Council considers $11 million bond issue

Published 8:15 am Friday, April 8, 2022

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The Andalusia City Council this week took a major step toward completing the work it has set for itself in the current administration when it agreed to move forward with an $11 million bond issue.

As is its tradition, this council met in the first months of the current term, which began in November of 2020, and set for itself an aggressive agenda. Work has long since begun on many of the priorities identified in January of 2021, Mayor Earl Johnson said, and the city is ready to proceed with other projects that will require outside financing.

The Council identified continued redevelopment of downtown, improvements to Johnson Park, a new park, improvements to city facilities, street resurfacing, and sidewalks as priorities.

The city plans to convert the former rail yard on South Cotton Street to Heritage Park. The new park, which is in the design phase, was planned with public input  in a series of town hall meetings and surveys, Mayor Johnson said. It will include a water feature, walking trail, biking trail, pavilion and a small amphitheater, as well as a carousel.

The city also will address parking needs in the downtown area, and plans to build at least one new parking lot, to be located on Pear Street, between South Three Notch and South Cotton streets.

“Cleaning up the community was a top priority,” Johnson said.

To date, the Council has abated a number of properties, and continued a litter initiative. In addition, the Council has approved the purchases of two pieces of equipment to help address litter.

Improvements to Johnson Park ranked high on the council’s list of priorities. Already, designs for a new batting cage are in place, and plans are in development to erect permanent lights and restrooms on the facility’s T-ball fields.

“A decade ago – between the last day of baseball and softball play in 2011 and opening day in April of 2012, Johnson Park got an almost-total makeover,” the mayor said. “City crews did most of the work that restructured the layout to make it safer for players, who no longer needed to cross a parking lot to get from field to field. The result was eight playing fields, two centrally-located restroom facilities, and a press box.

As a result of these improvements, as well as the construction of Miracle League field and play area, league participation grew. When parents began express concerns that participation required their children to be out too late on a school night, city officials added additional fields to accommodate the requests of parents.

“At present, we have portable facilities located adjacent to the T-ball fields to save parents trips to the permanent facilities in other parts of the park,” the mayor said. “Our plan is to build permanent restroom facilities in this area, and install permanent lighting. While it will not be possible to have these facilities open for the current season, they should be in place in time for the 2023 season.

“We’ve got some work that has to be done on our existing facilities,” Mayor Johnson said.

Those include the installation of a new elevator and lighting in the Andalusia Public Library; improvements to Springdale; HVAC replacements and upgrades in City Hall; improvements to the Andalusia Fire Department to include new dormitories for firefighters; and improving the Andalusia Police Department and Andalusia Municipal Court facilities, including a new roof and windows.

The bond issue also will convert some short-term debt financed locally to longer-term debt with bond financing.

Ken Funderburk, a managing director of Stifel, told the council that five-year trends for the city show that the administration and staff have managed finances well, with stable expenditures,  increasing revenues, and a growing reserve fund, which has about $7.5 million on hand.

“You have the capacity to absorb debt,” Funderburk said, adding that with the Council’s Tuesday vote to move forward, the process will take about 50 days. The Council authorized the city to work with Stifel, to retain bond counsel, and to seek an updated Standard and Poor’s credit rating. Once those steps are completed, an interest rate will be established, and the project will come back to the Council for final approval, he said.

At present, he said, Andalusia enjoys an A+ bond rating, which he called a good level for a community the size of Andalusia.

Andalusia rates a bit better than Troy, Tuscumbia and Eufaula, he said; is on par with Jasper and Sylacauga; and is very close to Gardendale.

He said credit rating companies like Standard and Poor’s rank a stable and growing reserve fund as more important than having a lower debt level.