Caldwell reviews highlights of tenure

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 1, 2004

“We are in good financial condition,” said Demopolis Mayor Austin Caldwell. “…The council is very frugal….We have $4 million in reserve.”

The Demopolis mayor gave his last “State of the City” address Wednesday to the Demopolis Rotary Club. He thanked the community leaders in the Rotary Club for their support and contribution to Demopolis. “We (the council) can only do what you all let us do,” he said.

Caldwell, who has served as mayor for 19 years, will retire when his term expires this year.

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He noted what he considered the highlights of his long career as public servant. Among those highlights was purchasing the land for the SportsPlex. “That’s one of the things that made a difference in our city,” he said. Caldwell was also proud of the 18-hole Ravine public gold course at the SportsPlex.

The mayor declared that during his tenure 85 percent of dirt streets have been paved. “All of the streets, with the exception of one, that were dirt streets in the late 80’s, were paved.”

The city spends $400,000 in paving each year, and every fourth year the cost rises to $1 million. “It seems that asphalt will last about four years,” the mayor said.

In the last few years the council has decided to pave those streets in the worst condition, no matter which district they are in.

The increase in the spending for paving comes from new subdivisions opening in Demopolis. In the past 19 years, 300 homes have been built, he said.

The bond issue for building the new Demopolis High School the mayor named as an achievement. “I never thought it was going to be possible; never thought we needed four campuses….We have one of the outstanding educational facilities in the State of Alabama and perhaps in the region.

“…If there is one thing that’s important in our city, as far as growth and…having good things happen in our city, it’s the education system,” Caldwell said. “…We have a very strong public school system. It is one that is envied throughout the state.”

Demopolis has received over $25 million in grants over his tenure from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, the mayor said. Much of this involved paving and resurfacing streets, gutters, drainage pipes and sewage projects.

One of the best moves the city council made in recent years was the hiring of Jeff Manuel as public safety director, Caldwell said. He is currently also serving as police chief.

“Jeff has brought professionalism to both the police and fire departments. Those two departments are on a continuing education basis. The fire department has most recently been involved in hazardous material handling.”

One of the police officers was recently in Washington, D.C. being trained on survelience equipment secured through a $39,ooo Homeland Security grant.

Caldwell also talked about the unusual situation of two downtown buildings available for the use of the city in the last 18 months. The mayor hopes the Rosenbush Furniture Building will be turned into a museum of early Demopolis history.

The city has purchased the West Alabama Health Services or old Lloyd Jones Chevrolet building, which will be turned into a public safety building. “It is almost the entire block,” Caldwell said. The police department, municipal court and fire station No. 1 will move there, he said.

The old Gary Malone Motors building was donated to the city will be renovated for the use of city horticulturist Amanda Smith and the Beautification Department. Smith has been instructed to make that “a green corner” as soon as the renovations on both her building and the public safety building are complete, the mayor said.

The old fire station building will be transformed into a new council chambers and welcome center. “Hopefully the new council will meet in a new council chamber,” Caldwell said. “A lot of the funds for this are coming from the historical society in Montgomery and an Ice-T grant.

“If you have not seen the drawings on display downtown, I hope you’ll take a look…it’s really going to be nice.”

The mayor mentioned the new High Tech Center under construction at the SportsPlex. “Demopolis was the recepient…of the largest Delta Regional Authority grant in the State of Alabama last year ($1.1 million),” he said.

“Depending on who you ask – if you ask the people at (the University of) West Alabama what’s going to be there – they’ll tell you it’s not going to be a junior college,” he said. “If you ask the University of Alabama who’s going to be a partner in the project, they’ll tell you it’s going to be a distance learning center.

“…If you ask Alabama Southern Community College, who’s going to be the operator of the facility, they will tell you that they are going to offer classes that will transfer to four-year colleges.

“…It’s going to be something that is going to be good for our people in this area,” Caldwell said. “There’s going to be technical training. It will be part of the Alabama Technology Network.”

The mayor hopes the center will open in the fall of this year.