DECATUR — From more bike paths to a $12 citywide minimum wage, Decatur city council members shared their goals at Tuesday night's meeting, a month before they are set to face difficult choices regarding plans for next year's budget.
"It's great for us to have great ideas but if we can't work them into the budget then we've got to make some other choices," said Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe. Her goals reflected the city's main priorities in recent years — improvements to aging infrastructure, residential home demolitions and a larger rainy day fund for the city.
Councilman Bill Faber kept his remarks to one issue: establishing a $12 minimum wage for the city, an idea that none of his colleagues commented on.
"Every Friday, Mom will have some extra money in her purse to spend here in our local economy," Faber said.
Councilman Chuck Kuhle pleaded for more bike and running paths, particularly near Lake Decatur, to draw residents to the city.
"I understand money is an issue, but I believe there's grants out there," Kuhle said.
City officials say money is indeed an issue. Delayed hiring for open staff positions and better-than-expected state tax revenue has helped close much of the $3.2 million deficit the council approved for 2018, but Interim City Manager Billy Tyus repeated Monday night that the city is "not out of the woods yet."
With 35 fewer full-time employees this year than originally planned in the 2018 budget, Tyus said, customer service for city services has not decreased with less staff. But hiring will be part of the discussion in next year's budget planning.
"We know that going forward we're going to have to strategically figure out how to make those hires," Tyus said, whose former position as deputy city manager has not been filled since he took over for City Manager Tim Gleason on an interim basis in July.
In other action, a new $2.7 million Decatur Fire Station 5 will be built at the corner of West Mound Road and Greenridge Drive by the end of March, based on city plans unanimously approved by the city council Tuesday night.
The project is the first of three new stations planned for the Decatur Fire Department, paid for by city borrowing. In May, council members approved $8 million worth of municipal bonding to update facilities that city officials say are outdated and expensive to maintain.
The current Fire Station 5, on East Christine Drive just north of Brettwood Village Shopping Center, was built in 1962. A large section of the dorm ceiling was rebuilt in 2015 after it collapsed without warning in an area where firefighters could have been sleeping.
The Decatur contracting firm Christy-Foltz Inc. will oversee construction.