Lowe pledges to keep Phenix City on conservative financial path

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 23, 2014 

Phenix City Mayor Eddie Lowe vowed Thursday night during his State of the City address to keep the town on a conservative financial path that will reduce debt, question expenditures and build reserves.

Lowe, a banker at CB&T Russell County, made the statements as he starts his second year in charge of the city of more than 35,000 people.

Lowe pointed to several numbers to show the city's growing financial strength.

"The first job of the mayor and council is to take care of the money," Lowe said.

• The city has about $10 million in operational reserves. That is enough money to run the city for 101 days. The city needs 90 days to maintain its bond rating. The goal is to push the reserve to 120 days of operating capital, Lowe said.

• The city's long-term debt is $52.6 million, which is down $2.7 million from a year ago. The mayor points to a council-imposed moratorium on borrowing as part of the reason.

• The city has nearly $46 million in "cash on hand," which is down by about $6 million from a year ago. That is another part of the reason the city has been able to reduce its long-term debt.

Lowe did not rule out borrowing for city use in the future, but he said there were no plans in place to do such now.

"Debt is not bad as long as you can service it," Lowe told about 60 people at the Central Activity Center. "There will probably come a point in time where we will have to borrow some money."

Council approved a nearly $20 million bond issue Wednesday night, but the money was for the Phenix City School System, which will pay back the debt over 10 and 30 years.

The Phenix City debt service is $4.8 million per year or roughly $400,000 a month. The city has done various "stress tests," where it looks at what would happen if interest rates, which are extremely low, were to climb or the city was to get saddled with the school district debt, a highly unlikely event.

"Even in a worst-case situation, we are in a very good situation," Lowe said.

Lowe also looked to long-term projects such as the redevelopment of the 13th Street corridor from the river to U.S. 280.

"We have to start somewhere," Lowe said. "I know that it is dreaming big."

Lowe said he wanted to make the stretch of road a 1.9-mile showcase for the city. Part of that showcase is the redevelopment of the old Cobb Hospital property located near the corridor. The city plans to move the America Legion Post 135 from its current 13th Street location to the Cobb site, which has now been cleared. The $6.5 million plans call for a new Legion Post and Homage Park, a memorial that would honor the military and especially those from Phenix City and Russell County lost in service.

Lowe also stressed continued movement in riverfront along the Chattahoochee as the new whitewater course begins its second season of operation. Lowe and council members said the whitewater attraction will continue to lure people and development to the river,

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