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Entertainment District In Mobile Faces Obstacles

Posted by David Merrell On January - 30 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

    Mobile city councilman William Carroll has been pushing to get an entertainment district put into place in Mobile for some time, hoping it would be ready for Mardi Gras. It appears that will not happen in 2013. Carroll submitted an updated ordinance at Tuesday’s city council meeting, but the council does not appear poised to vote on the measure anytime soon.

    The updated ordinance expands a potential entertainment district to include the Holiday and Malaga Inns. Hours for a noise ordinance were added to the proposal, as well as increased fines for underage drinking. A requirement of special drinking cups from establishments within the entertainment district was also added.

    Mayor Sam Jones has expressed concerns about a potential entertainment district. His concerns are mostly monetary, as the new district would require extra police to maintain. Mobile has had its share of budget woes lately, going through a bitter fight last year to get a penny sales tax passed just to pay the bills it already has. While an entertainment district could bring in new revenue, it could take time for that to happen.

    An entertainment district would allow patrons of bars and clubs downtown to carry their drinks out of the establishment. The hope is that it would bring more people to downtown Mobile. It would also help during Mardi Gras, when the streets are flooded with thousands of people.

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Sam Jones Delivers Budget Proposal

Posted by David Merrell On August - 18 - 2012 ADD COMMENTS

    Mobile Mayor Sam Jones delivered his budget for the coming fiscal year on Friday afternoon. Once again, the mayor proposed a one cent sales tax to offset a looming budget shortfall. Jones proposed new spending on economic development in order to complement the coming of Airbus to Mobile. The mayor is hoping to lure some of the jet maker’s suppliers to the area, a feat that could create more jobs than the plane factory itself.

    In his budget, which can be read here, Mayor Jones claims this could be a defining year for Mobile. Airbus was the center of attention, and Jones makes a push for capital investment in order to take full advantage of the economic opportunity. Jones stated that he wants Mobile to take its place on the world stage, and that can only be done through investment in its culture, arts, and public works.

    At the heart of his proposal is the one cent sales tax. The tax, which has been successful for the city in the past, would generate $30 million in new revenue. Half of that revenue would go into the general fund to be used on city services. The weak recovery from the Great Recession has left the city’s budget in shambles, and the mayor makes the case that the extra revenue is needed to provide basic services. A quarter of the new revenue would go towards the city’s capital budget, and another quarter would go towards economic development. The economic development portion would go towards upgrading Brookley Field.

    The city council has been cool to the mayor’s proposal in the past. The decision by Airbus to locate a jet building plant in the city could change that, because as the mayor says, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the city of Mobile. The alternative to a tax increase is spending cuts, and that would lead to a trim of city services in some areas. A city that is cutting services will be a harder sell when it comes to bringing in additional suppliers for the Airbus plant.

    The budget situation closely mirrors the one going in Washington at the federal level. President Obama and the Democrats want to return tax levels to the 1990s level for those making over $250,000 a year in order to help balance the budget, while Republicans in Congress want to cut spending in order to achieve the goal. In both situations, the two sides have not been able to come to an agreement. The gap between the right and the left in this country has grown wide in recent years, and it has left progress hard to come by.

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Highlights From Mayor Sam Jones Web Chat

Posted by David Merrell On June - 26 - 2012 ADD COMMENTS

    Yesterday evening, Mobile Mayor Sam Jones hosted a live web chat on Mobile’s website. The mayor took questions regarding problems and concerns with the city. The chat lasted approximately an hour and a half. Prior to the chat, the mayor released a “State of the City” document that can be read by clicking here.

    There were a lot of questions about the upcoming budget shortfall. One citizen noted that Mobile pays some of the lowest property taxes in the nation, and that a simple solution to solving the city’s budget problems would be to raise them slightly. The mayor agreed, noting that it was a great idea, but it had one big problem. Property tax increases require referendums. The citizens of Alabama have not reacted to kindly to such referendums in the past.

    Jones stated that he would prefer an increase in the property tax as it would level the tax burden on citizens. He would actually like to see the sales tax lowered, as he feels it is regressive. The difficulty in passing a property tax increase has left a sales tax increase as the only other revenue option.

    Midway through the chat, Jones was asked if he planned to run for office again. He confirmed that he was. Jones was first elected in 2005, and is the first African American mayor of Mobile.

    I was fortunate enough to ask the mayor a pair of questions myself. My first question had to do with the potential transformation of Three Mile Creek into a River Walk in downtown Mobile. Earlier this year, the EPA and city officials toured the site and expressed a desire to develop the area. When asked how serious the city was about the project, the mayor stressed that they are very serious about developing the area, and that it was a part of their long range plans. The mayor went on to say that he felt there was a tremendous amount of recreational and developmental opportunities along Three Mile Creek.

