Bessemer mayor Ken Gulley presented his State of the City address last night to an enthusiastic crowd at Bessemer Civic Center last night.
Council President Ron Marshall introduced the mayor, saying "He has a spirit of cooperation," something I have been pointing out about the current leadership since the mayor and council took office over a year ago. Because of this cooperative spirit, the mayor and council have been able to turn things around in this city.
Finances were the main issue addressed, and this was appropriate since the city's finances were known to be in disarray when Mayor Gulley took office.
During the past year, Bessemer put in place a 1 cent sales tax increase. 12.5% of this increased revenue is being set aside for a new recreation center. A new rec center has been on the agenda as long as I have lived in Bessemer, but this is the first time a mayor has developed a plan that could actually result in one. He said that they will assess the income,which is being collected in its own account, and once they have a clear idea of the income that is being generated they will go to the bond market to secure funding for a center.
The city also opened a new landfill which resulted in savings of over $475,000.
Mr. Gulley spoke of education too. One cloud that has been hanging over Bessemer since before the last election is the money owed by the city to the school system, and the lawsuit regarding that. The mayor reported that there were meetings with the council and the school board, and that an amicable settlement was reached and the city is now meeting its obligations.
He also said that most of the city employees that were let go because of the financial condition of the city last year have been rehired. He admitted that the city had neglected its employees in the past, and hopes to give them a cost of living raise this year.
Crime is always a concern in Bessemer. Unfortunately homicides were a big concern last year, with 11 murders occurring in our city limits. Bessemer Opinions will share more information about these crimes (nothing groundbreaking) in a future post, but the mayor did report that 10 of the homicides have been solved and the suspects are being brought to justice.
He urged citizen participation in reporting suspicious activity and crimes. The most important thing revealed last night might have been the establishment of an anonymous tip line - 428-3541, where residents and others can call and report a crime or suspicious activity without revealing who they are. Keep this number handy, use it!
He also said the Bessemer Police Department has altered their shifts so that more officers are on patrol, and this is a good thing. I will repeat my suggestion for the umpteenth time. Have the officers park their cars in neighborhoods, and walk the streets for a little while each day. Let then meet and talk with the residents, establishing relationships and trust that is sorely needed. Also, much more can be seen when walking rather than driving along our streets.
He spoke of the jobs coming to our city. Dollar General will be opening their $100 million distribution center next month, providing 650 jobs. Bermco Aluminum is bringing a multi million dollar plant to Bessemer and Huntsville Wholesale Furniture (Ashley Furniture) is planning a distribution center here.
Here is an article that describes what this kind of activity means to our city and calls our city the "economic powerhouse" of the metro area.
The mayor acknowledged that there have been some problems at Bessemer Utilities with personnel. (I am reminded of a facebook status I posted last year about standing in line there while the woman behind the counter talked on her cell phone with a sign in front of her ordering customers to not use their cell phones). The mayor said "I will personally be spending time at Bessemer Utilities," to address these problems.
But the mayor also spoke highly of the utility in responding to outages during the storms in April and September of 2011, and their willingness and ability to help other communities that were in greater need than our own. And he spoke of the infrastructure improvements at the utility that will benefit all of its customers.
The mayor concluded with, "As I said in February 2011, the future of the city of Bessemer is bright."
This prediction was met with reserved enthusiasm last year, but repeating it this year is justified. With the financial situation under control and a recreation center on the horizon, the mayor and council can focus on even more positive steps for our city. Maybe some neighborhood revitalization? And this?