Speaker Philip Gunn promises $1 million to City

Phillip Gunn“In the recently concluded Legislative session, Philip Gunn gave the City [of Clinton] $1 million,” Mayor Phil Fisher announced during his “Ask the Mayor” Livestream July 6.

If the Legislature’s promise of $1 million for the City evokes a sense of déjà vu, you are correct, because in 2019, House Speaker Philip Gunn-R, made the same promise to the City; $1 million to the City for road improvements and repairs. However, the promised funds didn’t materialize in 2019. The City only received $176,767, which resulted in a domino effect of financial shortfalls for the City.

Speaking of the 2020 promise for $1 million, Fisher said: “I want to give you some background on this $1 million. I took a lot of heat from some of my board members about it.”

“We [Gunn and Fisher] had agreed in 2019 session for an additional million dollars. Before paving was done, we used [the City’s] $1 million earmarked for paving for parks [$1 million moved to Parks and Rec instead]. Things happened. The $1 million didn’t come in. Philip Gunn, being the responsible and trustworthy leader that he is, made good this year in this Legislative session,” Fisher said.

This shortfall caused Fisher and the Board of Aldermen to come up with other solutions to make up for the shortfall, about which the Mayor and Board had different opinions.

Fisher urged the Board at the May 5 Board meeting to approve the sale of two cell tower easements in order to raise funds for the City’s shortfall for road paving projects. The City received $176,767 from the Legislature, instead of the expected $1 million, along with a separate $500,000 amount from the Legislature for the resurfacing of the Clinton Parkway.

The City has some funds left over from other projects; however, a shortfall of about $400,000 remains in order to fully fund the paving projects. In order to generate funds for the City’s coffers to cover a scheduled road project, Fisher proposed at the May 5 Board meeting to accept offers for lump sum buyout easements on two communications tower sites in the city. One of the towers is for a perpetual easement; the other is for a fifteen-year lease.

At the May 5 meeting, Alderwoman-at-Large Ricki Garrett stated: “Mayor, we know we have the money,” to which Fisher responded, “No, we don’t. I don’t know how this Board is going to vote one week to the next. We are required to have the money in hand, not out there. We’re not playing games here. This is the obligation, and this is the city.”

“Basically, there are two issues at play here,” Garrett said. “The first is the one-million-dollar shortfall, which the Mayor created by assuming that the Speaker was going to provide a million more dollars to Clinton in the 2019 Legislative Session than he did, and then spending the paving money on that assumption.”

At the May 5 meeting, Fisher pushed the Board to approve the offer from American Towers for in order to raise fast cash for planned road projects. After a contentious discussion, the Board voted 4 to 3 to accept the offer, the understanding being that this was the quickest and best source to quickly raise money to replace the shortfall and continue with paving projects.

During the Board’s July 7 meeting, Ward 2 Alderman Jim Martin made comments regarding the request for the tower lease extension. His comments were missing from the livestream, with only a question mark appearing on the screen for eight seconds.

Here are the comments Martin made, which he provided upon request:

“My comments were to note that the basis for the request for the lease extension was to permit the cell tower one-time reduced-rate buyout, which I believe, and so voted, as a bad idea.

“I commented to remind everyone that the reason for the buyouts of the cell tower easement on Springridge Road and the long-term extension for the water tower cell tower was that the $1 million of road paving money was diverted to other projects, being assured by the mayor that the Legislature had awarded $1 million to the City in 2019. When it was discovered that the funds were not awarded in 2019, the problem arose of how to cover the shortfall and permit road paving,” Martin continued.

“I presented a plan to cover the funding shortfall by tightening the budget,” said Martin. “The Mayor insisted on the cell tower buyouts, which the majority of the Board approved 4-3.

“The Mayor, at his July 6 Facebook talk (livestream), criticized Alderwoman Garrett’s comments, published in The Clinton Courier (May 19), that the funding issue was created by the Mayor. The Mayor reported that the 2020 Legislature had awarded Clinton $1 million and, therefore, he had resolved the issue,” said Martin.

“It is wondered if the 2020 legislature would have provided the $1 million (or some other amount) even if the 2019 funds had been awarded,” said Martin.

“Clearly, though, we have lost the long-term lucrative cell tower leases. There was no effort to keep the cell tower leases, now that the $1 million was awarded.  The water tower cell tower could have been stopped last night (during the July 7 meeting),” said Martin. “It would have been more difficult to reverse the Springridge Road tower transaction, but no attempt was reviewed.”

“I certainly appreciate the funds provided by the 2020 Legislature, but thought it worthy of comment to note that the cell towers were cheaply cashed out in the process,” Martin concluded.

“A month after that [May 19 article about May 5 Board meeting] came out in our Clinton News [EDITOR’S NOTE: The article was in The Clinton Courier; Mayor’s error], the Speaker came through with a million dollars, and I want to thank him for that,” Fisher said. “And have everybody in the city understand that, despite that incident that occurred, we continued to push hard, those of us that were working hard in the city, and he was able to provide that money.”

“I want to point out that, despite Alderwoman Garrett’s comments [in the May 19 Courier article]…we stayed with it. He [Gunn] and I worked together,” said Fisher.

Fisher said the City plans to leave the money in the City coffers until the next budget.

“We’re not gonna do anything with that money until the next budget. At that time, we’ll have time to look at a number of different things and how we want to spend it, and how it needs to be spent on the city infrastructure to make sure we’re doing the right thing.”

“I know I probably have some excited aldermen who think, ‘There’s a million bucks to spend,’ but we’re gonna wait awhile. And we’re gonna take into account those that worked with me and helped me get that million dollars.”

By Katherine R. Dougan

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