Mayor David Miller Gives the State of the City at the Leeds Area Chamber of Commerce Meeting
Leeds Mayor David Miller gave a State of the City Address as the guest speaker for the Leeds Area Chamber of Commerce meeting in October to update attendees on the accomplishments during his administration for the City of Leeds.
“One of the things we’re most proud of is that before Covid, during Covid and now, the city has a AA bond rating from Standard & Poor’s. That’s almost unheard of for a municipality our size. It speaks to the strength of our finances in the city. There are all kinds of rumors going around that the city is out of money, but don’t you believe it, we’re doing well,” said Mayor Miller. “The facts are that we just paid off a 2.4-million-dollar bond issue early and our budget that’s in the process of being approved right now projects a surplus of 4 million by the end of the year. That’s not a lot of money for a surplus on a 24-million-dollar budget, but it is a surplus. In fact, our budget allowed us this year to give an across-the-board cost of living increase to our employees with a 10% raise. Throughout all of this, we just went through a very detailed audit. There were no adverse findings which means that everything that is going on in the city is on the up and up and we were happy to report that there were no findings in the audit.”
“The next thing people talk about besides potholes is our infrastructure. We just completed a 1.6 million dollar paving project and we have paved over a million dollars each year every year that I have been Mayor to bring our roads and infrastructure back up to par. Just about all of the roads in our subdivisions and our main thoroughfares have either been paved by the city or have been paved because we’ve been the squeaky wheel in the county and got them to pave our major arteries so only a few are left and before I leave office, there won’t be a road within the city of Leeds, if it is a city street, that hasn’t been paved within this time frame.”
“One of our major projects and one that is long overdue is the President Street intersection at Highway 78, the intersection just below the high school. You know how that is every morning. The engineering has already started on this project and is in the process of being done now. We’ll completely redo that intersection. Realignment is part of that and we’re going to widen Highway 78 from there all of the way up to Park Drive.”
Leeds Downtown Revitalization Project
Miller went on to share that this next project is something special, a 3.8-million-dollar downtown project. The City of Leeds has been working on this for many years and funding is now available. The design work has already started and we expect to begin construction soon. This project will re-do all of the sidewalks, all of the walkways and all access corners to bring everything up to ADA compliance. The sidewalks look pretty good, but the problem is that they are at a slope and very difficult for elderly people to navigate. This endeavor is going to be a total remake of the downtown with all-new LED lighting, light poles with arms that go out over the street which will have beautiful signage that will be lit at night. It’s going to completely change downtown Leeds. If you have visited Homewood or similar places, this will be the type of atmosphere that the city will have throughout the downtown.
Drainage is an ongoing issue in Leeds. When Miller took office, it was really bad. The city still has problems. A lot of money has been spent on it and Leeds continues to, but problems stem from about 40+ years ago when a large amount of drainage was re-done. Galvanized piping was used and now, the bottom third of those culverts have rusted out and are now collapsing. The city doesn’t know when they get up in the morning if there will be a collapse or not. One over on Kent Street is going to be close to a million dollars because it’s not only going to have to be completely rebuilt, but it is the access point for utilities so all of those will have to be moved. The one on Bryan Street was about a quarter of a million dollars to fix a couple of years ago so drainage is an ongoing program in addition to the paving projects with gradually improving the drainage in the city. There are some places where there’s not anything that can be done like down on Juliann. That little section would not even be allowed to be built today, because it’s not only in the floodplain, it’s in the floodway. Options were looked at like boring under Highway 119 only to find out that if done, the water would come back the other way when the creek rises so there are some problems that cannot be solved. The city is working on the ones that they can solve.
City Parks and Facilities
The city is very proud of the city parks. Leeds Street Department does an amazing job keeping these up. Outdoor exercise equipment for adults was recently installed. The old dilapidated parts of the toddler and elementary playground were taken down and are currently being rebuilt. It’s going to be a very nice addition to the city as soon as it is completed.
A large number of other buildings in the city have had major upgrades that might not be so apparent, but the mayor continued to talk about a few of them.
Growth of the City of Leeds
Miller went on to talk about the growth of the city. Growth is what people talk about. Leeds currently has five new or expanding subdivisions with one of the newest located on Rex Lake Road. Unali, part of the US Steel/Grand River development, is there. Leeds annexed 700 acres into the city and the first phase has been completed and every one of the houses they have built has been sold. The spec houses have sold as fast as they were built and now there are houses in the $400k range so somebody’s got plenty of money and they’re coming to Leeds.
