When someone decides to run for office, it’s important to have clear goals for which to measure success. On this two-year anniversary in office, I’d like to share my administration’s progress on the promises I made when I took office.
We all live in Fairhope for a reason. But we were at a critical tipping point in 2016 with haphazard planning, and that encouraged me to run for office and it continues to be the priority of this administration.
I hired the most experienced Planning Director to lead the fastest growing City in the State, a Professional Engineer to manage our utilities (Water, Waste Water, Electric and Gas) in a collaborative way and plan for the long-term neglect of our Infrastructure and a Professional Engineer to manage Public Works’ maintenance of roads, sidewalks and building maintenance. This collaborative team has played important roles in the planning process for Fairhope’s future.
In addition, I appointed five new Planning Commissioners out of the eight which are Mayor-appointed and changed policy on developer interaction. These meetings run smoothly because of our new Planning Process which is clear, predictable, consistent, transparent and fair. A refreshing change!
Secured $650k from RESTORE funds to implement an 18-month Comprehensive Land-Use Plan which will start in 2019. The Visual Preference Survey presentation is now completed (you can still cast your votes here), which will provide your preferences on development, architecture, building placement and streetscape.
Together, we will create a comprehensive plan that will protect our quality of life and property values.
There is no doubt, citizens are more engaged than ever in what is happening in local government. One of my biggest concerns as I watched the unparalleled growth of the City we love was the fact that so many citizens had become disengaged. No one was talking about how the City financials were being co-mingled with Utility financials, Our comprehensive plan that recently passed was totally ineffective, with too much money spent on lawsuits due to favoritism in development. Decisions were being made behind closed doors, critical infrastructure needs were being neglected and no one was addressing our unprecedented growth!
All of this has been studied and are finally being addressed and citizen. Citizens are being engaged with all the details through our:
- More active FaceBook
- New, user-friendly Website
- Instant texting through Everbridge
- Biweekly Director Round Table (Town Hall) Meetings
- Livestreaming of all meetings (Airport Authority, Planning Commission, and Council Work Sessions and Meetings) which remain online.
We identified new voices to serve on boards/committees and appointed new stakeholders with diverse backgrounds who represent all who make up of our community.
Our kids are our future. Getting them involved in City concerns early in life is important to Fairhope’s future. Our newly created Junior City Council will make certain this is accomplished in addition to ensuring their needs are addressed.
I brought my financial background, which includes 25 years of managing people and 20 years running a business, to improve fiscal stability and implement planning for our unprecedented growth. In two short years, I turned around a city running at a $6MM deficit to a nearly self-sufficient state. The ship has been righted because I have empowered directors to do their jobs, gave them the tools they needed to accomplish it, and hired experienced, non-political professionals.
I promised to straighten out our finances and this has been accomplished.
- Increased the cash account balances by 50%: From ~$30 million to ~$45 million = +$15 million.
- Decreased the City’s debt by 46% from $6.83 million to $3.68 million = -$3.15 million The City of Fairhope debt is now on track to be paid off by 2020
- Decreased the Utility Department debt by 21% from ~$19 million to ~$15 million = -$4 million
- Reduced City reliance on our Utility subsidy by 70%. (Previously relied on an average of $5.27MM from our utility department until this term)
I replaced our litigation attorney who charges the City what our insurance will cover. The City was fraught with unnecessary lawsuits due to careless, inconsistent planning decisions. I’m happy to report that with a transparent, well-communicated planning process, this administration has had no new lawsuits because of planning decisions.
By hiring professional directors to fill in experience needed, we have reduced City & Utility liability and established collaborative planning for department improvements.
As Mayor, I chose not to draw two salaries (one for mayor and one for superintendent of utilities). This precedence must remain effective in the future as an experienced Operation Director must manage our most valuable asset, the Utility Department.
The City is self-insured and used to offer all new hires free family health insurance. We value our city employees and will remain competitive; however, taxpayers should not be forced to pay for this substantial expense. New hires now pay family insurance and affordable premiums which has drastically reduced the City’s long-term liability and expense.
The City no longer pays for any operating expenses for the Airport Authority and reduced its subsidy by around $200k/year. We also secured the covenant which insures the City can take back the land for which it is paying if the loan is not paid in full.
Our City and Utilities successfully transitioned to the Munis software allowing all departments to work more efficiently and collaboratively, in addition to better defining department expenses. The system was purchased over six years ago with little conversion from the old software costing the City time and money in limbo.
After I took office, daily operations are no longer used for political gain. As a result, taxpayers are not paying for private roads and installing free utility infrastructure for friends and select developers. In addition, the City now enforces sewer standards for development so citizens are no longer footing the bill for substandard sewer infrastructure.
