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Officials look ahead to new year plans

Now that 2008 has passed, it’s time to get down to the business of 2009.

And since the ball has dropped, that’s just what Pike County officials intend to do.

From long-term strategic plans to construction projects, both the cities of Troy and Brundidge have their work laid out for them.

The Pike County Commission also has big things ahead as they continue to work on implementing a lodging tax locally, a proposal they already passed in the latter part of 2008.

But, on a less-predictable note, Pike County residents will just have to wait and see how some things play out — things like an economy spiraling downward and proration in the state education budget.

Here’s what’s ahead:

The economy

There really isn’t any way to know for certain what is going to happen to an economy that has seen two major bailouts, closed doors to many businesses and left several without jobs.

But one thing is for certain in 2009’s economy: locally, belts will be tightened.

From paving projects to new construction, city councils, road departments and even schools are going to have to take a second look.

Troy City Council President Johnny Witherington said the city has many ideas for projects, but they will be cautious to not overspend taxpayers’ money.

“We’ve got to tighten our belts and be good managers of our existing sources,” Witherington said. “The city has got to be very careful to be good stewards of our existing revenue dollars.”

Brundidge Mayor Jimmy Ramage said the city council will work to do the same in terms of spending, making sure they have the revenues available in hard economic times.

And the Pike County Commission will have limited choices in spending, as well, especially when the county road department is facing a shortfall in funding and expecting an even bigger one next year.

Ramage said he has seen the nationwide economic recession begin to trickle its way down to the local level, and he hopes it will turn around quickly.

Proration

But whatever the economy does, schools across the state will still be looking at a proration in their education budget this year, and that’s even with the passage of Amendment 1, allowing legislators to borrow from a rainy day fund to compensate for lost revenue.

When Gov. Bob Riley declared proration at 12.5 percent in December, he announced he would only draw, for now, enough from the rainy day fun to bring that proration figure down to 9 percent.

So, schools will be frugal in spending this academic year and watchful as the legislature convenes in February to begin discussing the budget for 2010.

“We will be watching as the legislature convenes in Feb. 3 and what they will be doing with the education budget because what they do will affect us,” said Troy City Schools Superintendent Linda Felton-Smith.

Both local superintendents said they will spend the next few weeks looking at all funds and finding ways to make cuts that will affect students minimally.

With $126,000 lost each month in Pike County Schools and $113,000 in Troy City Schools, superintendents said they may cut travel, defer maintenance costs or reschedule professional development.

But, both said they are not cutting teacher units at least not through the rest of this school year.

As for what really lies ahead, superintendents will really just have to wait and see. With prorated funds for this fiscal year, they may be looking at cuts in the 2010 state budget well exceeding current funding.

Lodging tax

After the county commission approved to add a 2-percent lodging tax on all motels in Pike County in November, the tax will have to be approved by the legislature and possibly voted on by local residents.

Commission Chairman Robin Sullivan said the commission hasn’t met with local legislators about the tax, so that will be something they do in the first of the year.

“I don’t really have a feel for that right now about where it might go and what it might do,” Sullivan said.

When the tax was passed, commissioners voted with only a 3-2 majority, Homer Wright, Ray Goodson and Charlie Harris voting for the tax and Jimmy Barron and Sullivan voting against it.

Newly sworn in commissioner Karen Berry abstained from voting at the time.

Wright, who originally proposed the tax, said he has hopes this would bring new revenues to the county without taxing local residents.

But others who opposed said they were concerned the tax would place burden on local businesses and possibly cost the county some $30,000 should a special election have to be held.

Nothing has been decided on what specifically the funding would be used for.

City Plans

On municipal agendas this year, both Troy and Brundidge are working to implement a community-wide comprehensive plan.

Started last year, Troy’s steering committees began brainstorming ideas and working to create a draft of a city master plan. After a study was conducted, the city held a public hearing on the plan, a plan that will provide direction for future zoning and development.

The public hearing brought in several Troy residents who had complaints, concerns and accolades to make about the draft, many of which had to do with areas of Highland and University Avenues.

Though nothing formal has been decided yet, the city is working still to review comments and formulate a new draft.

City Planner Calvin Lott said he hopes another public hearing will be held with the Planning Commission in the first of the year and have final approval by March.

Brundidge isn’t as far in the process, but they too have received grant money from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs to begin formulating a community plan of their own.

This plan will be similar to Troy’s in that it will serve as a guide for future development and zoning in the city.

City Manager Britt Thomas said he hopes the plan will be completed within the year.

Library

And, both Troy and Brundidge are also working on separate library projects they hope to have underway in 2009.

Funds have been allotted in both budgets to support the reconstruction of a new library in Troy and renovating the library in Brundidge.

Right now, Troy officials have been working to come up with a site for their new library.

Locations like the old Elm Street High School and downtown have been discussed, but nothing official has been decided yet.

Troy City Council President Johnny Witherington said once a location is secured, they will be able to move more forcefully through the project.

Brundidge’s Thomas said he believes the Brundidge City Council will be able to move forward with library renovations this year, as well.

Both said space is a major reason for library construction.