News Courier: The city’s most recent financial audit was released last week in a special session. City leadership says the audit paints a positive financial picture. As mayor, what will you do to ensure the city remains on sound financial footing, despite continued economic uncertainties?
Ronnie Marks: One of the most critical charges that the mayor has is to present a balanced budget to the City Council for approval. Since 2004, the mayor, finance directors and department administrators have always taken the position to present a very conservative budget to the City Council for approval.
We have not taken the position to “front load” any of the budgets with expenditures or capital requests that are not critical. Since 2004, the city of Athens has ended each fiscal year with revenues over expenditures. This allows the mayor and council to look at critical issues at year’s end. For example, in 2011, the general fund budget ended the fiscal year with a positive $1.1 million revenue versus expenses, before budget adjustments and critical capital appropriations. During this year, we appropriated an additional $500,000 to paving projects throughout the city.
The current fiscal year, 2012 general fund budget is approximately $1 million revenues over expenditures. An increase in sales tax accounts for approximately $830,000 (split 50/50 with Athens City School system) and an increase in license and permits of approximately $140,000. Again, this will allow the mayor and City Council to allocate funds to critical issues at years end.
In summary we do not pass budgets with “fluff,” and continue to examine several years of data prior to presenting any budget to the City Council. We will continue to follow this successful trend.
NC: The city and county have worked together to land new industries over the last two years, while providing an atmosphere that allows existing industries to expand. What specific plans do you have to keep Athens on the radar of any industry or business?
Marks: As mayor, we will continue the “team” approach atmosphere. The city of Athens, the Limestone County Commission, the Limestone County Economic Development, along with the state of Alabama Economic Development is very pro-industry and retail development. The city, county, economic development (state and local) recently landed Carpenter Technology to this area with a $500 million investment. Our team has been very involved in assisting Steelcase, Custom Polymers, Federal Mogul, Turner Medical and other retail establishments to locate to this area and we will continue to provide the workforce development and create incentives to attract jobs. Public safety and jobs are our highest priorities.
NC: The city recently gave $10,000 for the renovation of the old Trinity School/Fort Henderson project and $10,000 for the renovation of the Beaty-Mason home on the campus of Athens State University. Historic structures can be found throughout the city, yet the city’s Historical Preservation Commission only addresses historic homes in a handful of neighborhoods. Do you think the city needs a commission that would oversee historic preservation of structures throughout the city? Why or why not?
Marks: Currently the city of Athens has three established historic districts. They include the Houston District, the Athens College District and the Robert Beaty District. I do not see the need to create another commission to oversee historic preservation.
I think it is essential to know where we have come from in order to plan for the future. We are a very proud community and the city of Athens was incorporated in 1818. Therefore, it is essential that we maintain and restore our historical heritage. There are many important historical buildings and structures that should be restored.
I think it is essential for our community to recognize the “worth” of restoring the facilities of the Beaty-Mason home and the Fort Henderson/Trinity site. The restoration of these two important sites will show that we care about our past as well as plan for our future. here may be other sites, or homes, that should be considered and they should be reviewed on an individual basis and there must be a “finding of fact” that they are indeed recognized to be of historical value.
NC: The Limestone County NAACP recently asked city leaders to do more in terms of hiring minorities for open positions. As an elected official, what would you do to ensure the city fosters an environment of inclusion and exhibits a diverse workforce?
Marks: As mayor, I take a very serious position that our city must represent an environment of diversity. It is essential in the workforce of the city and we have already taken steps to expand our search, and advertisements of open positions for employment.
On several occasions, members of city staff have met with members of the NAACP and members of the Latino community. We will continue to provide an atmosphere to promote diversity in the work force, and I will continue to have an open door policy for all citizens.