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Mayor, council prepare for Thursday meeting

By Beth Alston

AMERICUS — During an open session of more than 90 minutes on Thursday, Feb. 14, the Americus Mayor and City Council heard presentations and discussed multiple matters in preparation for its monthly session at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21. Council member Daryl Dowdell was absent due to a death in the family.
Michelle Warner of the Georgia Municipal Association addressed the group on possible retirement options to the city’s retirement plan. She brought up Rule 75 that provides that if an employee’s age plus years of service equals 75, that employee can retire with full benefits, if they are vested after five years of employment. The employees’ contribution to the fund would be 2 percent. Dee Jones, the city’s human resources director, said that currently about 10 employees meet the criteria. Jones said Rule 75 is used by “quite a few” municipalities around the state to provide early retirement for their employees without loss of income. “It’s especially beneficial for public safety,” Werner said. Werner said it is an “all or none” proposition, being that all employees would subject to it or none would. It was decided that city employees would be surveyed to see how they feel about the options.
Trey Monroe, for the second consecutive month, addressed mayor and council on the new revenue bond. He said that with public financing, the city would have three years to spend the revenues from the bond. Choosing private financing is “more expedient and cost-effective,” according to Monroe, at a fixed interest rate of 3.57 percent for 20 years. The $21.1 million bond will pay off all existing debt and deliver $13.35 million in new funding. As it currently stands, the city is paying $1.5 million per year; with the new financing, that amount would be approximately $480,000 less.
The city has until March 26 to decide whether to go this route to ensure the fixed rate. Choosing private financing, in this case Sterling National Bank, Monroe said this eliminates the requirement of a credit rating process. That alone will save the city about $25,000, he said. He said another $120,000 can also be saved in upfront costs. He said the city will not have to file an annual disclosure statement because it is a private lending firm. The bonds can be prepayable in advance, he added.
Council member Juanita Wilson expressed concern that the city already has two bonds, one from 2010, and another from 2013. She asked how much money the city has from the proceeds of the two bonds. City financial director Diadra Powell said here is between $350,000 and $400,000 from the ’10 bond, and approximately $806,000 from the ’13 bond.
Wilson said they had transferred money from the sewer and water fund last year, and service costs had risen. She said she gets complaints from citizens about the cost of water and sewer going up. “We’re not helping our constituents,” she said. “I’m not for it [new bond]. … I’m looking at money and how much people are suffering,”
Mayor Barry Blount said that if the debt service is going down, the city might be able lower the water and sewer bills.
“We’re overcharging our citizens if we’re taking more from other utility accounts,” Wilson said. Blount said the work on the infrastructure is necessary because of normal wear and tear. “It has to be fixed,” he said. “I hear you … but it costs money to run a city.”
Council member Kelvin Pless said the funding is needed for infrastructure, and Council member Charles Christmas said the money has to come from somewhere to fix the problems.
Blount reiterated that the cost of everything is going up, “such as natural gas. We have no control over that whatsoever.” The matter will be discussed further at Thursday’s meeting.
Gerald Mixon of River Valley Regional Agency came before the mayor and council on a matter relative to the Service Delivery Strategy (SDS), which was updated by the city last year. He said the city of Plains wants to apply for a CDBG grant and the SDS will have to be revised to allow it. The council will vote on this Thursday.
Agenda items discussed included the following.
Sherry Kurtz, grant coordinator for the city, told the council that she and a survey team had visited an area with owner-occupied houses eligible for housing grants over a recent weekend, and received no response. “We gave up on Allen Street,” she said. The team returned to Tom Hall Circle but decided the houses “don’t look so bad.”
“That target area is not going to work and now we don’t have time to go somewhere else,” Kurtz said, being that the deadline is April 1. She identified another possible area — Andrew Drive and Shady Lane — for work on cul-de-sacs which experience flooding problems. She said the city should consider that area for next year. She said they are working on Rainbow Terrace now for $750,000 grant for the city.
