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Mayor Introduces $236M Balanced Budget for FY 2021

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle introduced his Fiscal Year 2021 budget which includes $236 million in general fund operations and $140 million in capital spending.

The budget represents the continuing commitment of city government to provide quality services and investments to a growing community while meeting the challenges of current economic events.

“We’ve taken a cautious, conservative approach to next year’s spending while still keeping up with growth and demand for services,” said Battle. “I am grateful to our department heads for their ability to keep this city moving forward while keeping a watchful eye on every penny spent.”

The general fund represents an $8.1 million increase over FY-20 and provides basic level funding for municipal departments. The bulk of any increase supports personnel needs to accommodate growth and staffing at new facilities. Support to the Huntsville City School system remains fully funded and capital projects will proceed as planned.

Finance Director Penny Smith said she is cautiously optimistic about revenue in the coming year. The city is still growing, housing sales are up, and the income base remains steady thanks to Redstone Arsenal, numerous large corporate employers, growth in the construction market and the abundance of new jobs being filled in the community.

“Sales and use taxes are holding steady, but we recognize we will still have COVID impacts and we’ve taken that into consideration,” said Smith. “Revenues from the hospitality sector and some retail are expected to remain down and the budget reflects those projections.”

Half of the FY-20 Fiscal Year was under the pandemic, forcing “normal” out the window and costing the city about $15 million in lost revenues. Thanks to mid-year cuts and adjustments, the city is ending the fiscal year on an even note.

“I am proud of how our departments adapted to meet these everyday challenges,” said Battle. “We placed a limited freeze on hiring and cut operating budgets 5 percent, forcing everyone to do more with less.”

The City did not cut the budgets of outside agencies during the pandemic but asked them to consider reducing their annual appropriation by 5 percent for FY-21. Nearly every agency cooperated with the request, an indication of the community’s shared commitment to get through this pandemic together.

“The proposed budget is structured to meet the goals and objectives demanded by our growing city, to keep our reserves healthy and uphold the conservative fiscal spending principles that have made Huntsville a leader in municipal fiscal management,” said Battle.

Highlights of the FY-21 Budget

  • New fire station for Huntsville’s western area
  • New fire ladder truck for Station 18
  • 2 new buses for Huntsville Transit
  • $10.2 million in street resurfacing
  • $14 million in roads maintenance, sidewalks and drainage
  • $26 million in new street construction
  • $46.7 million for municipal facilities (includes new City Hall)
  • $8.9 million for recreation projects
  • $24.3 million for outside agency appropriations
  • 1 percent cost of living increase for employees

The City Council will hold a work session Tuesday at 5 p.m. to review the budget and is expected to vote on the spending plan Sept. 24.

 

Construction Complete – Cecil Ashburn Drive Opens 4 Lanes of Traffic

Cecil Ashburn Drive opened four lanes of traffic Thursday, resetting a 3.4-mile transportation corridor that will support commuter growth in Huntsville’s southeastern sector.

The $18.1 million project was part of Mayor Tommy Battle’s 2012 “Restore our Roads” initiative that jointly funded more than $250 million in major road improvements with the Alabama Department of Transportation.

Construction began on Cecil Ashburn in January 2019 when Carcel & G Construction shut down the former two-lane road to fast-track roadwork. The expedited timeline allowed the city to reopen two lanes of new road 10 months later. Since that time, crews have been working to complete the project before the end of 2020.

“We are pleased to give this road back to our community, four months ahead of schedule and under budget,” said Battle. “This is a beautiful, scenic road that will serve us for decades to come.”

The road’s extra capacity will allow Cecil Ashburn to accommodate more than 34,000 daily commuters. A number of safety improvements were included in the design and construction including the addition of 8-foot-wide shoulders for cyclists and pedestrians. The result is a safer, quicker and higher capacity route that connects East Huntsville’s Big Cove/Hampton Cove area to downtown Huntsville, Redstone Arsenal, Cummings Research Park and beyond.

