The city of Bessemer’s Economic and Community Development Department is seeking Citizens comments as it finalizes its Five-Year Consolidated Plan and its FY2020 Community Development Block Grant Action Plan.
Citizens participation meetings will be held at Bessemer City Hall, 1700 Third Avenue North, on Tuesday, February 18 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. and on Wednesday, February 19 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. keep reading
Major crime rate drops for seventh straight year
The crime rate in the city of Bessemer continued to tumble in 2019 sparked by declines in almost all major categories.
The overall crime rate in Bessemer was down four percent last year compared to 2018, according to Bessemer Police statistics. The decline in the crime rate continues a string of declines in the crime rate dating back to 2012.
Police reported double-digit reductions in almost all major categories for the year ended December 31, 2019, including a 33 percent reduction in burglaries, a 17 percent drop in robberies, an 11 percent drop in vehicle thefts and a 21 percent drop in unauthorized breaking and entering of vehicles.
Homicides increased by 5 from 8 in 2018 to 13 in 2019. The homicides were the most in the city since 2009.
The department highlighted several areas of progress in 2019, including:
- Addition of a Domestic Violence Detective for domestic violence cases.
- The Special Operations Unit removed drugs and narcotics valued at $332,000 from the city streets and apprehended 61 illegal firearms.
- Ten new officers were added to the patrol division in 2019.
- Several new Neighborhood Watch groups were started in 2019.
Police Chief Mike Roper said the department plans to launch several new crime prevention initiatives in 2020. Among the initiatives police plan to implement are self-defense and conflict resolution classes and a Citizens Academy.
“By allowing citizens a firsthand look at the police department and how operations are handled, it is our hope that citizens that have a better understanding of the role of the role of police in the community,” Roper said. “Additionally, citizens bring a wealth of knowledge about their community and particularly the problems in their neighborhoods. This enables the police to learn and better understand the concerns of the citizens.
A self-defense class held in January by the department attracted 75 participants. Other classes will be conducted throughout the year, Roper said.
Additional programs will focus on deterring youth from crime and Active Shooter Training for local churches.
Bessemer Mayor Kenneth Gulley highlighted a strong economic climate and new crime prevention strategies in the Annual State of the City Address delivered on Monday, January 27, 2020 at the Bessemer Civic Center.
Gulley, who is in his third term as Mayor, said Bessemer’s economy is the strongest in recent memory due to recruitment efforts which have landed the city such companies as Amazon and Carvana, resulting in the creation of thousands of new jobs.
“The economic climate in Bessemer is as strong as ever before and is the envy of many communities in this county and state,” Gulley said. “The eyes of the world are watching Bessemer because we have recruited major industries to our city and prepared ourselves for an even greater tomorrow.”
Amazon plans to open Alabama’s first Robotics Fulfillment Center in March and employ between 1,500 and 3000. The $325 million facility on Powder Plant Road is spurring additional growth in the area.
Carvana announced last year it plans to build a $40 million Fulfillment Center on Morgan Road and employ upwards of 300 new employees.
Gulley said the city has been successful in its recruiting efforts by being business-friendly and through cooperation and partnerships with economic development agencies at the state and local level.
Gulley said the goal now is building on partnerships with organizations such as Lawson State Community College to strengthen the city’s workforce to take advantage of the new job opportunities. Bessemer’s unemployment rate stands at 3.6 percent.
Guilley also highlighted the impact of the Bessemer Airport on the city’s economic climate. A new 10-unit hangar at the airport is expected to be completed later this year, creating opportunities for additional private aircraft to lease space at the facility.
Gulley said he has requested the Bessemer City Council work with him on creating incentives for new businesses wishing to move into the city so that Bessemer can stay competitive regionally.
In addition, Gulley said he wants to see the city to develop a masterplan to create a vision for Bessemer’s future. Downtown Bessemer will remain a focus of planning and revitalization efforts, he said.
“We must position Downtown Bessemer as a place to live, work, shop, eat and play,” Gulley said. “Many new businesses have already opened in recent years in Downtown. We have a National Historic District and an Opportunity Zone designation we can capitalize upon to bring new investment into the downtown.”
In terms of infrastructure, Gulley said work will begin this year on Phase II and Phase III of the Bessemer Rail-Trail. The upcoming phases will include construction of pedestrian bridges over Berkley and Arlington Avenue. A project to connect the Bessemer Recreation Center to the Rail-Trail via a pedestrian bridge over 14th Street South, or Highway 150, is currently in the design phase.
Gulley said the city’s crime rate continues to drop, as highlighted by a four percent drop in violent crimes between 2018 and 2019. However, the number of homicides in the city rose in 2019. Gulley said the police department and the public will need to work together to combat violence.
The Mayor said he was excited about new initiatives the Bessemer Police Department will launch in 2020, including Self-Defense classes, a Citizen’s Academy and an Active Shooter Training program for churches. A new partnership with the UAB Minority Health and Research Center and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement on has the potential to help the city reduce the crime rate further, he said.