Council member Nelson Brown asked why people didn’t respond and Kurtz said she doesn’t know; she knew they were home but they wouldn’t come to the door. Brown asked how they could change that and Kurtz suggested the possibility of having council members with the team next time. Brown asked is publicizing in the media would help. Kurtz said that advertising it is not a good idea because scammers come out. She said they will start the process in December this year.
Several items discussed were placed in the consent agenda for Thursday, including the following:
• Approve purchase of equipment through a grant award from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and Homeland Security. Americus Fire Chief Roger Bivins said the cost is approximately $43,000, and is fully reimbursable.
• Adoption of a resolution appointing the finance director as the city’s designee to request and receive sales and use tax filer reports. This will help the city in SPLOST discussions, the mayor said, to help ensure the city gets a bigger share of the revenues. So far, the city has not had access to the reports and the mayor said the information is needed as soon as possible so everything can be ready for the November election. The resolution will allow the finance director to retrieve the necessary information once a year for a fee of $50.
• Approve purchase of 375 gallons of natural gas odorant at a cost of $27.75 per gallon, for a total of $9,400. David Wooden, natural gas director, said they only have to order this very 10 to 12 years. Being that natural gas has no odor, the odorant is needed to alert of the presence of gas in case of a leak.
• Advertise for an RFP to add grease traps and dumpster enclosures across from the Russell Thomas Jr. Public Safety Building, for a cost of about $50,000 to come from 2014 SPLOST revenues. Qaijuan Willis of Americus Main Street told council the grease traps are needed for the use of two restaurants, and the improvements will bring the city up to code. “It’s an eyesore, and smells horrible,” commented Council member Lou Chase.
• Approve a list of surplus property to be sold on GovDeal by Larry Riner, public works director. Riner said this is a total of 52 pieces of outdated/damage equipment which is “taking up space.”
• Approve expenses related to emergency repair of a water and sewer line on Winn Street. Riner said a power pole had fallen into a hole and “everything caved in, wrecking the water main.” He said the cost is about $10,000 for Johnson Construction. Council member Pless commented that the city needs to do better in notifying residents of an area when the water will be turned off. Riner said in the future, the finance director would be notified immediately. Diadra Powell said she is currently looking into a way to notify customers via phone. “It would be expensive but well worth the investment to the employees and citizens,” she said.
• Approve an invoice from Palmer and Hilliard in the amount of $92,420 for sidewalks on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from Davenport Street to Phoebe Sumter Medical Center. The city has a grant in the amount of $110,000 for this purpose.
Items that will appear on the agenda on Thursday include the following:
• Consider a second and final reading of an amendment to the Personnel Ordinance to reclassify the position of the finance director.
• Consider approving a bid for window replacement at Rees Park Economic Center.
• Consider approving a license for sale of beer and wine off premise at Shell Food Mart, 602 W. Forsyth St. for Sunita Solanki.
• Consider approving a license for sale of beer and wine off premise at SAExpress Mart LLC at 1516 S. Lee St., for Saurin Jayantibhai Patel.
In other discussion, Council member Brown asked if the city could waive the $250 rental fee for Rees Park for a charitable organization, Golden Park. The mayor said they also had a similar request from Books for Sumter which they did not waive. “It sets a precedent,” he said. “We have to have everyone pay.”
Larry Riner was asked by the mayor for an update on the South Jackson Street project. Riner said the project has produced “numerous surprises,” such as the discovery of an old railroad track which had been paved over. Work crews also found a sewer line “down the middle of the street” which will have to be removed. The construction of the line underground was such that cavities were formed over the years. Riner said they are doing bore holes to determine how best to remedy the situation because “there’s no point in putting good asphalt over it.”
Council member Brown also commented on the two recent shootings, and said, “It would be good for the council to know that there is assistance available for victims, such as $500 for burial,” through the District Attorney’s Office. “It would be good for officers to communicate this to the families [of victims],” he said. Americus Police Chief Mark Scott said every officer carries a fact sheet for every crime committed which includes such information.
The mayor passed around photos of the existing sign at the Rees Park Economic Development Center, saying the Payroll Development Authority wants to replace the sign at its own expense. Being that the building is located in the city’s historic district, the city will have to take the PDA’s request before the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.
The mayor and council voted to go into closed session to discuss appointments.