,” he said. “Any type of retails would be good for the city.”

Additionally, Bartholomew said the city needs updated recreation opportunities for children and adults.

“I’ve been working with investors – the same investors Gov. Bentley and Sen. Sessions have been working with for the last eight months,” he said. “We have an opportunity to bring to Opp a company that would employ 500 to 800 people at one time.

“By doing this, it will change the economics of Opp,” he said. “And bring in the revenue to pay off some of the debt.”

Bartholomew said that by bringing in a large company, it will allow for the recreation facilities to be updated.

Bartholomew said it will take a cooperative spirit and the will of God to achieve these things.

“It takes accountability, integrity and honesty,” he said.

Rogers agreed the debt is too high in Opp.

“We have to do something about the millions of dollars that have been borrowed that the people of Opp are responsible to pay,” he said. “I think we’re going to have to ask our supervisors take a budget and expect them to stay within that budget.”

Rogers said that street paving is high on his list of issues the city needs to tackle in the next four years.

“We have not had a street paving program in eight years,” he said. “We’re going to have to search for grant money to complete these projects.”

Rogers also said that he will support industrial development and job creation that are desperately needed in Opp.

Finally, Edgar said, the city needs to implement and improve services for the residents.

Edgar said plans are in the works for a splash park, but that funds have not been available.

“When we get the funds, we will tear down the present building and put a new building up that is large enough for families to have reunions and birthdays,” he said. “We’re talking $300,000 or more to build something like that.”

Edgar said while he would love to build something like a splash park, he believes $300,000 should be used toward projects sure as sewer rehabilitation or paving projects.

“We’re looking for funding for all these projects,” he said.

Additionally, Edgar said residents can expect an improved garbage service.

“One of the major services we provide is trash pick up,” he said. “We have a new truck on its way. It should be here within the next 60 days. Our garbage services are already good, but this should make them better. We are striving to maintain our garbage rate at the current level.”

The municipal election is Tues., Aug. 28, and polls open at 7 a.m.