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Mayor's 2014 Budget Message

AUGUST 20, 2013

Members of City Council,
Our city has a well-deserved reputation of being a great place to live, work, play and visit. This good fortune is the result of seized opportunities, effective partnerships and the desire to be a true “Capital of Dreams”.

Our progress has not gone un-noticed. A survey commissioned by the Chamber of Commerce shows our citizens appreciate the efforts undertaken on their behalf and share our vision for a better future. 76% rate Montgomery’s quality of life positively. 72% feel our community is moving in the right direction.

The survey shows a majority of citizens give favorable ratings to many key municipal services and initiatives: garbage and trash removal enjoys an impressive 90% approval rate. Efforts to recruit retail and restaurants attract jobs and businesses and fight crime also earned high marks. In spite of our uptick in homicides, which we are vigorously attacking, our overall incidents of crime are down 14% over historic lows.

The Alabama Policy Institute rates Montgomery as the most business friendly of Alabama’s four major metro areas. Executives and entrepreneurs in the Capital City have given Montgomery the highest business confidence index in the state for 10 of the past 12 quarters. This is evident by the more than 2,200 new jobs in our area last year and nearly $200 million in capital investment. This year we continue to attract new jobs, with more to be announced. More than 1,700 people are employed today than this time a year ago.

An old adage states “rooftops follow jobs”. It rings true in Montgomery where home sales grew 12% in 2012 versus 2011. For the opening months of 2013, we are enjoying significant year to date advancement as we lead the state in residential growth.

A key economic indicator, the value of construction permits for residential and business properties, shows we are 55% ahead of this same point in 2012. Another positive aspect is the almost $3 million increase in revenue from gasoline and sales and use taxes.

Although we are neither the Board of Education nor the Superintendent, Montgomery’s continued well-being is tied to public education.

Montgomery’s magnet schools consistently receive national praise. LAMP High School was named the top magnet school in the country by U.S. News & World Report. Brewbaker Technical, Booker T. Washington and Forest Avenue Elementary are recognized as being among the best schools in the state. This year, Park Crossing High School opens its classrooms in East Montgomery, complementing the new Carver High School which opened just a few years back on the west side.

The Montgomery Board of Education and Superintendent Barbara Thompson are boldly moving forward with plans to provide new educational opportunities at the former Montgomery Mall site. The new home for LAMP and our new technical high school, MTEC, will greatly enhance educational opportunities for all kids.

The district is also enrolling more students in AP courses and laying the foundation for International Baccalaureate curricula at every level from kindergarten to 12th grade. It is no wonder the Montgomery Public Schools have been recommended for district-wide accreditation following a comprehensive review by an independent agency.

Higher education in the Capital of Dreams is also thriving. Nearly 21,000 students are pursuing degrees in Montgomery colleges and universities. These young adults play a significant role in the vitality of our community. Enhancements at Jones School of Law and the establishment of a UAB regional medical school will benefit our area as we produce more future lawyers and physicians. More than $200 million in higher education expansion projects solidifies our status as a center for education.

An increasing number of tourists are finding Montgomery is a “Capital Cool” place to visit. We are enjoying growth in hotel occupancy, average daily rate and the amount of revenue per available room. Montgomery is the only major metro area in Alabama experiencing this prosperity in its hospitality industry.

Our top-rate athletic facilities and talented sports event managers are attracting national attention. Every level of competition, in a wide array of sports is being contested within our city limits. The Central Alabama Sports Commission and our Parks and Recreation personnel are vigorously pursuing additional opportunities as evidenced by yesterday’s announcement of the Camellia Bowl coming here in 2014.

Other visitors come here to indulge in our many cultural, fine dining and retail offerings. The arrival of new restaurants and stores continues to be an area in which we are enjoying success throughout our city.

Montgomery’s achievements would not be possible without the dedication and professionalism of our city employees. Remarkably, our municipal workforce is nearly nine percent less smaller than it was a mere three or four years ago. To score such high favorability ratings with 250 fewer employees means our departments are working more efficiently and effectively. These efforts warrant merit raises for those employees eligible to receive them and a one-time stipend of $500 for the 374 employees who are at the top step of their pay grades.

While it will not impact this general fund, we have recommended a 3% increase for retirees, the first since 2007.

The well-deserved raises may help offset higher premiums city employees are paying to retain traditional health insurance. The price hike is needed to help control climbing health care costs. New health coverage options and a modified retirement plan are additional methods to ensure our financial stability into the future.

Protecting our citizens from crime, fire and medical crises requires a heightened investment in our Department of Public Safety. The 3.5% increase in public safety expenditures will provide better staffing on Fire & Rescue dispatches and fulfill our obligation to retain police officers hired with federal funding. Our police force continues at all-time levels and is budgeted to increase this fiscal year.

The increase in public safety spending along with the City’s contribution to help fund health care cost increases make up the lion’s share of the 2.6% overall growth in the general fund.

These expenditures are matched on the revenue side with a modest expectation in the growth of the sales and use tax and an increase of 1.5 percentage points in the lodging tax. The latter is expected to yield around $1 million, a portion of which will be used to fund new marketing initiatives to attract more convention and travel business.

We will also continue to vigorously collect those revenues due us from businesses and individuals, an effort we successfully began over the last couple of years.

Our citizens task us with providing vital services, positioning the City for the future and being mindful stewards of the resources with which we are entrusted. This modest financial plan accomplishes all three. We request your support for the $229.9-million budget for the new fiscal year.

Mayor Todd Strange 

Last updated: 9/20/2013 2:44:19 PM