About this time last year, Don Kyle said he had a choice of whether to move his business out of Decatur or run for mayor.
The Decatur native decided to run for mayor.
Kyle, 54, a former Colonial Bank officer and more recently former owner of Wheeler Lake Marine, said he was faced with moving the marine business out of the city because the 2001 penny sales tax margin had cut his profit margin too thin to compete with similar businesses in neighboring areas.
“I was not going to negotiate a $110 profit on a $14,000 item,” he said.
He decided he couldn’t move and operate a business in the peak summer boating season at the same time he was running for office so, with help from “frugal living and a small inheritance,” he decided to run for mayor. Though an acquaintance went ahead with plans for a marine store near Mooresville, Kyle maintains he hasn’t looked beyond the election.
Kyle frequently attends City Council meetings, but he prefers to keep his tone more moderate and his positions less extreme than most of the council’s regular critics, affiliated with the Citizens for a Sound Economy.
“Arguing and personal assaults don’t accomplish anything,” he said.
In the recent Chamber of Commerce candidate forum, Kyle favored cutting the local sales tax rate and reducing city spending. He said tax abatements are a necessary tool to attract jobs, but the city needs to do a better job of tracking the promised benefits. He also favored privatizing Point Mallard over continued spending on the park if residents support it.
Kyle said he has distributed more than 6,000 campaign door hangers and talked to residents, and finds a feeling of “total disenfranchisement.” The 2001 penny sales tax increase contributed to that feeling, he said.
Tax hike ‘surprise’
The council discussed and passed the tax increase across a two-day period. It wasn’t “technically a secret, but it sure was a surprise,” he said.
Of the city’s slow growth rate, Kyle said, he can’t remember Decatur building a road into an undeveloped area to encourage construction and traffic flow as other cities have done. He said city funding would have been better spent on a road than on the ice rink at Point Mallard, which gained its approval before Mayor Lynn Fowler took office. The inability to build schools due to the desegregation lawsuit also hurt the city’s reputation, even though it hasn’t hurt existing schools or created a classroom space problem, Kyle said.
Kyle said he would like to decrease the city’s reliance on heavy industry, perhaps erect a building to draw spin-off high-tech businesses from Huntsville. But he conceded the city doesn’t have any obvious sources of revenue to make up for a tax cut.
“There are always ways to cut without cutting services,” he said. “The reality is we probably can’t drop the full 1 cent.”
Some other candidates’ promises to immediately cut the rate back to 8 percent or 7.5 percent with the expectation of a retail boom is “irrational,” he said.
“We would have to double gross annual sales,” he said. “We don’t have the diversity of merchandise to double gross annual sales overnight. We have to pay our bills on time.”
Cutting the tax rate a fourth to a half of a penny is more feasible and would provide a “psychological boost” to the city, he said.
Decatur has to get more rooftops before it gets more businesses, Kyle said. Residential population growth will drive commercial business growth.
Fowler, he said, is “a good man but wrong for the time.”
“He’s more salesman than manager,” Kyle said of the mayor. Fowler has been anxious to “close the deal” too quickly on projects like the Ingalls shipyard purchase, buying a driving range at Point Mallard and sales-tax revenue bond legislation for development.
Kyle said recent proposals to privatize part or all of Point Mallard Park have merit, but he wants some indication as simple as a public hearing or something more statistically accurate of what residents want to do.
Landscape, sign laws
Kyle supports relaxing the city’s landscape and sign ordinances intended to make Decatur more attractive, but regarded by some as harmful to business.
“We can’t afford to retrofit Decatur into Germantown, (Tenn.), Franklin (Tenn.) or Mountain Brook,” he said. The city should encourage, but not mandate beautification standards, he said. He described the temporary sign ordinance as “ludicrous.”
“Beautification won’t bring affluence,” he said. “Affluence will bring beautification.”
The Building Department, he said, should relax its interpretation of building codes that have prevented developers from renovating historic downtown buildings for commercial use.
Kyle is running against incumbent Fowler, and Morris Anderson, Joe Johnson, Jim Robison and Terry Smith.
Wednesday’s story is about Jim Robison.