City Promises: Prattville

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By Catalina Trivino

We continue our series "City Promises." We're taking a look at what mayors promised going into office and seeing where they are with those plans now.

CBS 8 Reporter, Catalina Trivino, sits down with Prattville Mayor, Bill Gillespie.

Three years ago, Bill Gillespie was appointed as mayor of Prattville -- inheriting millions of dollars in debt. Some say he inherited a financial mess when he took office. The city was even on the verge of filing for bankruptcy -- but he promised to bring down the debt.

What's known as the preferred community was looking a lot less perfect -- in 2011, Prattville residents were shocked to find out the city was $65 million dollars in debt.

"We were not going to make payroll in May," Said Gillespie.

Mayor Gillespie had inherited a nightmare -- a city on the brink of bankruptcy.

City Councilman, Ray Boles, worked under former mayor Jim Byard's administration.

"When they came in the first time and came to me saying, 'we're going to have to borrow money to make our bond payment...' -- so we're actually borrowing money to make payments? That's when you know you're in a really really bad situation," Said Boles.

Then came the challenge: putting money back in the bank. Gillespie says Byard's administration had a lump sum budget. Now, the city has set up a separate account for everything -- and it's paying off.

The city has reduced the deficit by nearly $20 million dollars in three years. Gillespie says it took tough decisions, including heavy cuts-- losing about 100 city employees. Those remaining were forced to take three furlough days. A hiring freeze was also in effect.

Then came the most unpopular decision...

"And then we raised revenue by one of the largest ways is by sales tax increase. It went strictly towards the debt," Said Gillespie.

A one cent sales tax increase just months after Gillespie took office to a 9.5% sales tax. City records show it's helped pay about $16 million dollars of debt.

The city also studied the waste water and sanitation department and discovered they were $1 million dollars over budget.  Gillespie says they weren't charging enough to cover their own costs.

That's when the City Council passed an ordinance to add a $10 per month surcharge to the water bills. Now, the city has $14 million in the bank.

"We pay all of our bills up front. We're paying cash for everything. It is amazing where we went from six years ago to today," Said Boles.

Lifelong Prattville resident, Greg Arant, says changes have been noticed since the last administration.

"Prattville didn't have none of this on this side of town. You know, we didn't have the Target and the Starbucks and things like that. He did a good job of enticing businesses to come in. I'm sure there was tax breaks and stuff like that involved," Said Arant.

That's why he posts a sign on his desk to remember...
    
"Sometimes you need somebody to come in  and just say, 'you know what? It's time to not keep doing it the way that we're doing it,'" Said Gillespie, who hopes to bring down the debt another $4 million by the end of the year.

In a 2011 interview, former mayor, Byard blamed the bad economy for the cities current financial troubles and told us it was a problem many other cities were going through, as well. Today, Gillespie says it's been a long hard road and  they've still got a long way to go, but he feels he is keeping his promise to restore Prattville's financial good standing.

 

 



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