Framed newspaper articles hang on Limestone County Commission Chairman Mark Yarbrough’s office wall remind him of the promises he made during the 2014 election, he said.
Yarbrough, a former construction company owner, took over as chairman after defeating incumbent Stanley Menefee in a contentious race.
He sat down with The Decatur Daily for a question-and-answer session about his first year, those promises and 2016.
Question: How do you feel about your first year in office?
Answer: I’m happy to say we accomplished just about all of those promises. We brought in over $400 million in (industrial) investments from Polaris to Shape Corp. to G.E. Aviation and the expansion of Carpenter Technology. We created almost 2,500 jobs, I promised people we would bring higher-paying jobs to Limestone County and we did.
our new website and or new branding to put the right image forth for not only the people looking to move here but also for new industries. It’s a recruiting tool, and it’s a toll to keep our citizens more informed about what’s going on in the County.
Q: What do you think it’s going to take to keep the economic development momentum going for the county?
A: Representatives from placement companies for the industries we deal with until we become a finalist tell me we’re in the top five prospective locations in the word because that Greenbrier gateway has unlimited power, an interstates, two major railways, Huntsville International Airport and Pryor Field. You would be surprised how attractive Pryor Field is.
In the future, one thing we will start facing is available workers. We’re going to reach a point that’s what our competitors will start using against us. A company like Polaris has over 400 vendors. We’re going to talk about several of those.
Q: A financial review you pushed for after taking office found the county was headed toward a financial crisis if changes weren’t made. Did you and the County Commission make any progress in correcting this path?
A: When I got here, I was dismayed we weren’t operating in the black every year. I sat down with (commission accountant) Emily Ezzell on my first day, and she said we were two years away from being Jefferson County.
We had a $2.4 million deficit in the red just for last year. This year we managed to stop that decline and turn it around. We’re $1.5 million better in this year’s (fiscal 2016) budget than we were when I inherited it.
I attribute that to a directive that came down from myself and the commission office to level-fund and streamline. We operate everything around here on ad valorem property tax, and that’s it. We don’t receive any sales tax at all. The 2 percent county sales tax goes 100 percent to the schools.
We’re fortunate Limestone County is growing so we have (revenue) growth every year. Madison is expecting up to 7,000 more homes in the coming years. That increases our tax base.
Our budget has increased over $1 million, so that’s helped. I couldn’t be more pleased with out departments and how they kept level-funding and really streamlined. We have to run lean one more year. We hope to start off in the black for next year’s (fiscal 2017) budget. If that’s true, that will be a turnaround in two budgets. We’re creeping back up where we can get into the black and start building our reserves back up. I’ve got to bet back up to $10 million in reserves.
Q: In addition to the financial issues, what has been the biggest obstacle during your first year?
A: The Limestone County Courthouse renovations. The problem with the courthouse is it’s a 100-year-old masonry structure. It was completely gutted out when I got in here, and they didn’t get enough bond money to cover the project. they didn’t even consider the roof.
Q: What issues do you think need to be addressed within the county operations?
A: I’m proud of the people we have working for us. County employees are dedicated. They have responded well to my vision. We are a complete team. The bigger impact I can make is provide job opportunities.
Q: The L&S property and Limestone County Board of Education building have been controversial in recent years. The Judicial Center will be available when the courthouse is complete. Have you made any decisions about these properties?
A: The L&S property is for sale. The problem, we’ve been told, is the value in that property was in the buildings that were torn down. It’s been for sale for eight to nine months now, and we haven’t had any takers.
The Board of Education was going to use the Judicial Center, but it’s smaller than what they’re in now. We’re working with (Superintendent) Dr. (Tom) Sisk to explore other options, but there’s nothing that’s concrete at this time.
We’ve corrected the BOE office problems, but that’s a 50-year old building and they’re crammed in like sardines. We took out all of the ceiling tile. We had ServPro come in and the air quality as better inside than outside. We still went ahead and cleaned all of the ductwork.
Q: What issues are facing you and the commission entering 2016?
A: We always keep our fingers crossed we won’t have another tornado. It’s a concern from a financial standpoint because our reserves have been dropping from $12.1 million. Limestone County was in fantastic shape after 2008, and then they just spent, spent, spent. We have stopped it. We didn’t spend any money.
We’ve got to finish our courthouse, and they’re trying for mid to late April. We’ve just got to finish the thing.
The commissioners get the 3 percent gas tax money so they never had enough road money. After funding the Engineering Department, they really only have about $150,000 each year to fund their road projects. The only thing that can be done is raise taxes, and the Limestone County Commission is not going to seek an increases in taxes. I can promise that.
Q: Do you have any project planned for after the courthouse renovation I complete?
A; None. We are out of the buying shopping center and buying buildings and renovating buildings. We don’t have the money to do anything. That just ties back to being fiscally responsible.
From: The Decatur Daily Story written by Bayne Hughes, December 18, 2015
Read the entire story HERE.