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Mayor and City Council of Americus review 2021 budget and set agenda for December meeting

Mayor Barry Blount and the Americus City Council held the first public hearing on the proposed 2021 budget at the agenda setting meeting on Thursday, December 11th. The budget is set to hit approximately $31,500,000. The millage rate will reflect an increase to the same amount approved prior the council’s actions of lowering the rate secondary to good financial planning over the past year. Water and sewer rates, gas and storm water will remain the same. Garbage rates have increased by 3%.

Mayor and city council tackled a 23-item agenda to vote upon at the December regular meeting. Most of the items will be going on the consent agenda. Those items included approval of enlargement of the committal shelter at Eastview Cemetery, awarding various grants and bids, determining a new mayor pro tempore, establishing meeting times, approving financial matters and approving alcohol licenses. One item was highlighted in hopes citizens would know how much resurfacing a street cost the city. An invoice to pay $670,876.20 and a second invoice in the amount of $73,434.78 (which included a $100,000.00 credit) to complete paving of North Jackson Street was placed on the consent agenda.

An item that has been of particular interest regards providing the new high school, which is located in the county, with water and sewer from the city. As Mayor Barry Blount had pointed out previously, the service not only demanded a vote from city council for approval it also demanded an intergovernmental agreement as per Georgia law between the city and county. Due to Mayor Blount’s efforts, the council’s vote and the signed intergovernmental agreement, the city is now legally sound in ensuring Americus can serve the high school. This item will also be submitted to the consent agenda.

Although one item, appointing the Municipal Court Judge for 2021 was considered for the consent agenda, Daryl Dowdell objected to doing so as he wanted the job opened for others to be considered. However, due to time limitations and needing a judge to be sitting on January 1, 2021, it was determined the timing of procuring a pool of judges to hire from was not appropriate. Mayor Blount asked Interim City Manager, Diadra Powell to carry Councilman Dowdell’s request through to late summer or early fall of 2021 for future appointments. Because the item was blocked from the consent agenda by Councilman Dowdell, the appointment of the Municipal Count Judgeship will be taken up at the regular meeting this month.

In addition to business regarding the judgeship, other items will also be voted on individually. Dr. Torrance Choates, Sumter County Schools’ (SCS) Superintendent has requested the city pay all expenses and provide service for a lift station that will serve the new high school. Acting Public Works Director, Chis Wooten researched the costs associated with doing so and it is estimated it will cost the city between $700 and $1000 a month. The city has set a precedence of paying for a lift station, as they have done so for South Georgia Technical College (SGTC) for an unknown but extended amount of time. Charles Christmas initially brought up the idea that both SGTC and SCS should pay the expenses of the station as the residents of the city already pay taxes to the city as well as to the school system. Lou Chase voiced her agreement in that citizens should not be asked to pay twice for the operation of the lift. Nelson Brown as well as Daryl Dowdell pointed out that a good number of the students live in the city limits. Chase and Christmas countered this point again that as city citizens they are already paying both city and school taxes and city citizens should not have to bear the burden of paying for a lift station that is not housed in or serving the city. A secondary point was made that the maintenance crews of SGTC and SCS would not be skilled in providing services needed for the upkeep or repair of the lift. Christmas pointed out that much like HVAC repairs, the school could contract with the city to provide such services. The matter will be taken up again at the regular meeting.

The legal gazette policy and provider will also be voted upon at the regular meeting. Current policy indicates the gazette must publish 4 times a week, it is recommended that be dropped to once a week. Currently the Americus Times-Recorder (ATR) is the legal gazette for the City of Americus. Councilman Brown indicated he would like to speak to the manager of the ATR and ask questions regarding how the paper “represents” them. When Mayor Blount questioned COuncilman Brown about the meaning of “represent” he stated again he wants to be able to ask the ATR some questions. Councilman Dowdell also questioned about offering other papers the opportunity to be the legal gazette. Councilman Dowdell asked City Attorney, Jimmy Skipper, who else could provide the services. Skipper admitted he was not familiar with other publications in the area. Skipper also suggested that this item be split into 2 votes, making the change in policy a vote, and appointing the paper of choice as a separate vote. The item will also require further follow up.

Lastly the council will be looking at changing the city charter regarding the city manager position. This will require approval from higher legislative bodies to go into effect. The first change will not require the city manager to live within the city limits while in office, as is currently the mandate. The second change would determine the length of the city manager’s contract. Initially the recommendation was to change the term from 2 to 3 years. Mr. Dowdell and Mr. Brown reported they wanted the contract to be extended to 4 years. Mr. Christmas indicated that he prefers 3 years to allow for more flexibility for the city as well as the employee. Skipper provided further clarification the language of the contract would indicate it is effective for “up to” however many years the council agreed upon. Mayor Blount indicated that higher legislative bodies would not become involved in local level politics and the vote on the changes to the charter needed to be unanimous for there to be an effective change. Americus went to a city manager for of government in 2015. The city has not yet been able to retain a city manager for the entirety of a 2-year contract.

Diadra Powell made additional announcements and Nelson Brown encourage council to approach people and tell them to wear a mask as a method to slow the spread of COVID-19. Daryl Dowdell took the floor and questioned Jimmy Skipper, “I wanna know which ordinance and why does ordinance go to zoning board?” Skipper understood the question to be on the purpose of the Planning and Zoning Committee and their role within government. Mr. Dowdell followed up with additional questions about a recent meeting and put forth his opinion that the Planning and Zoning Committee, particularly the chairman had overstepped his boundaries and made inappropriate comments. Skipper agreed to read the minutes of the meeting and get back with council. Council went into executive session to discuss appointments. There were 34 appointments to consider on differing boards and authorities. The regular meeting of Mayor and City Council will be held via Zoom on Thursday, December 17, 2020 at 6pm.