State of the City Address: Mayor Lowe says Phenix City continuing to surge under new council

Photos by ROBIN TRIMARCHI/rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.comPhenix City Mayor Eddie Lowe begins the State of the City Address Thursday in the Central Activities Center.
Photos by ROBIN TRIMARCHI/rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.comPhenix City Mayor Eddie Lowe begins the State of the City Address Thursday in the Central Activities Center. rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com

Over the last four years, Phenix City has reduced debt and ended 2015 with a $9.2 million fund balance in a growing city that must watch out for sink holes and other unbudgeted emergencies in the future, Mayor Eddie Lowe said Thursday night.

"I think we are on the verge of having some great things happen in Phenix City," Lowe said. "It's not about any of us. We are doing a job to help raise Phenix City and the citizens and we are not going to apologize for that."

Residents, city officials and members of the Phenix City Council joined Lowe at the Central Activities Center for the 6 p.m. State of the City Address. Using handouts and graphs on television monitors, Lowe talked about where the city is spending money to make a difference in a town with a population of about 36,000.

Since 2012, Lowe said the fund balance is a good measure of the city's health, increasing from $6.5 million in 2012 to $9.2 million at the end of 2015, a 42 percent increase.

"It tells you the health and strength of the organization, having this much in the fund balance," he said.

The fund balance means the city has enough money to operate for 115 days, just one day less than 116 days at the same period last year.

"Our goal is we would like to see it at 120 days when our terms end," he said. "It doesn't look like we're going to get there. We may wind up at 118 days. A lot of cities would kill to have that type of reserve."

Long-term debt for the city has been reduced from $54.4 million since 2012 to $51.4 million, a 5.4 percent drop. Much of the expenses are for a parking garage, Idle Hour Park Community Center, streetscapes and other needs.

To improve failing bridges, the city has construction projects under way to improve the 12th Avenue bridge at a cost of $207,000 to the city for the million-dollar project.

Another $245,000 is committed to repair the 10th Street bridge. Other projects to improve traffic flow include Dobbs Drive, Summerville Road and Riverchase Drive.

When it comes to more jobs and revenue, Wal-Mart opened a new store Wednesday in Ladonia with 90 jobs.

A new Dollar General is on Highway 80, he said.

"We are too big to be small," Lowe said. "As we continue to do things with Wal-Mart and other businesses, we have a lot of businesses who want to come to Phenix City."

While the city is growing, the mayor said the city, with a budget of $36.6 million, has to watch out for emergencies like the $800,000 sink hole on 22nd Street.

"The numbers look great but like they say in banking, it don't take but a few bad loans to take you to your knees," he said. "A few things can happen to take you to your knees."

To meet future growth, Lowe said the city needs a new fire station on the southwest end of the city. Staffing will be a key concern for the building.

Residents also have concerns about flooding and possible talk of consolidation.

Marthenia Henry said she has experienced flooding at her 14th Avenue home in Crowell Park for the last 10 years.

"I want to know if there is something I can do for myself," she said. "The land is not worth anything with all that water."

Lowe said the area has experienced a problem with flooding since he was in high school.

Years ago, the federal government came in and made a one-time action in the area. It would take $11,000 to $13,000 for repairs, money the city doesn't have.

"I don't know what else to tell you," he said.

Charles Hollowell, a candidate for Russell County Commission District 5, raised the question about consolidation of city and county governments.

"If it's feasible to consolidate going forward, then we need to start working on those things now," he said after the meeting. "That was my reason for posing that question. Somebody has got to pay for these projects, and nobody wants to pay taxes."

Lowe said it would be difficult, or almost impossible, because of Lee County annexation. He said there is no contention between Phenix City and Russell County.

"To me, there is no contention with county and city, as far as I'm concerned," he said.