Mayor's Minute: May
April 30, 2019
It is difficult to make hard decisions during good times.
In 2004, Blockbuster Video had 9,000 stores worldwide. Instead of looking over the horizon, Blockbuster embraced the present, and now the company is reduced to a single store.
Blockbuster’s failure to adapt when there was not a clear and present danger is not uncommon. Whether in the public or private sector, it is comfortable to settle, especially when all is well.
Today, our City is successful, and the passage of a one-penny increase in sales taxes is not necessary for where we are. Our fiscal strength is a result of conservative budgeting, low debt (4th lowest according to PARCA’s 2017 Study on Municipal Finance) and adherence to our core belief of transparency, which has been amplified by data.tuscaloosa.com.
I am proud of our accomplishments. When I took office, the annual debt service in the water and sewer budget was 30%. Today, it is 23% and one of the key reasons why we have the third lowest water and sewer rates in Alabama. The City’s personnel costs used to be 60% of the general fund budget, and now they’re 59% – meanwhile our general fund debt service increased from 4% to 5%. From debt to personnel, we have managed and invested your tax dollars wisely, which is why we have the flexibility to eliminate the City’s share of sales taxes on groceries to provide relief from the sales tax increase.
Our fiscal strength is even more impressive when you consider that in the last 13 years we have weathered the Great Recession, cash flowed tens of millions of dollars after the April 27, 2011 tornado and navigated the rise of online sales, all while having the lowest municipal sales tax in Alabama. Today, the City’s credit rating has raised since I’ve been in office, and only Huntsville and Hoover’s ratings are higher among cities in Alabama.
Clearly, our community is enjoying good times. So, why Elevate and why now?
Tuscaloosa’s economic and quality-of-life models are changing for three primary reasons. The first is the downsizing of brick-and-mortar retail. Millennials prefer to shop online, but they are four times more likely to invest in experiences than the purchasing of retail goods.
Second, after years of record-setting student enrollment growth, the University of Alabama has reached its peak. For nearly two decades, 1,000 to 1,500 new students annually created tens of millions of new dollars in our economy – but this is ending. With less than 10% of these graduates remaining in Tuscaloosa, we must transition from recruiting students to retaining students.
Lastly, our community needs a workforce prepared for the jobs of tomorrow. By 2021, Tuscaloosa County will be 5,000 people short of filling available jobs. By 2030, the number will grow to 23,000.
Elevate is focused on creating economic hotspots centered on the experience economy while vastly enhancing education, job development, transit, arts, parks and recreation. Our plan is ambitious, but as we celebrate the Bicentennial, history demonstrates that our community has never lacked the audacity to be on the forefront of progress. By passing Elevate, the Council continued this storied tradition of looking over the horizon and making difficult decisions even in the good times.
With this rapidly evolving economy, we will now be able to compete with Huntsville, Chattanooga, Greenville, Lexington and Knoxville. Visit elevatetuscaloosa.com to learn more and become involved in the 21 programs, projects and initiatives.