    A River Walk would do wonders for downtown Mobile. San Antonio has one of the more notable River Walks in the country, and it has done wonders for their city. It has risen to challenge the Alamo as the city’s most talked about attraction.

    When asked what attractions he would like to see come to the city, Mayor Jones had no shortage of answers. Topping his list was of course getting another cruise line. The city has been working diligently to replace the departed Carnival Cruise lines. Jones declared that he would also like to see the city get a zoo, an aquarium, and an aquatic center. He would like the city to get a new sports complex and municipal stadium. Jones stated that he was excited to see the GulfQuest Maritime Museum coming to town, and that further development along the waterfront was needed.

    The web chat went very well. The mayor did little dodging, answering most questions very succinctly. I went into the chat curious about the mayor’s ambitions for the city of Mobile, and came away impressed with what I heard. The question now is can he transform those abstract ideas into real progress? If he can, then economic growth will handle all of Mobile’s problems.

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Mayor Sam Jones To Host Webchat

Posted by David Merrell On June - 24 - 2012 ADD COMMENTS

    Mobile Mayor Sam Jones will be hosting a web chat on Monday evening, Fox 10 News reports. Concerned citizens may ask any question in regards to city government. The chat will occur Monday, June 25 from 5:00 PM until 6:30 PM. The web chat will be available through the city’s webpage, which you can find here: http://www.cityofmobile.org/state_of_the_city.php Those who can not access the chat when it is live will be able to turn in questions ahead of time.

    A topic sure to come up (and likely the reason for this event) is Mobile budget crisis. The city is somewhere between $10 and $25 million in the red. The mayor is battling the city council over the proper way to handle the budget deficit. Jones would like to see a temporary sales tax hike to pay down the deficit, whereas most on the council would prefer spending cuts. It is a political battle that mirrors the one raging in our nation’s capitol as we speak.

    Other potentially interesting topics that may come up include the city’s drainage issues, and the loss of the cruise ship following the construction of the cruise terminal. Mobile is going through a rough stretch after the first decade of the new century looked very promising. The county seemed poised for record expansion with TK building a steel plant up north, a potential race track coming to the Saraland-Prichard area, and EADS building a facility at Brookley Field.

    Out of those three possibilities, only TK actually panned out. The racetrack on 158 was never built. EADS lost out on the big contract they were aiming for to Boeing. Thus far this decade has been a let down for Mobile County. These disappointments out in the county affect the city of Mobile, which serves as the central hub of the area.

    All is not glum for the city, though. The Moon Pie Drop held every New Year’s Eve has been a big success. There have even been talks of creating a River Walk in downtown Mobile, much like the one in downtown San Antonio. Such an attraction would be a welcome addition to a city that needs to draw more business to it.

    This is a great opportunity to voice your concerns or criticisms with an elected official. Even those who do not live within the city limits should check out the web chat. What happens in Mobile affects the entire county.

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Mobile Will Have Fireworks This Year

Posted by David Merrell On June - 19 - 2012 ADD COMMENTS

    With the city of Mobile facing a large budget deficit, there were concerns that the city would not be able to afford its fireworks display on the fourth of July. Today, the council voted 6-0 to go ahead with the celebration. Mayor Sam Jones told Fox 10 News that the city got a deal on the fireworks. The original cost was $18,000, but the city is now getting the goods for just $3600.

    The fireworks are not the only cost associated with putting on a big event. Police have to work overtime to cover the celebration. That overtime will cost the city around $25,000.

    These type of problems will continue to arise until the city gets its finances in order. A closer look at the books recently revealed that the city’s deficit was close to $15 million. That is significantly lower than the initially reported $25 million shortfall. The number is still to high, and either budget cuts or a sales tax increase must be put in place to solve the problem.

    This is the second straight year the fireworks display has been in jeopardy. Last year, drought conditions almost forced the city to call off the display for fear of starting wildfires. To comply with the burn ban, the city launched the fireworks from a barge anchored in the bay over the open water. The type of ingenuity would help out tremendously on the city’s budget woes.

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Mobile’s Budget Deficit Lower Than Anticipated

Posted by David Merrell On June - 18 - 2012 ADD COMMENTS

    On Thursday, Mobile finance director Barbara Malkove revealed that Mobile’s budget deficit was actually between $11 million and $14 million. Original estimates had put the deficit at $29 million. The new figures will make it a lot easier for the city to balance its books. This is the second straight year the city has faced a major deficit.

    There has been a battle between Mayor Sam Jones and the city council over how to bridge the gap in the budget. The mayor would like to see a temporary sales tax increase to fill the void. A sales tax was used last year to handle the deficit, but the council is not willing to repeat the method. Instead, the council would like to see budget cuts to offset the negative numbers.