“Our goal was to increase capacity and improve safety on Cecil Ashburn,” said City Engineer Kathy Martin. “I want to thank the mayor for such a unique opportunity to work on this challenging project with a dedicated team. Not everyone gets to work on such a dynamic project within their career.”

Martin credited City Project Engineer Alan Clements, City Inspector Woody Maples, and Carcel & G Superintendent Greg Wynn for their work in making this project a success.

“Wynn’s determination and attention to detail made all the difference to bring this project in on schedule and within budget,” she said.

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing Makes Additional $830M Investment for Technology, Training Programs

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing announced Thursday an additional $830 million investment to incorporate more cutting-edge manufacturing technologies to its production lines and provide enhanced training to its workforce of up to 4,000 employees.

Construction continues on the massive $2.311 billion Mazda Toyota Manufacturing plant. (Photo/MTM)

“This newest investment by our partners at Mazda Toyota Manufacturing shows the company’s continued confidence in the ability of our community to provide a strong, skilled workforce to meet the demands for quality and reliability,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “We look forward to the day when the first vehicles roll off the line.”

Total funding contributed to the development of the state-of-the-art facility is now $2.311 billion, up from the $1.6 billion originally announced in 2018.

“We are excited to learn of this additional investment being made by Mazda Toyota Manufacturing,” said Limestone County Commission Chairman Collin Daly. “We continue to be grateful to MTM for their belief in our county and look forward to our partnership with them for many years to come.” 

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing made an additional $830 million investment to incorporate more cutting-edge manufacturing technologies to its production lines and provide enhanced training to its workforce. (Photo/MTM)

The investment accommodates production line enhancements made to improve manufacturing processes supporting the Mazda vehicle and design changes to the yet-to-be announced Toyota SUV that will both be produced at the plant.

The new facility will have the capacity to produce up to 150,000 Mazda crossover vehicles and up to 150,000  of the new Toyota SUV each year. 

MTM continues to target up to 4,000 new jobs and has hired approximately 600 employees to date, with plans to resume accepting applications for production positions later this year. Construction of the plant continues, with 75-100 percent of the roofing, siding, floor slabs, ductwork, fire protection and electrical completed. 

“Mazda Toyota Manufacturing is proud to call Alabama home,” said Mark Brazeal, MTM vice president of administration said. “Through strong support from our state and local partners, we have been able to further incorporate cutting-edge manufacturing technologies, provide world-class training for team members and develop the highest quality production processes.

“As we prepare for the start of production next year, we look forward to developing our future workforce and serving as a hometown company for many years to come.” 

 

 

Mission and Vision: Region’s Largest Spec Industrial Facility Breaks Ground

All it takes is a mission and a vision for Huntsville’s long-term strategic plan to build a multicounty regional economy in North Alabama to take shape.

One of the components of that vision dropped into place recently as the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce and the Limestone County Economic Development Authority joined the Hollingsworth Cos. in breaking ground on the largest speculative industrial facility in North Alabama.

It is the 11th facility Hollingsworth has built in the SouthPoint Business Park, which has already provided hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in investments. When finished, the new building will be home to more than 1.9 million square feet of industrial space.

Located off Interstates 65 and 565 and five miles from the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing plant, the park is suitable for high-growth manufacturing and distribution companies who benefit from a location along the I-65 corridor in North Alabama.

SouthPoint Business Park is already home to HDT Global, Custom Assembly, Redline Steel, Woodbridge, Supreme Beverage and Aldez.

While shovels moved dirt for the sprawling new building, local and state officials and members of the business community toured two industrial buildings now available in the park. The two buildings provide 173,888 and 109,080 square feet for companies looking to expand or relocate their manufacturing and distribution facilities.

