City to add new police precinct, improve roads

William Evans

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox has asked the City Council to approve the use of $5 million from a reserve fund to pay for 17 capital improvement projects. The conversion of a former bank office on Culver Road to a new building for the Tuscaloosa Police Department, tornado recovery funding and road improvements are among the list of the mayor’s recommendations. The most expensive item of the 17 recommended is a $1.8 million renovation to Loop Road, which will widen the road from Fairmont Drive to Woodland Road, smooth out some of the curves along that length of the road and add a sidewalk to the road’s south side, according to a Tuscaloosa News article on the subject. Last week, the City Council’s Finance Committee approved the Loop Road improvements, the article said. The mayor usually presents a list of capital improvement projects to the City Council each year, but last year’s April 27 tornado superseded the presentation of the list. The Reserve Fund for Future Improvement that would finance the capital improvement projects is like an emergency savings account for the city. Each year, the city moves surpluses from the general fund to the reserve fund, so a fruitful fiscal year usually entails well-funded capital improvement projects. Despite the recession, the city’s reserve fund stands at $38 million, while the general fund stands at $117 million. Maddox said the recommended expenditure of $5 million on capital improvement projects indicates that the city is doing well despite the recession, but what does bring concern is the out-of-pocket payments to put Tuscaloosa back on its feet after the April 27 tornado knocked down 12 percent of the city. Insurance companies and the federal government separately have agreed to hand over only so much financial assistance or reimbursement, so the city has had to loan out its own money to fund tornado relief efforts. “It will likely take four to five years to repay the general fund,” Maddox said. Maddox has recommended that $1 million of the $5 million proposed to fund the 17 projects should be earmarked to replenish some of the $6.75 million in surplus funds that have been committed to tornado recovery expenses, according to the Tuscaloosa News article. The commitment of $1 million from the reserve fund would take place each year until fiscal 2015, totaling $4 million. The city prefers to keep unencumbered 10 percent of the previous year’s budget. The general fund’s 2011 budget of $112 million meant that for 2011, the city wanted to keep $11.2 million saved for emergencies, such as last April’s storms. For guidance on capital improvement projects, Maddox said the city refers to a capital plan that is forward-looking for five years, and the inclusion of items for consideration undergoes a four-month discussion-based review. Maddox said the city prefers to align its list of capital improvement projects with those listed in the five-year plan, but he added that alterations to the plan are sometimes made as unforeseen needs develop. “From time to time, there are projects that manifest themselves, but for the most part, we plan accordingly,” he said. The suggested improvements to Loop Road date back to the late 1960s, he said. In 2004, the city began phase one of its improvements to Loop Road, but the city never concluded the total set of improvements needed. Maddox said water and sewer improvements are funded apart from the general fund, but storm water drainage is understood to be a part of road improvements, which falls within the scope of the general fund. He also said Tuscaloosa Chief of Police Steve Anderson wanted to decentralize the police department by placing law enforcement back into the community. Maddox said the Alberta community, prior to the April 27 tornado, enjoyed low rates of crime with the placement of a police building in the community. “I say prior to April 27 because there was virtually no crime in the community after the tornado,” he said.