Commercial Development and Regional Sports Park
One of the things the city of Leeds did is just now about to pay off. Leeds purchased 100 acres of commercial property right across from The Shops of Grand River where they hope to have a big box and a bunch of new commercial developments to locate; however, it’s part of a larger project. Leeds has 275 acres on the other side of the river. If you turn into the mall and drive down by the drive-in theatre, all of a sudden, the road stops. It’s not always going to stop, because plans include building a bridge across that river and the city is very close now to an agreement. A bridge will be built to access the 275-acre plot which will house a regional first-class attraction with around 15 lacrosse and soccer fields, a similar number of baseball fields, all types of amenities that go along with it. This regional sports park will not only attract the locals, but it will be a regional draw. Right now, people playing travel soccer travel to Birmingham for a tournament and will have to go about four or five different places to be able to play a tournament. That’s because there are not enough fields available in the area. The state’s very enthusiastic about the fact that we’re doing this. The tourism bureau has said the main thing that’s needed in Central Alabama is more playing fields so Leeds expects this to be a major revenue improvement for the city. When this project gets underway, the city will also develop the commercial areas at the same time. That bridge will not only access the 275 acres, but US Steel owns another 2-3000 acres there for residential development so this is going to give Leeds those rooftops needed to provide the things people want to have. When this project is complete, those rooftops will not create all of those traffic problems and it’s not going to change the standard of living in Leeds. This will still be in Leeds, but it’s adjacent to what we have now and that will be another thing that’s going to change the revenue structure of this city.
Since this administration has been in office, over 1300 new jobs have been brought to Leeds, Alabama. When you think of 1300 jobs, where in the world are they? They’re in all kinds of places. Hubbell has expanded twice and is now the largest employer in the city of Leeds with over 400 employees. TA Associates brought 100 people downtown and when they’re through, they’ll have 239 people working in downtown Leeds. They are in the process of renovating a corner of the city there and have purchased the old Harry Walker Hardware Store which has been here a lot longer than anyone remembers. The plastics plant over on Highway 25 started out with 55 new jobs and now they have 110. There’s a whole list of things like that including Buc-ee’s who said they were going to bring 200 jobs has now brought 310 and they’re good-paying jobs. Miller got criticized with people who said, ‘That’s just what we need, another damned gas station…’ They just didn’t know what Buc-ee’s was!”
Miller shared an aerial image of the Buc-ee’s property before it was Buc-ee’s! “The city is extremely proud of Buc-ee’s. We fought long and hard for many years to get a Buc-ee’s to come here and they are a major revenue contributor to the city. You cannot go by there any time of the day or night without seeing lots of cars. The owner of Buc-ee’s said the average person that comes to Buc-ee’s spends $92.50 so that’s money coming into our city.”
In these eleven years, Leeds has brought 80 new or expanded businesses to the city. Some have come and gone. That’s the nature of small business. Everybody doesn’t make it, but at least 80 businesses have said, “Leeds looks like a place where I could make some money, looks like a place I’d like to live and I’ll give it a try.” Many of these people are still here making money and paying taxes. Matter of fact, Leeds has just held two new ribbon cuttings and grand openings for TriGreen Equipment on Rex Lake Road and the Under Armour® Factory House at The Shops of Grand River.
When Covid was sweeping the country, the city gave first responders, police and fire departments, a 15% raise and not only that, as mentioned earlier, all city employees will receive an additional 10% raise in this coming budget. First responders are people in high demand and a number of cities in this county are a lot richer than the city of Leeds so this is a priority. To get the desired people, the city is willing to pay for them. Leeds officers can drive their cars home. People would ask, “Why would you do that?” It’s a good perk for them and it’s also good for police cars to be stationed all around town. It gives people a feeling of comfort and it also causes people to think that they might want to do their little break-in somewhere else.
Updated Police and Fire Departments
Leeds has updated communications for both the fire department and the police department with state-of-the-art communications. The city has the latest equipment, with new body cams and new computers. All of these things go together to mean that the city of Leeds has a state-of-the-art force. Both departments are completely outfitted with new equipment with really good people who want to come to work for the city of Leeds.
Our Senior Center
The city of Leeds is really proud of its senior center and program. Leeds has spent over $100k renovating the facility and, even more importantly, a full-time professional director, Audrey Bryan, was hired. She came in, turned that program on its head and has increased the senior participation from 28 members to around 100 today. Seniors are coming regularly and they’re enjoying it. An exercise program and all types of activities are available so anyone who may be a little older should come and enjoy. They feed you well and it’s a fun place to go!
The city previously tried to pass an ad-valorem increase to build a new city facility down across from Heidelberg Materials that didn’t pass. Fortunately for Leeds, in that same time frame, Alabama Power decided that they were going to shut down a lot of their offices in smaller towns. After just spending 1.2 million dollars to upgrade their facility in Leeds, the city was able to buy it at auction for $900k. The building and the land that goes with it appraised at $1.8 million and it didn’t cost any money out of the city general fund budget. The city was able to pay for it through Alabama Trust Fund money and court money so it was obtained basically for free, at least in terms of what came out of the budget. Not only that, one portion of the building was the old McClendon Eye Clinic and the city was able to sell that space to Leeds Water Works Board so, at some point, they can relocate their administrative offices so Leeds people will have a place downtown to pay their bills and talk about water.