“In spite of the economic pressure of COVID-19 and this being an election year, we are very bullish on the North Alabama market,” said Joe Hollingsworth, CEO of The Hollingsworth Cos., the largest nonurban industrial real estate developer and construction firm in the Southeast. “We have grown our business on the belief that American manufacturing will continue to prosper, and the Southeastern United States will lead this growth. I would like to thank the community for being willing to invest time, effort, and money into being a true partner in making this park successful.

“It is my belief that the next eight years will be the best economic period of our lives.”

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said the park will help ensure job creation and business development for the Rocket City.

“Over the past 10 years, we’ve been able to announce new and expanding companies in our community that have created 30,000 jobs,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. “To do that requires many assets. You need a workforce, you need access to markets, and you need sites and buildings. Today’s groundbreaking gives us another tool to help us in our continuing efforts to diversify our economy and to make sure that anyone in Huntsville who wants a job can get a job. 

“We thank the Hollingsworth Companies for its continued investment and belief in our community,” 

Limestone County Commission Chairman Collin Daly said, “The groundbreaking of the largest speculative industrial building in North Alabama, despite being in the middle of a pandemic, is positive news for our county. We look forward to this new location assisting with the demand for industrial facilities needed for the continued growth in our county.”

Brooks Kracke, president and CEO of the North Alabama Industrial Development Association, said, “This latest Hollingsworth building in Southpoint Industrial Park is much needed and is very timely in order to meet the demands of our regional growth.” 

 

Area Tourism, Conventions are Looking to Rebound in Wake of Pandemic

Tourism has taken a hit in the Tennessee Valley as the COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted daily activities across the nation as well as globally.

The good news is some of the impact will not be long-lasting.

For example, the United States Tennis Association’s girls clay court championships that were held here for the first time in 2019 was canceled this year but will return to the Huntsville Tennis Center in 2021-24.

That’s an economic loss of around $175,000.

“The good news is they were so happy with the way it went last year the USTA awarded it to Huntsville through 2024,’’ said Mark McCarter, sales manager for the Huntsville/Madison County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

“We’ve been through months of cancelations. The focus now is on how do we get the business back. We got lucky in that a lot of things that were canceled this year were annual events. You hate to lose it for sure, and it’s had an impact, but it’s people who have a history here and they’re coming back next year.’’

In March, the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) canceled its 2020 Global Force Symposium and Exposition, which is one of the largest conferences Huntsville hosts annually. It brings over 6,000 attendees and represents an estimated $3.6 million in economic impact.

 “We understand AUSA’s desire to prioritize the health and safety of their delegates, and look forward to welcoming them in 2021, said Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Judy Ryals. “Going forward, the CVB will continue to work with our hospitality partners and public health officials to ensure that the health and safety of our visitors remains a top priority.

“Supporting our local hospitality industry is also of utmost importance – as travel is impacted, we encourage our residents to explore their own backyard and be patrons to our Huntsville/Madison County restaurants, attractions, hotels, and others.” 

Jamie Koshofer, vice president of conventions for the CVB, has worked closely with AUSA over the past year.

“AUSA has long been a close partner of the CVB, and we will continue to provide support for them in all ways that we can,’’ Koshofer said. “2021 is right around the corner, and we look forward to bringing that business back to the Rocket City.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said, “The City of Huntsville has developed a great partnership with AUSA over the past several years. While we share in the disappointment of the community, we respect their decision to make the health of AUSA members, participants, and our citizens a top priority. We will continue to work with them and look forward to seeing AUSA in Huntsville in the coming years.”

Kristen Pepper, marketing director for the CVB, said the AUSA was one of three large conferences that were planned for spring that had to cancel. 

“Obviously the tourism and hospitality industry has been hit pretty hard, especially compared to other industries,’’ she said. “I know just from talking to our hotel partners we’re starting to be on the upswing now.’’

Pepper said local hotels were operating at about 10 percent occupancy during spring at a time where 80-90 percent is the norm. Now, she said, hotels are reporting closer to 50 percent occupancy.