CITY EMPLOYEES: When I discovered the City did not have workforce safety measures in place nor a budget to fund regular training and inspections, I addressed this immediately. Our department heads have completed a 10-hour OSHA safety training course and we now have new policies in place to keep our employees safe while reducing our workman’s comp liability exposure.
PUBLIC LIBRARY: Since the new library’s completion in 2007, it has had chronic leaks which have never been addressed and no accountability enforced. The expensive fix has been long overdue but will be completed very soon under the new administration.
FAIRHOPE DOCKS: Many did not know the City even owned a marina which had been classified as “NOT NEEDED” by prior council and leased to a private operator since the 1980s. The City’s responsibility to maintain environmental protections, upkeep of our bay and bay front properties was not a priority during these years and the marina depreciated as a result of poor management and upkeep. The demand is high for boat slip rentals and it was only fair the city receives 100% of fair market value on the revenue from the marina slip rentals and fuel dock to maintain this asset for future generations. We did just that in Oct of 2017!
MUNICIPAL PIER: Our municipal pier is considered our unofficial “Town Center”. This administration secured $6.2MM for a Working Waterfront and Green Space Restoration Project for both the pier and South Beach Park Improvements. Included in the project which will start in 2019 is a bluff stabilization, green infrastructure and living shoreline plan to promote resiliency, sustainability and the human interaction with our bay, in addition to upgrades to drainage infrastructure, stormwater management facilities, construction of shoreline structures and upgrades to seawalls.
OUR GULLIES: It is critical the City protects its watersheds. We secured funds from a Coastal Resilience grant from the Gulf of Mexico Alliance for a study of the Tatumville Gully watershed. This gully is one of the most vulnerable watersheds being threatened by erosion impacting surrounding established neighborhoods. With this modeling complete, we can then identify and implement mitigation measures and continue the effort for all of our watersheds.
MOBILE BAY: This complex concern is addressed here and I encourage you to read through the extensive work accomplished in the last two years. This administration is addressing this serious concern in a comprehensive way and you can find up-to-date information from this link.
UTILITIES: Critical infrastructure upgrades and rehabilitation of our water, waste water, gas and electric utilities will no longer be ignored. In addition to securing $10MM in RESTORE funds for sewer rehabilitation and $1MM for a plan to reduce pollutants into Mobile Bay, we now have established a Utility 5-Year Comprehensive Plan to fully upgrade our utilities for the 21st Century! Although the fix will not happen overnight, for the first time, a plan is in place and will absolutely move forward.
SCHOOLS: Local schools are one of our most valued assets and it has always been my personal and my business’ priority to make certain we do our part in contributing to what enhances both our quality of life and property values. Through my business’ foundation, its board has raised over $350k for Fairhope schools over the last 15 years. As mayor, I have brought this same passion as a priority. Our City has always contributed services to our schools and has appropriated annual funds since 2014. It is important for our principals to plan long-term and now that the City is almost fully self-sufficient, we can afford to do more to ensure we have the very best quality education for our students without additional taxes.
The City will be purchasing the beloved K-1 Center property with the negotiations communicated last year from this administration. I will make certain that its future development includes citizen engagement as this important asset is critical to the transition of residential zoning to our CBD.
GOLF COURSE: I hired a professional PGA manager whose strong budgetary management skills, event planning, PGA Tour tournament experience and an extensive background as a General Manager/Head Professional has significantly enhanced our golf course, club house and experience for both citizens and visitors.
DOWNTOWN: Born into a long history of entrepreneurs, I have always recognized the importance of the value they bring to a community. My grandmother and father started what is now The Fairhope Downtown Business Association.
As an entrepreneur, I have been promoting the importance of shopping local since 1997 and founded Fairhope Local to celebrate entrepreneurship in Fairhope. Its motto? Invest in the Nest. I will continue to promote this mission as mayor to help protect one of the many reasons we love our City!
Our downtown shopping district (CBD) is what separates our City from Anytown, USA. National accolades have been bestowed upon our City. Although some may consider it unwanted publicity, it does drive our tourism for which we budget exactly zero dollars and offsets taxpayer liability.
Fairhope is now and has always been a town of entrepreneurs. The City must not only protect this culture by investing in ways to educate, create and enhance the industry.
The parking and traffic have been a concern for twenty years and increasingly negatively impacts downtown’s success. It can no longer be ignored as it contributes to the City’s largest income stream – sales tax – in addition to defining what makes our town incredibly unique. We have completed a Parking & Traffic Study and are implementing its recommendations now.
The City has extended the Central Business District (CBD) boundaries to help with traffic flow & parking, increased the height to accommodate mixed-use and created additional investment and redevelopment opportunities for underutilized properties.
There is only one Fairhope. I will continue to work diligently to protect its character and safeguard your quality of life!
Mayor Karin Wilson