The City of Statham will look to beef up its police force, among other improvements, in a proposed $4.4 million spending plan for Fiscal Year 2021.

The city council held a near-three-hour session Monday, May 4, to discuss a budget with roughly $1.5 million more in revenue slated than the current fiscal year ($4.7 million, up from 3.22 million in FY2020).

The budget calls for two additional police officers to create a fully-staffed, eight-person department under Ira Underwood, who was hired as the new police chief in January. Police salaries would increase by around $95,000 over last year to $350,000. Statham also looks to update the city’s fleet of police vehicles, some of which are nearing 110,000 miles. Proposed budget figures call for $175,000 for four new vehicles, though that amount would actually be spread out over five-year leases. The council, however, discussed the option of leasing just two new vehicles, a pair of F-150 interceptor trucks, and revisiting the bidding process for additional bids.

The police department’s budget would increase from $455,709 last year to $798,320, though that figure is inflated somewhat by the new vehicle line item that doesn’t reflect a yearly expense.

This was the council’s second budget session in a four-day span. Here were some of the other matters discussed:

•City accountant April Plank suggested the city increase its fee schedules to come in line with surrounding governments after talking with city planner Jerry Weitz. She said fees currently charged by the city are “quite behind average” what similar municipalities charge.

•Councilman Gary Venable said the city’s $300,000 Appalachian Regional Commission grant “is a big concern of mine.” The grant money is being applied to a $968,000 sewer infrastructure project that’s tied to the Walton Group, which began a large development in nearby Arcade several years ago that went unfinished. The city, which was required to match the grant, has committed $310,000 to the project, while the Walton Group will pay $358,000. The project would bring sewer service to property owned by Walton Group and also serve city residents in the area. Since that agreement was made, however, the city has elected a new mayor and several new council members. The current council expressed concerns about moving forward until more is known about the project. Plank, who met with Weitz last week, said “it was suggested that maybe we read the agreement very thoroughly and talk to the city attorney about it.” Plank suggested possibly issuing a time frame for the Walton Group to move forward with the project and possibly pull out of the project if the company does not do so.

•The city will look into whether or not 2012 SPLOST funds can be used to pay the principal for its sewer line bond payments, which will cost $324,200 between principal and interest in the upcoming fiscal year. The principal payment due is $215,000 and the interest payment is $109,200.

•The council discussed hiring a corrections officer — either through a part-time employee, using current city police officer who is certified or using a Jackson County officer — instead of outsourcing that job to the state. Statham pays $39,500 for that service annually.

•Venable pointed out that road issues need addressing with limited funding available to do it, noting the three projects in most need of attention will total an estimated $255,000. That includes an estimated $190,000 for repairs on Broad Street. The city only has $45,000 of SPLOST funds to apply to those projects. If that money is devoted entirely to road improvements, it would leave the city with no money in its budget for sidewalks.

•The council indicated the city should continue to purchase water from the City of Winder rather than to put money into fixing an algae issue in its water plant. That purchase would cost at least $320,000 for the upcoming fiscal year.

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