First on the minds of city council candidates is creating jobs, with revitalizing downtown taking a close second. Council candidates responded to questions about securing new revenue for city projects and which city issue they would focus on first.
District 1 candidates shared differing ideas about locating revenue sources. Candidate Joe Hogan said he would look for creative ways to use current city funds.
“We have to look inside,” Hogan said. “Obviously there are opportunities for grants, but we have to think outside the box and come up with ways to generate the money. If we can save some of the money we’re spending right now or rearrange to get the most out of it that we can, we’ll be able to do some of the projects we need done.”
Candidate and current City Council President Jim Heigl said the city should continue to look for outside sources of funding.
“We’re saving a little bit every month, and there are ways we can get money,” Heigl said. “We need board members to tell us exactly what they need, and we will support them every way we possibly can with grants.”
Heigl said growth is coming to Sylacauga in due time.
“We’ve got a heck of an economy we’ve got to overcome, but our city is in good shape,” he said. “There are a lot of towns our size that would love to be in the financial state we’re in today.”
Candidate Mike Landers said cautious budgeting is the key to supporting new projects.
“We’ve got about $3.8 million in reserve and we operate with a $13 million budget,” Landers said. “We’ve got about three months of cushion between us and financial disaster.”
“We’ve got to be more cautious with the money we’ve got if we are to expand the programs we have, and there’s no way to do it unless we find grants and find money that is not currently available.”
District 2 candidate Shannon Darby said his main focus would be bringing new businesses and activities.
“Increasing revenue and bringing new business are key targets in my campaign. I hear the sports complex, but not only do we need the complex; we need more,” Darby said. “We need activities so that not only the youth can have something to do, but also the seniors. I am a successful business owner. I know the importance of bringing new revenue to a city. It takes the community, and by working together, I believe we can get the job accomplished.”
District 3 candidate and current councilman Ken Horn said the only answer to the city’s problems is more jobs.
“When I was elected on city council eight years ago, we had a budget of $16 million,” Horn said. “This year, we had a budget of $13 million. When I was elected to the council, we had a surplus on that $16 million budget. Now we operate with a zero balance budget. We have no money left in the budget. If we have a problem, we’re in trouble. The thing we don’t have that we need is more jobs.”
Fellow District 3 candidate Tom Roberts said the best way to generate funds is through more businesses.
“We have 31,000 people that have a Sylacauga address. They may not live in Sylacauga proper, but they live in our area,” Roberts said. “We need those people shopping in our area. We need more people living, working and spending their money in Sylacauga. That takes doing things to make our city more attractive for their dollars.”
District 4 candidates Rocky Lucas and Jon Hall both said revitalizing downtown is important to the city’s success.
“The thing a lot of people don’t realize is industry doesn’t necessarily drive the city; it’s sales tax,” Lucas said. “We’ve got these good jobs and some more coming with the IKO shingle plant, but we’ve got to give people working a place to spend their money and have some recreation and entertainment.”
“I’m totally on board with all the improvements the city needs, like the sportsplex,” he said. “In my opinion, the revitalization of downtown is extremely important to making that happen. A lot of research exists to show that vibrant downtown areas boost the economy and quality of life in a community.”
Hall, a native of Massachusetts, said filling empty buildings is the starting point for growth.
“Fill up the empty buildings on Broadway; fill up the storefronts on Norton, and put small business back in there so tax revenue will increase,” Hall said. “Another one of the things the city council should do is get out of Sylacauga and go get people to come look at Sylacauga and see what a great and wonderful place this is.”
District 5 candidates Billy Hay and Billy Carden pledged to solicit jobs.
“Without jobs, you can do retail, and it’s all for naught,” Hay said. “I told you I was a job maker, not a job taker. I started my company in 2000. We now have 50 plus employees. I wonder if just a few more people had 50 plus employees, what kind of tax dollars we could generate.”
Carden said councilmen should recruit jobs that build on what Sylacauga has to offer.
“We have quarries here that use a lot of products they make,” he said. “We need to encourage people to come to town that are going to utilize what they have. The sports complex is also my priority. I’ve seen what having one can do in other towns, and what kind of revenue it brings in.”
District 2 candidate Manuell Smith was not in attendance.
For comments from mayoral candidates at the forum, see the article in the July 13 edition. Current mayoral candidates are Clara Curtis, Walter Jacobson, Doug Murphree and Bobby Whetstone. A mayoral debate is set for Aug. 23.
Qualifying for this year’s Aug. 28 elections is open through July 17. For more information, contact the City Clerk’s office at 256-401-2400.
Contact Emily Adams at email@example.com.