By Emily Williams
In his annual State of the City address, Homewood Mayor Scott McBrayer took to the podium and presented not only the successes of the past year, but the progress he expects those successes to build and how they fit into his bigger picture for the city.
“My message to you this afternoon is designed to talk about the past year,” “How did we do? But the message also has to include the coming year. Where are we going?” McBrayer said in his Jan. 23 address during the Homewood Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
He said his approach to planning during his 10-year tenure has been to find the end result he wants, then focus on the actions needed to reach that goal. All the while, he said, the decisions must be guided by character, honesty and civility, which he said affects the city’s government, schools, businesses and community overall.
McBrayer said there are two rules anyone can use to promote progress and change, both of which guide him as a mayor and in business – effort and the “matchbox rule,” his guide for financial management.
1 Percent of Difference
McBrayer explained his approach to effort through an analogy and its connection to new development and updates in the city.
“At 211 degrees, water is just hot. At 212, it begins to boil. Boiling water produces steam and steam can move locomotives. It’s that 1 extra degree that makes the difference – not doing one thing 100 percent better, but doing 100 things 1 percent better,” he said.
Throughout his city update, McBrayer explained the ways the city has tackled projects across Homewood – focusing on parks and recreation updates and revitalization of the West Homewood and Green Springs areas.
“One of the things I wanted to announce,” McBrayer said. “I’ve proposed a road swap with ALDOT, exchanging West Lakeshore Parkway for Green Springs Highway.”
Green Springs is a state highway, which gives Homewood little say in the landscape of the area and, to a degree, in which businesses enter the area. Once an agreement was made with the Alabama Department of Transportation, Homewood would plan to update the landscaping, lighting and other attributes on the road, McBrayer said.
“I think that Green Springs corridor can not so much be a dividing line in our city, but really a gateway and a really nice thoroughfare into our city,” he said.
Complementing those sorts of changes, McBrayer said, people can expect to see changes to the business landscape in the Wildwood area.
The first big shift has been the recent sale of the 200, 210 and 220 Wildwood Parkway buildings from Wells Fargo to Patriot Equities. McBrayer said the company will be updating the buildings, renaming the space “Patriot Midtown Park” and working closely with the city to recruit new tenants.
For the Kids
A highlight of parks and recreation improvements will be the $6 million aquatic center at Patriot Park, replacing the old community pool with an updated version along with a splash pad and water features.
Renovations to the West Homewood Park baseball fields will continue, introducing new fields, batting cages and a multi-purpose building with a gym and office space.
In addition, McBrayer announced that the City Council recently budgeted $350,000 for updates to Spring Park in Rosedale.
“The amount of kids that we have in the city of Homewood right now is staggering,” McBrayer said, adding that more than 700 kids signed up for the 2017-18 basketball recreational league. In addition, the West Homewood Park Pool was visited by an average of 600 children a day.
Projects that are being carried over from last year most notably include ALDOT’s Lakeshore/I-65 diamond interchange and phase II of the Shades Creek Greenway project, which connects the trail along Lakeshore Parkway to Wildwood.
On the horizon will be construction of the Curio by Hilton hotel on 18th Street; Bricktops, a fine-dining steakhouse at the former site of the Mountain Brook Inn on U.S. 280; and GianMarco’s new venture, Pizzeria GM, in West Homewood.
The Matchbox Rule
Under what he calls his matchbox rule, McBrayer plans to fund projects in the city when they can be budgeted, instead of beginning projects with loaned money.
The idea was instilled in him by his parents at a young age, he said, through his chores. When he received his first $1, he was desperate to go to the store to buy a 99 cent matchbox car, but he didn’t factor in tax. Instead of giving him the few cents extra, McBrayer’s father told him to wait until he earned his dollar the next week.
“You pay cash for things and you don’t borrow. You don’t expect people to give you things. You go out and you work for it,” he said. “You save your money and work for it and then it’s yours.”
The city ended 2017 with about a $360,000 surplus; the final number will be announced this month.
McBrayer noted that a major factor in having that surplus was the 1 percent increase in sales tax as of January 2017, which has generated $5.4 million and is projected to generate more than $8 million in the next year.
On the horizon, a 3 percent lodging tax will take effect this month and is estimated to generate $1 million annually.
In addition to outlining his plans and reflecting on the past year, McBrayer took ample time throughout his speech to dole out thanks to the many people who have gone “the extra percent” for the city.
City employees of the year were announced and included Firefighter of the Year Lt. David Everson, Police Officer of the Year Matthew Green and Employee of the Year Victor Dubose, with the sanitation department.
“This is the time for that extra degree and that extra percent of service. This is the time for that extra degree and that extra percent of cooperation. This is the time for that extra degree and that extra percent of attitude,” McBrayer said. “Just 1 percent, 1 degree, it’ll make a huge difference.”
He took the time to recognize all who work closely with him and highlighted particular successes of first responders. The fire department clocked a 6-minute and 14-second average response time this year, with most of the calls arriving between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m.
The police department answered 39,395 calls this past year. In addition, arrests were up 33 percent; burglaries were down 20 percent; robberies were down 12 percent, for a decrease of 29 percent since 2015; rape was down 55 percent; and unlawful burglary of vehicles was down 14 percent compared to 2015.
“And that’s a direction I intend on us continuing,” McBrayer stated.
McBrayer also called attention to the success of the Homewood Public Library, which logged 1,294 programs attended by nearly 63,000 people this year.
The library received its second Gold Standard Award for Excellence.
“I believe it is the only library in the state to receive this award,” McBrayer said.
Library Director Deborah Fout was named the 2017 Imminent Librarian for the state of Alabama, the highest award a librarian can receive, according to McBrayer.
“It’s been said that the safest place for ships is in the harbor, but ships were made for sailing and so is Homewood,” McBrayer said. “And my prayer continues to be that God keeps a protective hedge around our city and that Homewood is safe and we continue to prosper.”