The Baldwin City Council, during its retreat on March 13, discussed a wide variety of issues, including the Fiscal Year 2021 budget, capital projects, code enforcement, zoning, potential annexations and impact fees.
Faith Bryan and Joe Rothwell with the Georgia Mountain Regional Commission (GMRC) facilitated the retreat held at the Mount Airy City Hall.
Bryan, GMRC GIS manager, said she had worked on getting the city’s addresses updated for the 2020 Census and getting the zoning map updated.
Rothwell, GMRC regional and historic preservation planner, said he would be able to help the city with things such as bike route planning, hazard mitigation planning and its comprehensive plan.
“These are very preliminary budget numbers,” said city administrator Jerry Neace, in connection with the FY21 budget proposals used by the department heads addressing the council, as budget talks got underway.
Susan Newsom, Municipal court clerk, said the budget for the municipal court should remain close to the same as the previous year.
“Storage is an issue for me,” Newsom said, “but we are working to clear that up”
Newsom said in the proposed budget all copy and printing is now in her budget, so the budget numbers will need to be adjusted a little bit to cover paper, toner, etc.
She also said there is a possibility more training is going to be offered this year, and this could require a budget increase.
Newsom also spoke to the council about the required report filings her office handles and the consequences of violating any of the state requirements for the reports and the handling of the paperwork associated with the municipal court.
Police chief Charlie Webb told the group that his proposed budget reflects a 10-percent increase in revenue for GCIC. The total revenue proposed for GCIC is $533,365, up from $485,000 that was approved for FY20. The largest expenditures projected for FY20 are $174,720 for salaries and $54,489 for employee insurance.
Webb advised the biggest change in the police department budget is going to be in revenue due to the school speed zone cameras coming on line.
He said he didn’t have any idea what this would generate in revenue.
Webb said he added three new positions to his FY21 budget – one investigator to handle part 1 crimes (burglaries, rapes, arsonists, robberies) and two in patrol.
“I currently do not have an investigator to follow up on crimes,” Webb said. “And the number of patrol officers needs to be at eight based on the size of the city.”
He said, in regards to the proposed budget, “Everything is up a little bit due to new positions and vehicles.”
Council member Jeff Parrish asked Webb why the counties (Banks and Habersham) don’t handle the investigations.
“The counties (Banks County Sheriff’s Office and Habersham County Sheriff’s Office) are more prepared to investigate felonies than we are,” Parrish said. “We need to look at all solutions before we take on that cost to provide investigations.”
Webb said on several occasions when he has asked the HCSO to handle an investigation he has been told they don’t have any available personnel to handle this. Webb said the police department had seen an increase in crime the past year. He said the increase was mainly due to drugs.
Webb also advised that when his patrol officers are investigating and following up on crimes they are being taken away from their patrol duties.
“As things change, what do we want our police department to be?” Parrish asked. “Do we just want a patrol department or do we want a full-fledged police department?”
“At some point, the cost becomes to a point where it is an issue,” Parrish added.
“We need to be getting all the supplement that we can,” council member Alice Venter said. “But we also need to be able to handle our own.”
“We’ve got to decide what we want our police department to be,” Parrish said.
Fire chief Joe Roy said the big-ticket items in his proposed budget were salaries and equipment. Roy said he has applied for a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant to help with the cost of equipment.
Roy said he was able to decrease his budget by $25,087 over the previous year to help with salary increases needed to help retain employees.
“We have lost three employees to the City of Cornelia in the last month,” Roy said.
Mayor Joe Elam said keeping an recruiting men and women is one of the biggest challenges for the city.
PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT
Scott Barnhart, Public Works Director, said his proposed budget was “staying static mostly.”
He said, due to the city’s water audit requirements, there would be some changes in how items in his budget were broken out line item by line item.
Barnhart advised the council that he currently has one open position in his department. “We are freezing that open position right now,” he added.
Barnhart said the recent paving projects on Crooked Pine Trail, Smokerise Drive and Summit Chase were funded by revenue from the Banks County TSPLOST (Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax).
“The biggest think that hurts us so hard is a public works shop,” Barnhart said. The city has been in desperate need of a shop for several years, but funding is a problem with this as it is with other big-ticket items.
“The challenge is trying to do all that we can with what we have,” Barnhart added.
WATER AND WASTEWATER
Fletcher Holliday, Engineering Management Inc. (EMI) addressed the council about the water department and wastewater department budgets.
“The budgets for water and wastewater are extremely static based on the previous year,” Holliday said.
