An article on the city council’s annexation push by Reporter Analisa Trofimuk, that appeared in Sunday’s Herald & Review newspaper, quoted Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe as stating: “The annexation should have been happening over the last 20 years. The city is finally doing what they should have done, but for whatever reason previous councils moved very slowly.” Councilmen Patrick McDaniel and Chuck Kuhle also indicated previous councils should have moved ahead with annexation of properties years ago.
Well, it took former Decatur Mayor Terry Howley, who was my predecessor in the office, a very short time to respond to the mayor and city council members in an email to council challenging their words about blaming previous councils. Howley wrote: “Reading the quoted comments from three of you folks in today’s paper chiding the ‘previous councils’ failure to annex certain properties going back 20 years’, almost brought tears to my eyes as a former member of this august body for 12 of those years.” (Howley served one term as a city councilman and two terms as mayor.)
“Before laying the blame at the feet of those elected officials for not doing their jobs, did any of you check the council agendas to see if annexations were even listed during those years? I CANNOT recall any annexation vote that failed during my time in office! I recall that several properties were annexed to gain city water, especially in the Boiling Springs area…
“As you all know, staff sets the agenda items 99% of the time, so, evidently annexation jitters were not as rampant then at City Hall as they are now since there was an ample supply of revenue in all funds, unlike the present fiscal situation “Before passing the blame on your predecessors, did you take the time to assess what has changed in Decatur over the past 20 years to make annexing these hundreds of properties so vital NOW when it wasn’t then?…
“…it would be interesting to see what the actual monetary gain projection is once ALL of these are brought into the city……since the city levys a small amount of property taxes in comparison to parks and schools, vis a vis the cost to provide water, streets, sewer, fire and police protection in addition to new city code enforcement in these neighborhoods when the current NSOs cannot keep up with the violations in the city limits now ………….this may end up costing the taxpayers more money than it ever brings into City Hall.
“I will leave that conclusion up to a future council to sit in judgment of your actions taken today. “To me, these annexation efforts are purely a money grab to offset potential state and federal revenue losses from the upcoming 2020 census. “It might have been more logical to not cut the number of video-gaming machines and allow cannabis sales in the city limits, which might have brought in more $$$$$$$$$ than the city will ever realize from annexation.”
• SINCE I was the mayor elected following Howley’s two terms, I guess the comments reflecting negatively about annexation not being a high priority for previous councils probably should upset me, but not so much. Actually, the years that I spent in office concentrated on immediate needs of the community, such as bringing more retail businesses to Decatur (Target, Olive Garden, etc) which continue to generate revenue for the city today. We concentrated on finding ways to improve Lake Decatur, build more water capacity, save the Decatur Conference Center and Hotel, build Wabash Crossing, save the downtown area and find a headquarters for the Decatur Police Department, to name a few. All of those efforts of that council have paid off, with some being started before I came into office, some finished during the time I was in office and some after I left office.
I can tell you, from first-hand knowledge, that priorities often change with mayors, councils and city managers and I think that I and former mayors and council members worked on higher priorities than annexation of properties to grow the city in years past. We were building our revenue and city in a different way through different priorities. Should the push for annexation have happened years ago? I don’t know. It seems to me, looking back, that we had some higher priority items to deal with back then which impacted more on our community at the time — and, in the future, councils may blame the present council for not taking action on something that may have a lower priority now because of the push for annexation.
Decatur is changing like every other community and we have to make sure that our priorities are in the right order to stay abreast of the changes.