    Jones has said that if cuts were to be used to handle the problem, then city workers would have to be laid off, and police officers would not get any overtime. Now that the budget deficit is not as big as originally thought, the city government may be able to make some less painful cuts to balance the budget. One idea being floated by the council is forcing city employees to pay a little more into their insurance programs.

    There is definitely room for improvement in how the city handles its workers. Making all of the changes in cuts is not a solution that will work every time, as we can not continually gut the benefits of public sector workers. Eventually a temporary sales tax will likely be needed. In the long run, the city needs to do more to promote business and investment in downtown Mobile if they are to solve the city’s long term budget woes.

    Mobile is a city with vast untapped potential. If the city is to unleash that economic potential, it is going to take some investment from the city government. As any wise investor will tell you, you have to spend money to make money. The city needs more cops on the streets, not less. Mobile needs more city workers keeping the area clean, and attractive to potential customers. The city also needs to keep rules for opening new businesses simply to attract entrepreneurs. Only then will they be able to expand the tax base and fix the crippling budget problems that face the city by the bay.

Clear city budget deficit number changes perspectives: fox10tv.com

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Mobile Budget Battle Heats Up

Posted by David Merrell On March - 21 - 2012 ADD COMMENTS

    Negotiations have been on going in Mobile to try and fill the cities $29 million budget hole. Mayor Sam Jones is still pushing the 1 cent sales tax as the best option. He claims that without new revenue the city will have to undergo across the board cuts on April 1. That would mean cutting overtime for police and firefighters among other painful cuts. He has also said they could stop providing power to lights at city parks at night, something that has caused a bit of an uproar within the community.

    The city council is looking to make cuts in other areas to fill the budget hole. Councilwoman Gina Gregory, who many may remember from her years at WKRG News 5, sent a letter to the mayor with a list of ideas for fixing the budget mess. The councilwoman recommended cutting public works employees and garbage services and privatizing the services. She also floated the idea of the city selling the Mobile Civic Center.

    Time is running out for Mobile to fix this problem. Austerity measures are usually not a good idea when the economy is extremely fragile. In the short run a 1 cent sales tax may be the best way to solve the problem. In the long run Mobile must do more to grow economically. Only then will its budget problem be stabilized.

    There are signs the city is moving in the right direction, albeit slowly. The addition of the Moon Pie drop on New Year’s Eve proved to be a big boost economically to the city. There has been talk of turning Three Mile Creek into a river walk park. That would be a great idea for downtown Mobile and could provide a much needed economic boost.

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Mobile Budget Battle Heats Up

Posted by David Merrell On February - 28 - 2012 ADD COMMENTS

    The city of Mobile is facing a $27 million budget gap this year. Mayor Sam Jones is pushing a temporary one cent sales tax to fill the gap. The alternative is cuts to city services and laying off city workers. The city has previously used a penny sales tax. From June 2010 to September 2011 a penny sales tax was implemented to handle a similar budget situation and generated $25 million in revenue.

    The city council was resistant to the idea the last time around, but eventually passed the measure and disaster was averted. This time may be different. Local 15 News is reporting that councilman John Williams is opposed to the measure and believes the city council will not pass it. Williams wants the mayor to scale back government and cut spending.

    Most economists argue that you should not cut spending in a recession. Mayor Jones has stated that up to 300 people could lose their job if some revenue is not raised to fill the budget gap. A one cent sales tax seems like the logical choice now, but Mobile has a long term problem that must be dealt with.

    Mobile is a city with vast untapped potential. We now have an empty cruise terminal that the city should be working night and day to refill. There are several vacant buildings downtown that would be perfect for new businesses. If the city truly wants to solve its budget problems it needs to improve its tax revenue the old fashioned way: by growing the economy.

    Mobile has to do more to promote new businesses within city limits. The first step has to be cleaning up the streets of downtown. Several nightclubs have been shut down due to the violence that is prevalent downtown. These businesses may not be the perfect ideal of what we want downtown, but they did bring revenue to the city. If police officers have to be fired due to budget problems then the streets will only get worse.

    The city should try and create more major events downtown like Mardi Gras and Bayfest. These events generate tons of revenue for Mobile. Anytime that people pack the streets of downtown, the city is benefiting greatly. Tourism is an area where Mobile needs to improve.

    Given its problems, Mobile should take the lead in an area where most cities large and small struggle, and that is the difficulty put on entrepreneurs in opening a new business. You often hear politicians on cable news talk about the federal government getting in the way of business, but it is local government that is usually the biggest headache. Mobile should make it as easy as possible to open and run a new business. Entrepreneurs would be drawn to such a location.

    Raising taxes and spending cuts can solve problems short term, but they are bound to fail in the long run. Eventually both become punitive on the economy and you exacerbate the problem. Mobile needs to grow its way out of this dilemma. It has the capability, all it is lacking right now is the political will.

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The North Mobile Post was founded in April of 2011. The site serves as a blog covering Mobile County as well as news from around the world.

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