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No bonds, but city foots bill

By Staff
Council OKs spending $23,000 for lane, signal
Leada DeVaney, Hartselle Enquirer
Hartselle's City Council rejected the first request for money from its recently approved Commercial Incentive Policy, but the requestor, Omni Group Inc., developers of the new Blockbuster Video, isn't walking away empty handed.
Omni asked the city to utilize the commercial incentive project to help it recoup the cost of the infrastructure improvements associated with the construction of its new building. Omni wanted to recoup $23,000 it spent on a left turn lane and turn signal for southbound traffic on Highway 31 and $15,000 for a deceleration lane for northbound traffic. The incentive policy, approved last month by voters, allows the city to issue bonds to pay for economic development. The cost of the bonds is retired by the sales tax generated by the development.
At the time of the policy's passage, much of the talk centered on new development projects and some council members questioned its use for projects already under way.
On Tuesday, the city rejected that request but agreed to repay the $23,000, citing the pre-existing need for the turn lane and signal.
"That intersection was created by Wal-Mart coming to town. It's unfair for Blockbuster to shoulder that entire burden," Councilman Don Hall said.
The city will use the $23,000 to pay the state the $15,000 for the deceleration lane. The remaining $8,000 will be returned to Omni.
The council approved returning the money on a 4-2 vote, with councilmen Frank Jones and Alvin Abercrombie voting no.
Jones said he didn't think the city should be responsible for the bill.
"Blockbuster selected that location," Jones said. "They knew they were going to have to meet… requirements."
The city required Omni to put in the left turn lane and the signal and the Alabama Department of Transportation agreed with the recommendation. ALDOT required the deceleration lane.
While the first tests of the incentive policy ended without it being used, the city still faces a lawsuit claming it's passage was unconstitutional.
Mayoral candidate Terry Smith has filed a suit saying the referendum approving the amendment was unconstitutional. On Tuesday, the city and Morgan County filed a motion to dismiss Smith's suit.
"We are confident the suit will be dismissed," City Attorney Larry Madison said.