She also said conventions moving forward are “wait-and-see.’’

“Everyone’s kind of playing it by ear,’’ she said. “We have some conferences that as of now you know they’re moving forward for fall and winter 2020. Some have canceled. It’s very dependent on the meeting planners and kind of the general makeup of their attendees. A lot of the conventions that have an older demographic we’re seeing them be a little bit more cautious, but conferences that maybe have a little bit of a smaller headcount or maybe a different age makeup they might feel comfortable continuing for later this year.’’

Health, Civic Officials Plea: Wear Face Coverings, Use Hand Sanitizers, Practice Social Distancing.

Wear face coverings, use hand sanitizers and practice social distancing.

It’s neither a broken record nor a cliche, just the repeated pleas from health and civic officials urging Madison County residents to practice these safety measures to battle the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

That checklist continues to be the theme at the bi-weekly pandemic press conference at the Huntsville City Council chambers. Especially in light of the number of positive cases in the county spiking the last two weeks in the wake of protests and as restaurants, bars and businesses re-open.

And even for those who refuse to wear a mask, following those guidelines might keep at bay an ordinance to require them to wear masks at all public places.

“The last time I reported in our system hospitals across Alabama, we had about 30 inpatients; today we’ve got 70 inpatients in our hospitals across North Alabama,” Huntsville Hospital CEO David Spillers said. “So we’ve seen a fairly substantial increase in the number of people who have COVID, who need hospital care.”

The number of local and area residents needing inpatient and ventilator care has also increased. Of the 70 patients in Huntsville Hospital facilities, there are 23 in Madison County with 16 in Huntsville and seven in Madison. Of the 23, seven are in intensive care and six are on ventilators.

Statewide, 348,687 people have been tested for the virus. Confirmed positives are at 30,031 and 831 deaths because of the coronavirus have been reported. In the county, there have been 23,865 tests with 711 confirmed cases and six deaths attributed to COVID-19.

The state has a population of nearly 5 million and Madison County has a population nearing 400,000. Less than 20 percent in both instances of the population have been tested.

“For the longest time, I presented to this group that about three percent of all of our tests were running positive,” Spillers said. “That’s now up to around six to eight percent of the tests we run are coming back positive.”

Spillers warned that younger people feeling immune to the deadly aspect of the disease should take caution while the average age of a COVID-19 patient admitted to the hospital is 54.6.

“People tend to think this is much more skewed toward the elderly and, if you look at mortality, it is much more skewed toward the elderly. For me, 54 is not old at all.”

Meanwhile, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said he’s heard from both sides of the mask-wearing debate. He doesn’t see a clear path to making it work but acknowledged a city-wide requirement is not off the table.

“It’s a fine line to walk,’’ he said. “We want to make sure that we have public health, and we want people to do that, the question is, ‘If you did have a mask ordinance, how would you enforce it?’

“If we see numbers start to spike up, then we’re going to consider it much more than we have in the past.”

Battle said that if around 700 new cases develop, a mark ordinance would be given more “consideration.’’

Spillers fully supports wearing masks.

“In areas where you can stay separated, you may not need to wear a mask,” he said. “But in those areas where you come close to people, you’ve got to wear a mask.

“I think that that’s the single most important thing we could do to try to minimize the spread of coronavirus.”

 

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing Revs Up Hiring, Shows Off Post-COVID Assessment Center & Interview Process

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing kept its motor running throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, hiring 100 employees in April.

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing has implemented COVID-19 guidelines to protect employees. (Photo courtesy Mazda Toyota Manufacturing)

They auto plant kicked things into second gear May 11 by restarting the hiring process with job interviews and skills assessments at the MTM/AIDT Assessment Center at 7262 Governors Drive West, Suite 203, near Bridge Street Towne Center.

Mazda Toyota reopened its assessment center at 50 percent capacity, retrofitted the process with enhanced safety measures that focus on the safety and wellbeing of their employees, business partners, and members of the community.

