Baldwin’s downtown park project could cost around $200,000 less than expected.

Originally estimated as an $850,000 project, the price has been reduced to $648,500 through cost-cutting measures, according to city administrator Jerry Neace.

The project will be funded through SPOLST 6 money.

“We’ve kind of kicked that can trying to figure out how to get this project complete without it being an astronomical amount,” said Neace, who spoke on the project at the city council’s July 7 meeting.

The original designed called for concrete walls, but those walls have been nixed from the design in favor of a small gravity wall, which will cost less.

Plans for a sidewalk inside the park have been removed as well. Neace said additional cost savings could come through the park’s landscaping.

Councilwoman Alice Venter said she expects the project “to be beautiful” but still worries about the cost.

“I truly hope that this is something that’s going to bring over than half a million dollar’s worth of value to the citizens,” she said.

Mayor Joe Elam said this challenges the city to encourage use of the facility.

“Having a great facility and not using it is the biggest waste of money,” he said. “Having a great facility and taking great advantage of it is making it much more valuable.”

The council also discussed the city’s professional Park Paving project, which will cost $158,493 and be covered through SPLOST 6 funds as well. The road, which is deteriorating, must be re-planked. Several small businesses are located along the roadway.

“I know they’re excited to get this paved,” Nease said.

After SPLOST 6 funds are applied to both Professional Park and the downtown park projects, the city will have $132,642 remaining in that SPLOST fund.

“And that is extremely conservative,” Nease said of that dollar figure.

PUBLIC HEARING ISSUES DISCUSSED

Issues regarding public hearings were raised after the council announced upcoming hearings for variance requests from Lula Capital for Highland Point subdivision.

The first public hearing will be held July 15 for one lot and then one July 29 for five lots. Lula Capital requests variances for a front setback of 20 feet instead of 35 feet due to a issues with a slope. All lots are in the same area in a cul-de-sac.

Venter suggested those speaking on the issue need to be Baldwin citizens “because that’s really all it concerns.” Venter’s comment came after Elam said a public group, not adjacent to these properties, is “watching over us closely and tightly” about the issue. The mayor said he must confirm the legality of Venter’s request.

Social distancing concerns amid the COVID-19 epidemic were also discussed.

Councilwoman Stephanie Almagno said that social-distancing guidelines at the city’s previous public hearing were not followed, and asked for plans to be implemented for these hearings.

 “Because if we have a replay of what we did at the last public hearing, I’m leaving,” Almagno said.

Elam, who said he took responsibility for that issue, suggested allowing for 16 designated seating spaces, and then allowing people to enter and leave. Temperature-taking was also suggested.

OTHER BUSINESS

In other business, the council:

•heard from police chief Matt Nall, who presented officer Hillary Tolan with a commendation for locating a missing elderly person with dementia in April in addition to her work in investigating child sex crimes.

•reviewed bids for informational technology service.

•discussed which municipal appointments the council would make annually. Those will include the city attorney, judge, solicitor, engineer and mayor pro-tem.

•heard from councilman Jeff Parrish who expressed concerns about using SPLOST money to pay for financing costs.

•discussed using Banks County 2 and 3 SPLOST money to pave Baldwin’s cemetery road and parking area at Roadside Park.

•discussed requesting an extension to February for submitting its comprehensive plan. The process has been slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic according to Neace.

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