The East Ridge City Council on Thursday night opted to delay a vote on the 2013 budget and to hold a public meeting on the budget at the next regular council meeting on May 10. The budget workshop will be at 6 p.m.
Before a budget is passed it is required by law to have a public hearing, and that the hearing be advertised. After heeding citizen concerns about not having a customary public budget meeting where the proposal can be explained, the council members elected to have a “citizens’ workshop.
” The first reading of the 2013 budget was on the agenda of Thursday’s city council meeting, but changes and additions had been made and added as late as Thursday afternoon, said Councilman Jim Bethune. Rather than to consider the plan “piecemeal” he said he would prefer waiting to introduce the budget in full after the public has heard and considered it. City Manager Tim Gobble said there is time for this delay since the deadline for passing the new budget is July 1.
The city has informed the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority (WWTA)that it will charge $1 million for the road cuts the authority will make when doing sewer repairs required by the Environmental Protection Agency. In return, the WWTA is considering an increase of sewer charges to East Ridge residents in order to pay for that fee. Because of this dispute, Mayor Brent Lambert has called a public hearing on May 14 at 5:30 p.m. to decide if the city should create its own sewer authority and to assess all the available options. He hopes to get a better idea of the public sentiment and how the city council members feel about the situation.
The council members passed an ordinance to create a new department within the city, which is the finance and administration department. It will have the new position of director of finance and administration. This will be done using people that are already employed by the city. Mr. Gobble wishes to use the current budget manager in the director position. He said this new organization will give more structure for management than currently exists.
Several resolutions were passed to benefit the city’s police department. The council voted to accept a $116,850 grant from Homeland Security to purchase digital radios, and to accept another grant of $12,751 from the Department of Justice to purchase weapons for the SWAT Team. Two new Ford police interceptors were also approved.
Because there is no money in the proposed 2013 budget for employee raises, the council passed a resolution to pay part of each employee’s health insurance premiums. An individual’s share of the premium has been 10 percent of the total cost, in the past. The city will now pay two percent of that amount, leaving eight percent that each employee will be responsible for. If the employee has family coverage, they will be required to pay 15 percent of the total premium versus 17 percent that had previously been charged. By the city picking up these additional expenses, an employee should not see their paycheck decrease.
The council members also approved an updated categorization for employee positions and pay scale ranges. This had been done for the city 10 years earlier by a group of consultants. The new organization of employees brings East Ridge up to date, Mr. Gobble said. It also increases the beginning pay, so that the minimum on the pay scale will be $25,000.
Another ordinance that was passed at Thursday's meeting states that funds generated by the city's new recreation and playground department will no longer be segregated into a separate municipal recreation account. This money will now be deposited into the general operating account of the city of East Ridge.
The last communication from the council was from Councilman Denny Manning about his proposal of a four percent pay raise for all employees. He said that from prior votes and discussions he saw that the motion would fail so he asked for it to be removed from consideration.
The council responded to the concerns of many residents of the Cedar Glen subdivision that were presented at the meeting on April 12. The issue was about walking bridges that connect a sidewalk through their neighborhood and that are in need of repair. The city had originally contended that it was not responsible for maintenance of structures it does not own. Since the last meeting, estimates were obtained to replace the structures. The city has now decided that it will perform a one-time “residential enhancement” and will replace the wooden bridges with concrete ones at a cost of $15,000.
Citizen concerns put forward at the Thursday meeting included a four-week wait for brush to be picked up when it is supposed to be done weekly. Vice Mayor Larry Sewell suggested that on the city website, the city should publish the schedule for pickup. He said it should also inform citizens that they should pile it at the street, not put it in containers, because of the type of equipment used to collect it.
A couple that own an animal rescue facility came before the council to clarify their understanding about codes for housing animals. They were told that ordinances limiting the number of animals at a location apply to individual residences, but not to a legitimate rescue organization.
Another resident of Cedar Glen came to get help from the council. She has recently gotten new neighbors and found on Craigslist that they are renting out rooms in their home by the day or by the week. This practice is against zoning codes and will be investigated immediately, officials said.
City Manager Gobble congratulated and extended his appreciation to the police department for successfully stopping a car chase from North Georgia on Interstate 24. The East Ridge Police used “stop-sticks” and did a very professional job, he said.
Mr. Gobble reported that as of now, the city has permitted four fireworks vendors. Mayor Lambert said that possibly 8-10 may apply, but he suspects that the law of supply and demand will whittle the number down.