“Mazda Toyota Manufacturing maintains the safety and wellbeing of our team members, business partners and community at top of mind,” said Toni Eberhart, head of corporate communications for Mazda Toyota Manufacturing. “Though COVID-19 has presented many unprecedented challenges, we take pride in the collaboration and thoughtful decision making of our team to implement enhanced safety measures. It has enabled us to make continued progress toward our start of production in 2021.

“In April and May, we onboarded 144 new employees which represents about 25 percent of our workforce and we look forward to opening opportunities to join our team this year.”

Mayor Tommy Battle and other city leaders toured the facility Thursday to see the new conditions and hiring process.

“MTM is developing​ a core workforce that will manage over 4,000 workers and provide for the economy of North Alabama for years to come,” Battle said. “They have a science to building this foundation and it’s very impressive.”

The changes they saw in action include temperature checks, social distancing, mandatory face coverings, and a heightened sanitation schedule for the facility. The plant has also put some distance between the candidates and the interview staff to meet social distancing standards.

In addition to gearing up the hiring process, MTM announced several milestones in the construction of the 3.7 million square-foot state of the art facility.

As of May 7, the roof and floor slabs are 100 percent complete; the siding and fire protection is 99 percent complete; the piping and ductwork is at 90 percent completion; and the electrical is 75 percent finished.

Currently, MTM has about 500 employees ranging from professional and administrative staff, to engineers, production workers, and a skilled maintenance team.

Talk of Reopening Local Businesses Gains Steam

With the number of confirmed novel coronavirus cases in Madison County flattening the curve, talk of reopening business is growing steam.

The number of positive tests for COVID-19 was the same Saturday — 205 — as it was Thursday. That figure was 198 to start the week. The number of deaths in the county related to the virus — four — also held steady.

Madison County Commission Chair Dale Strong said preparations are being made to reopen whenever Gov. Kay Ivey lifts the stay-at-home order but said it would be a gradual process. The order expires Thursday.

“When it is lifted, this is not the green flag at the Talladega 500 where everyone comes out with the gas pedal mashed to the floor, trying to recoup,” Strong said during the most recent virus briefing at the Huntsville City Council chambers.

Strong said when county offices opened safety procedures — using hand sanitizers, wearing gloves and face masks and practicing social distancing — will still be stressed. County employees will be required to work six feet apart.

“This is not a switch we’re going to flip an everything suddenly returns to normal,” Strong said. “Everything we’re doing now, from social distancing, wearing a face covering and not gathering in large groups, is our new normal.”

Earlier in the week, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said whenever the reopening occurs it will happen gradually for businesses such as restaurants.

“At this time right now we’re looking at a possible phased reopening,’’ Battle said. “Maybe 25 percent capacity, then 50 percent capacity, then 100 percent capacity. We don’t know exactly what the governor’s orders are going to have in it. We expect the governor’s orders within the week.

“We’re going to be walking a very fine line. The fine line is how we reopen our economy and re-open our businesses, and how we keep our public safe. That’s a very fine line to walk. We know we’ll have some additional cases.’’

Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson said an increase in positive tests will be unavoidable.

“There’s been a lot of conversation about when we start to open up again and what happens when we see a spike in cases, which we will. What we’re trying to avoid is an uncontrollable spike in cases.’’

For now, she said, she believes the county is “already in the containment phase. There’s no particular line of demarcation but with the continued downward trend in hospitalizations.’’

Dr. Karen Landers with the Alabama Department of Public Health said they were investigating each case of COVID-19 and are doing contact tracing, a method of identifying people the person with the virus has been in contact with by using all ADHP employees with experience with tracing.

“We are working on expanding the contact investing pool by using pre-med medical students,’’ she said.

As of Saturday, the ADPH listed 6,137 confirmed cases and 212 deaths from the virus.

