Daphne to use $3 million budget surplus for city projects

Bayfront amphitheater, Justice Center, animal shelter to receive $1 million each


DAPHNE – An economy that did better than expected during the COVID-19 pandemic has given Daphne more than $3 million in unplanned tax revenue that will go to improvements for the animal shelter, Justice Center and Bayshore amphitheater, city officials said.

Kelli Reid, city finance director, said Daphne has a surplus of about $3.6 million, with most of the money coming from sales and use taxes.

The Daphne Finance Committee, which consists of the seven-member City Council, voted unanimously to allocate $1 million each for the animal shelter, Justice Center and amphitheater Monday, Aug. 16.

The vote came after discussions about the best way to use the surplus.

Mayor Robin LeJeune recommended that the shelter and Justice Center each receive $1.5 million.

“This is really kind of setting what the top two priorities for the city are,” LeJeune said. “We’re kind of taking advantage of the amount of money that’s come in in the last year and kind of setting that tone of what our top two priorities are right now, which is the animal shelter and, of course, the new expansion of the Justice Center and courthouse altogether.”

LeJeune said expansion of the Justice Center on U.S. 98 has been discussed since before he took office in 2020. He said expansion would improve police and court services.

“We brought in a group to look at our architectural designs and it is a large concern that was brought to our attention,” he said. “One of the things is our patrol officers are separated from command out at the Home Depot mall area. They want to bring them back in, for morale’s sake, for different reasons. We’ve spoken to the judge. The courtroom definitely needs an expansion.”

Councilwoman Angie Phillips said the city also needs a new animal shelter and a new recycling center to replace the facility that burned in 2019.

“The animal shelter we’ve talked about a long time and it’s on our unfunded projects,” Phillips said. “The recycle center, I get questions from constituents all the time when it’s going to be back up and running and I see that we’ve got $1 million unfunded for it.”

LeJeune said Baldwin County is working on plans for a countywide recycling center and Daphne officials hope to use that facility to meet upcoming recycling needs.

Councilman Joel Coleman said the city should also provide money from the surplus for the amphitheater proposed at Bayfront Park. “I would be more in favor if I identified three projects and splitting it $1 million each and adding the amphitheater in there,” Coleman said.

LeJeune said the city is working on plans to build the amphitheater, but officials hope to get money from the Restore Act that allocates funds from the BP oil spill.

“As you know, the city of Daphne has not received a dime from Restore Act funds, even though we are Eastern Shore, on the bay,” LeJeune said.

He said Daphne officials have been discussing the city’s needs with members of the Restore Council.

“We made that clear to all the voting members that we’re coming for the amphitheater, pier extension, splash pad to really make that whole area, Bayfront, big,” LeJeune said.

Councilman Ron Scott said the city should approve using the money for the animal shelter and Justice Center, but officials could change the allocation later if necessary.

“When you get down to it, we could always change those priorities or change those numbers where they’re allocated for that now, but all it would take would be a vote of the council to say we’ll take a half million here and put it here, but I think it is wise regardless of what pocket it goes in that we allocate $3 million out of this year’s fortunate situation,” Scott said.

Scott made a motion to allocate $1.5 million for the animal shelter and the same amount for the Justice Center. The motion died when no one seconded the proposal.

Coleman then moved to use $1 million each for the amphitheater, animal shelter and Justice Center. That motion passed with a unanimous vote from the council.