He said two items would be changing in the wastewater budget. One change was in revenue from the prison, due to the agreement between the city and the state being modified. This could reflect a slight increase. The second change was the EPD instituted new NPDES guidelines. “We were able to rectify permit change by chemical usage, Holliday said. “The chemical cost will be up about 35 percent from the previous year at the wastewater plant, up from $70,000 to $95,000,” he added.
Holliday said the city could be looking at a possible wastewater rate increase in the next year.
Holliday presented the council with an updated list of projects, schedule of improvements, estimated project costs and proposed funding sources for both water and sewer.
Some of the water projects are additional raw water storage, water treatment plant improvements, water treatment plant upgrade to increase capacity, SCADA system upgrade, additional elevated water storage tank on Highway 365, J. Warren transmission water – May 202 approval is expected on this project to be funded with a Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) loan, southside water system improvements,
Finance Director Melanie Chandler talked to the group about the city’s fund balances and what they are sometimes used for.
“Fund balance helps cover emergency expenses and shortfalls in revenue,” Chandler said. “And budget amendments decrease fund balances.”
She also presented the council with Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) fund reports for both Banks County and Habersham County SPLOST.
City administrator Jerry Neace told the council that the budget was being done “a little differently” for FY21.
“Now an administration set fee will be applied to different departments,” Neace said. “We want it more defined and cleaned up for audits.”
Neace advised the budgets would be compiled into one packet for the council to review at a later date.
Neace briefly talked about salaries being considered when doing the budget.
“Do you pave this street or do we give employees a raise?” Neace said was often the dilemma the city is faced with.
Neace also advised the council that water and sewer rates have to increase now every year in order to stay in bond compliance. Bond payment is at $504,000 per year, currently.
He said now might be the time to look at re-financing the current bond – approximately $4 million is still owed.
Neace told the council that an April 1 meeting is planned for the cities in Habersham County to present their lists of projected projects to be included in the next SPLOST.
Police chief Webb and Lt. Shook Hamdan talked to the council about several properties in the city that are considered blighted.
Hamdan reported that the owners of a blighted house on King St. that had burned took the house down voluntarily.
Hamdan said he planned to meetr with Bureau Veritas representatives about the condition of the old Carwood building.
Parrish said, “We may need to look at our ordinances based on some complaints about local businesses: tire store, discount surplus, towing company, etc.” He said some of the business owners would probably be willing to clean up around their businesses if they were contacted.
GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT
Neace talked to the council about Zoning Regulations. He said he was trying to get some updates made due to changes that have been made over the last 10 years.
“Things passed at the state legislature need to be reflected,” Neace said. “Plan needs to reflect the Hwy. 441 corridor as the downtown. Needs to distinguish areas of zoning.”
Neace also said the city council needed to identify where they wanted new growth to be. “Identify what we have and how that needs to change and identify new properties that come in,” Neace said.
Parrish –brought up the city’s comprehensive plan.
“Comp plans are not workable enough for small towns to take action on things that are put in comp plans,” Parrish said.
Bryan explained that in comp plans two things are looked at – environmentally sensitive areas and character areas.
Rothwell advised the council to review maps, take a look at zoning regulations and look at the maps and see how that fosters development and what requires special attention.
The council also discussed potential annexations.
“I think we need to contact people in the islands to let people know they are not in the city to let them know about fire protection and police protection,” Parrish said.
The council also discussed the issue of affordable housing in the city and agreed to contact several outside agencies about this issue.
Next on the council’s agenda to discuss was impact fees.
“Every structure, every business, that comes to a community creates some sort of impact,” Neace said. “Impact fees are charged on new construction or on change of use.”
Rothwell –recommended that the city conduct a Master Plan Survey in order to get citizens’ input.
“The survey can be tailor-made to your city,” Rothwell said.
He said the survey would be electronic on Survey Monkey, on the city’s website with a paper copy available at city hall. He suggested that the council hold at least one public meeting that could piggy-back on a city council meeting.
The city’s Comprehensive Plan is due October 30 to the Department of Community Affairs.
Rothwell also recommended that the council come up with 6-10 people to serve on a committee for the comp plan.
Parrish said he was going to work more on getting grants.
He also said the city needs to change its logo and take a look at leasing options for a ladder truck for the fire department.
Mayor Joe Elam said he was working on a new personnel policy.
He also addressed an issue that had been brought up at a recent council meeting about the operations of the council.
“The council meetings procedure was adopted in July,” Elam said. “Our council doesn’t operate by Roberts Rules of Order.”