Crestwood CEO: What We’re Doing, What You’re Doing, is Working

Universal Source Control.

That’s the new buzz phrase coming from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) regarding the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

Crestwood Medical Center CEO Dr. Pam Hudson said that was a “fancy way to say, ‘We can’t tell who all has it, we might each have it ourselves. If we all put a mask on, we’re going to significantly reduce the virus’ ability to be passed back and forth.’ ’’

Hudson, joining Madison County Commission Chair Dale Strong at the daily COVID-19 briefing at the Huntsville City Council chambers, said the CDC issued a statement declaring cloth masks as the best option concerning personal protection equipment (PPE). They should be kept clean and dry.

“Wear a mask and keep your virus from me,’’ she said.

Hudson also said a current model shows the virus peaking in the state April 23.

Madison County statistics regarding COVID-19 are positive.

  • Of the 4,043 confirmed cases statewide, as of early Wednesday, only 191, just three more than what was reported Monday, have been within county borders with three deaths of the state’s verified 116. Jefferson and Mobile counties have both reported 17 deaths and two other counties are in double digits.
  • In two weeks, Madison County, the state’s third-largest, has gone from having the second-most confirmed cases behind Jefferson County to fourth and now sixth.
  • A model that earlier projected 8,000 deaths in Alabama from the has gone down first to 634 and recently to 450.
  • Between Crestwood and Huntsville Hospital’s facilities, eight people are hospitalized with the virus and 21 have been discharged.

“So far, so good,’’ Hudson said of Madison County. “We’re on a solid track to claim success in flattening the curve.

“It doesn’t mean we have beaten COVID, it just means what we’re doing, what you’re doing, is working.’’

Strong said plans are being worked out as the discussion for reopening business is in the works. Finley said Gov. Kay Ivey is holding conference calls with mayors to gather information about reopening.

That date is still in question.

Earlier in the week, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said when it does happen it might have to come in “waves.’’

“We have a team of people in the city who is already looking at that and looking at how we would reopen,” Battle said. “We don’t know if it will be in one week, two weeks, three weeks, or six weeks. But we do know at some point we’ll re-open, we want to make sure we’re ahead of the game when we do.”

While the governor determines when the state will reopen, local governments will determine how it unfolds.

“It will be our job to define who opens up and how quickly,’’ Battle said. “That’s usually left to the local governments, it will be our job to enforce it as we go through it.”

Hudson warned against not wearing PPE and observing the six-foot social distancing rule would be a mistake even with talk of reopening escalating.

“Where one graduation party, one funeral, one wedding, one gathering where people aren’t careful away from having a spike in cases,’’ she said.

“We’re nowhere close to declaring victory,’’ Strong said.

 

Stay at Home Order Issued for State

The Alabama Department of Public Health has enacted a Stay at Home Order for the state of Alabama, effective April 4 at 5 p.m. to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Grocery stores and other essential businesses will remain open. Huntsville residents should stay at home, only leaving for essential needs and services, until the order is lifted.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle issued the following statement in response to the Stay at Home order:

“The City of Huntsville fully supports the Alabama Department of Health’s (ADPH) Stay at Home Order announced today by Governor (Kay) Ivey,” said MayorBattle. “This is a deliberate and measured response to the COVID-19 threat that faces our state and our community. The coming four weeks will be significant as the epicenter of this virus hits Alabama. Since the first confirmed case of the virus entered Madison County on March 17, Huntsville and our COVID-19 team partners – EMA, ADPH, medical community, hospitals, HEMSI, local governments, Redstone Arsenal, and the Chamber — have been working to apply the necessary controls and measures to stop the spread of this virus. The Stay at Home Order will further help us flatten the curve and save lives.

“None of this works without the support of our community. We must continue to take the virus seriously, to remain at home unless absolutely necessary, to protect the lives of those we love and that of our healthcare workers and those on the front lines.

“We will get through this together – six feet apart.”