The city of Leeds was renewed as an Alabama City of Excellence. The year Leeds was selected, only seventeen cities in the state received that award so the city is very proud of that. A lot of work went into documenting everything that goes on in the city of Leeds to be recognized by the state as a city of excellence.
Leeds City Schools Superintendent, John Moore, recently spoke to this group about some of the major achievements in the Leeds school system. The city is mighty proud of our school system. The school system has built all new facilities or the ones that are not brand new have been completely renovated. They have expansion capabilities out on the 700 acres where that new subdivision is going with 22 acres available for the next new school, so the city is on top of it.
Leeds was recognized last year as one of the healthiest real estate markets in the state and Miller believes it. He’s talked to Joe White who says when a house goes on the market in Leeds, it’s sold within six days. Sometimes, the signs are not out before someone shows up ready to buy. Occasionally, it is discovered that the asking price is not enough and people are bidding more than the asking price just to be able to buy a house in Leeds. That speaks well of our city.
Leeds is also the number three city in the state of Alabama for future wealth growth. There are a lot of cities that you think of when you think of rich, but what Leeds has here, both in terms of our location and the land available for future growth, means that the city of Leeds is ahead of most of the places in this state as far as our future wealth looks. Likewise, because of our school system and because of these other things that Miller mentioned, Leeds was selected as the number five city for young professionals to move to. That’s bringing into town the people that we’d like to. We want everybody from all economic statuses, but we want to make sure some of these people settle here as well and so, Leeds is in a position to attract.
Civic Center and Park Drive Upgrades
People have said, “When’re you going to tear that old thing down…”, well, the city began looking at the civic center and found it to be structurally sound so Leeds began fixing up the outside and completed major renovations inside. The magistrate is in the process of moving out of the building that she was sharing with the police department to a brand-new facility inside the civic center for court. She was previously having to carry boxes of stuff downtown to the city annex every time that court was held, but now the magistrate is close by in the same building. The police department will totally occupy the police department building they are currently in.
Tennis courts near the civic center have been renovated. Mr. Mike Cauble is currently working on a new lighting system for the tennis courts. Miller shared, “I don’t play tennis anymore, but back in the days when I did, that was a sport that I really enjoyed and we have a very active tennis community where people from all over Jefferson County come to play here and so now, they’re going to have a professional court to play at.”
New Primary School
The city is particularly proud of the new primary school. Running out of space in the schools when neither the city nor the board of education had the money to build a new one, the city and the school system went together as partners and each paid half so a new primary school could be built. This state-of-the-art facility is in a great location and the city hopes that it can continue as we have now to have kids start 4k all the way through 12th with all those grades together rather than having two middle schools or two elementary schools. The goal is to be able to keep it that way. We do have that other facility option over on the new subdivision and we’ll see how that works out if we’re able to do that. Speaking of school system, I should mention that our superintendent was named in the state as one of the top ten superintendents in the state.
The Leeds Jane Culbreth Library just received a $10k check from State Representative Susan DuBose. The city has just renovated the outside, awning and will have a new mural on the side of the building as soon as the design is complete.
9th Street has been kind of a blighted area for quite a long time, but Jeremy Deason has purchased those buildings and is currently in the process of bringing fourteen new lofts for downtown occupancy. These dwellings will be ready soon and will be a major positive thing happening in our downtown.
“Leeds is a great place to live and it’s getting better. We intend for it to get better. It’s safe. It’s a clean environment and we have a bright future.”
Mayor Miller presented a proclamation at the end of the meeting recognizing the Leeds Area Chamber of Commerce for its contribution to the city of Leeds and declared October 18, 2023, as Support Your Local Chamber of Commerce Day. Chamber Executive Director, Susan McGuire, and Chamber President, Tiffiany Ward accepted the award and proclamation.
The chamber of commerce meetings are held on the third Thursday of each month at 11:45 a.m. and they currently meet at Leeds First Baptist Church. For more information about Leeds Area Chamber of Commerce, please visit https://leedsareachamber.com.
For more information about the city of Leeds, please visit https://leedsalabama.org.
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Photo Provided: Chamber Board Members Scott Barnett & Stever Karr, Chamber President Tiffiany Ward, Mayor David Miller & wife, Sonya.
Mayor David Miller speaks to Leeds Area Chamber of Commerce.
Mayor David Miller presents proclamation to Leeds Area Chamber of Commerce declaring October 18, 2023 as Support Your Local Chamber of Commerce Day.
Photos Courtesy of Dona Bonnett