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Albany CFO JoEllen Brophy: No more ADICA redevelopment funding

Quasi-governmental authority overshoots budget by $412,000

Work is back in full swing on three canoe/kayak launches along the Flint River in Albany. LRA Constructors, which was approved for a $20,000 change order by the Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority Wednesday, is the project contractor. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

Work is back in full swing on three canoe/kayak launches along the Flint River in Albany. LRA Constructors, which was approved for a $20,000 change order by the Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority Wednesday, is the project contractor. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

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LRA Constructors Inc. superintendent Robin Billings looks on Thursday as work continues on one of three canoe/kayak launches along the Flint River in Albany. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)

ALBANY — Mere hours after Albany City Commissioner B.J. Fletcher had suggested that the Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority’s usefulness had run its course, the authority’s board spent the better part of an almost-two-hour meeting Wednesday proving Fletcher’s point.

New interim Downtown Manager Sharlene Cannon — who had been instrumental in the resurrection of downtown Thomasville and other small- and medium-sized cities in Georgia and Florida — had to be wondering just what she’d gotten herself into as:

— The board learned that it had allocated more money than it had available for downtown renovation projects;

— The city’s CFO told ADICA board members she was recommending that the quasi-governmental agency not be allowed to spend any more money on redevelopment until such a time as enough money (generated through a tax allocation district) came in to adequately pay off bond debt service;

— The city’s CFO also informed the board it had already spent its $50,000 annual city allocation just one month into the fiscal year;

— A board member, angered that a developer he’d invited to the meeting to make a statement was not allowed to speak, walked out midway through the proceedings and did not return;

— An Albany city commissioner who had been assigned “oversight” of ADICA activities in January showed up for his first meeting, demanded that he be “brought up to speed” on projects that had been discussed by ADICA for months, and then seconded motions and voted on board action, apparently ignoring the fact that he is not a voting member of the board.

CFO JoEllen Brophy stunned some ADICA board members by informing the board that its $1.7 million in allocations for downtown renovation projects exceeded the balance of its $2,735,212.62 bond account by some $412,000. Board member Thelma Johnson challenged Brophy, noting that the ADICA board “had been told by the city that we had the money.”

“You’ve made the TAD a moot point,” Johnson said when Brophy informed the board new tax money generated by the special district did not cover the debt service owed on the bonds secured for downtown development. “You say we can’t fund any more renovation projects, how then are we ever going to grow the TAD? At this point, ADICA is at a standstill.”

Brophy confirmed after the meeting that an employee in the city’s Finance office had indeed misinformed ADICA about the bond funding available to the agency. While she recommended cuts that balanced the ADICA budget, a move that was approved by the board Wednesday, she acknowledged that the oversight had led to the dismissal of the employee responsible.

When Johnson challenged Brophy’s statement that the CFO would recommend that no more money (other than what had been allocated for specific projects) be spent by ADICA on downtown redevelopment “until there is enough revenue to pay debt service,” Brophy said, “If you’re going to ask for additional tax money to revisit downtown redevelopment, I recommend this board put a plan together and present it to the City Commission, because they’re the only ones who can allocate more money.”

Just before the board voted (5-2) to lease the 125 College Drive skate park property to Rabbitman Footwear Inc. for five years, with an estimated $12,000 in needed improvements to the property to be made by Rabbitman’s principals in lieu of $500 monthly lease payments for the first year of the agreement, board member David Prisant said he’d invited developer Sam Shuggart to talk to ADICA about the property. Johnson insisted that Shuggart not be allowed to talk and board Chairwoman LaNicia Hart agreed.

Prisant attempted to “give this board a summary of what Mr. Shuggart wanted to say,” and Johnson cut him off, saying, “I don’t think we should allow this discussion at all.”

Hart again agreed and after the board voted to lease the property to Rabbitman’s Johnny and Tony Williams, Prisant walked out of the meeting.

The board then learned it had to come up with $20,000 in additional funding for change-order work on the weather-delayed canoe/kayak launches under construction along the Flint River. The emergency change order request came after heavy rains forced contractor LRA Constructors to use additional concrete to shore up holes that developed during the work.

“This is not an unreasonable request,” Cannon said. “And remember, the second bid on that project was $800,000 (compared to LRA’s $275,000 bid), so the local company is still a much better deal. And those launches are going to be incredible.”

The board also voted to make $450,000 in previously approved funds available to Shandon Development for the Riverfront Retail Development project along the 100 blocks of Front Street and Pine Avenue. That money had previously been approved for use by Shandon to purchase and renovate buildings along the two streets for planned retail development.

City Attorney Nathan Davis asked if ADICA “had any security for this project” before the board voted to approve the allocation.

“I would think y’all would be entitled to a security deed to at least put yourselves in ‘second lien’ position,” Davis said.

It was again Johnson who answered the city attorney’s inquiry.

“This vote is to say the money is available (to Shandon) once they are approved for bank funding,” she said. “They will not be allowed to use this money until they’ve secured a private ($1.1 million) loan.”

Ward VI City Commissioner Tommie Postell, who had not attended an ADICA meeting since being appointed in January by Mayor Dorothy Hubbard to “oversee” board activities, replacing outgoing Commissioner Christopher Pike, showed up for Wednesday’s meeting and took a seat at the board table. He immediately asked to be brought up to speed on a number of issues and even seconded motions on votes taken by the board.

Davis said after the meeting that he didn’t think Postell’s actions were out of line.

“I believe the problem with ADICA is that y’all were allowed to plan projects over your head,” Postell said.

It was Johnson who offered a reply: “No, we were told by the city that we had the money (to complete the projects), and now they’re saying they made an accounting error.”