In closing, Gulley said Bessemer’s future is bright as the new decade starts.
“We have a lot to be proud of here in Bessemer,” he said. “We have weathered storms that would have destroyed other communities and emerged even stronger each time. It is why we look to the future of this city with such hope and optimism.
“The promise of Bessemer shines brighter than ever before. Let us all continue, regardless of our race, age, or financial background, to work together to take Bessemer to heights she has never reached.”
The city of Bessemer has approved its 2020 Transportation Plan.
The plan was adopted by the Bessemer City Council on Tuesday, August 20. It was prepared by STRADA Professional Services and the EEFS Company, P.C.
The plan addresses road projects city leaders deem as important to economic growth and safety and that are eligible for state funding.
The Alabama Rebuild Act, passed earlier this year by the Alabama Legislature, increases the state’s gas tax for the first time since the 1990s. Beginning September 1, drivers will pay an extra six cents at the pump, followed by increases of 2 cents in October of both 2020 and 2021.
As part of the Act, the state will implement the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program II, or ATRIP-II. The Alabama Department of Transportation will make available between $30 million and $50 million a year in grant funding for designated road projects in counties and cities throughout the state. The maximum award for a county or municipality is $2 million.
Jurisdictions are required to adopt a Transportation Plan by August 30 in order to be eligible for the grant funding. The grant funding will be done on a competitive basis and will be awarded by an ATRIP-II committee
based on factors such as economic growth and safety.
The city of Bessemer continues to operate with strong financial management as evidenced by another successful audit, city officials were told earlier this week.
The audit, which covers the period from Oct. 1, 2017 to September 30, 2018, was completed by the firm of Kellum, Wilson and Associates, P.C. The audit was presented to Mayor Kenneth Gulley and members of the City Council during the July 9, 2019 Planning Session.
“The city is healthy financially and that comes from good financial management,” said CPA Lori Kes, the City’s external auditor.
Kes noted that city’s general fund revenue increased by 11.6 percent compared to FY17. Tax revenue increased by 9.1 percent, exceeding expectations. Kes further noted, that there were significant improvements in the city’s sales tax collection and attributed a portion of this increase to the city’s participation in the state of Alabama’s Simplified Sellers Use Tax. This tax allows online sellers to collect and remit a flat fee for sales made online.
Overall, the city’s actual revenues exceeded budgeted revenues for the year. City expenditures decreased 1 percent during the same time period, the audit shows.
Mayor Gulley praised the work of Finance Director/Treasurer Kela Pryor, CPA and staff for their roles in maintaining the city’s strong financial status.
“The city of Bessemer continues to operate under good financial management”, city officials were told earlier this week in a presentation of the most recent audit.
The city’s Finance Department is responsible for safeguarding the city’s finances. It oversees treasury management, accounts payable, purchasing, revenue collection, debt management, budgeting, payroll and human resources and internal auditing. In addition, the finance department is responsible for grant management, contract compliance, and the establishment and implementation of internal controls policy and procedure.
Each year the city of Bessemer provides its completed audit report on-line. To read the audit report, click City of Bessemer Financial Statement 2018.
The $750,000 project is being funded by the combination of a grant from the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) and a loan from Cadence Bank. Garver Inc. is providing project management and design, while Wayne Davis Construction will serve as the general contractor.
The project will include 10 individual T-hangars with large opening doors to accommodate Cirrus aircraft. Construction of the hangers is expected to be completed by December, said Tim Wasyluka, Airport manager.
City officials hailed the groundbreaking as another milestone in the city’s economic development efforts. The Bessemer Municipal Airport is a public-use airport and is categorized as a reliever airport for the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. Several companies and private jets currently lease or own hangars at the airport.
Bessemer Mayor Kenneth Gulley said the airport is becoming an important piece of the city’s industry recruitment efforts. In past years, city and airport officials have been able to market the airport and its location in the region to prospective companies such as Steyr Arms USA.
The hangar project will only aid those efforts, city officials said.
“We want the airport to grow and this is the first step in growing it,” said Bessemer councilwoman Donna Thigpen, who represents the city on the authority’s board.
Construction of the hangars is the latest in a series of recent upgrades at the facility. In June, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced the Bessemer Airport is in line to receive $2,277,393 to rehabilitate the airport’s runway and runway lighting.
Last fall, Birmingham-based Sanders Capital Partners announced that it had acquired three corporate hangars at the Bessemer Airport for $1.3 million. Jackson Stewart, general counsel for Sanders Capital Partners, said at the time that Bessemer is playing an “increasingly significant” role in the aviation mix in the Birmingham and Tuscaloosa markets.
Jefferson County Commissioner Jimmie Stephens, a pilot himself, said much of the major work at the airport was done prior to national events such as 9/11 and the Great Recession. Those events slowed progress at the airport. Stephens said he hopes the city, county and state can continue working together to grow the airport.
“It’s taken us a long time to kickstart this economic engine for Bessemer and western Jefferson County,” Stephens said.