Parkway Gains Traffic Light, Employees Getting Raises, But Fate Of LaFayette Road Revamp Unclear

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 - by Mike O'Neal

A plan to improve traffic flow and fuel development along Battlefield Parkway was  quickly approved by the Fort Oglethorpe City Council during their regular meeting Monday night.

And it took just a few minutes for the council members to agree on a proposal to increase the take-home pay for every city employee.

But it will be a few more weeks before the council can decide whether or not to approve a masterplan aimed at guiding revitalization of the city’s historic district.

The council had no reservations about approving a request by developer Larry Armour to install a new median cut, turn lanes and traffic light on Battlefield Parkway, just west of Walmart.

The Georgia Department of Transportation has approved a plan that will have the city and Catoosa Economic Development Authority construct a signal-controlled intersection on the busy highway.

Mr. Armour said this project is necessary if he is to develop land south of and directly across the highway from the Crye Leike strip mall, Mattress Connection and Subway. 

Officials were told the project’s estimated cost of $500,000 should be recouped by increased revenue from sales and property taxes as well as business licenses and fees collected.

Mr. Armour said his company, Armour Commercial Real Estate, will repay the city and the EDA should the project’s economic benefit fail to cover its cost over a seven-year period.

Councilman Earl Gray said the 14 businesses located on Crye Leike Drive have suffered because there is no way to cross the divided highway either to or from eastbound lanes.

“This traffic light will help businesses on both sides of the parkway,” he said. 

Mr. Armour told the council that he intends to have the “buildable” land annexed into the city while keeping areas in the flood plan — the property borders West Chickamauga Creek — within the county and available for recreational use.

The issue of pay raises, left unresolved during their previous meeting, was settled when the council unanimously approved 2 percent pay raises for all city employees. This action effectively restores the amount individuals lost when the federal payroll tax holiday expired last month.

Enacted in 2011, that holiday had reduced the employee share of Social Security payroll tax withholdings from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent.

Fort Oglethorpe’s $13.5 million budget that went into effect on Jan. 1 included raises which City Manager Ron Goulart had hoped would be slightly more than a cost-of-living raise.

“This  budget has a proposed 3 percent raise for all employees,” Mr. Goulart said when that budget was adopted in October. “At the end of the year, I figure we’ll have about 2 percent inflation so this means employees will be able to catch up on any shortages in the past.”

In addition to the 2 percent raise that effectively restores their take home pay to what it was at the end of 2012, the council also approved a 25-cent per hour raise — the rough equivalent of another 1 percent pay hike — or all employees.

Mr. Goulart said that after meeting with department heads and council members it was decided that the pay scale will be reviewed as the year progresses and adjustments — maybe additional raises — could be possible.

While the city will see solutions to a long needed traffic situation and well earned pay raises, it will be a few more weeks before a final version of a plan to revamp LaFayette Road is presented for the council’s approval.

William Shealy, senior project manager with the Jaeger Company, apologized profusely that he had not attended the council meeting.

“I’ve never before missed a public meeting,” he said. “I lament the fact that I wasn’t there."

An early version of the masterplan is displayed at city hall or can be viewed online at www.fortoglethorpedda.com.

Mr. Shealy said the date for presentation to the council had been set in December but, due to some revisions, “the REFRESH committee needs to review the proposal before it goes before the city council.”

The updated plan will be reviewed by REFRESH members next week and a masterplan summary should be prepared for review by the individual council members before a final presentation.

“The mayor and council are familiar with what the masterplan entails but there might be a few adjustments after the final review,” Mr. Shealy said. “The council should be able to give their final approval before the end of March.”

While there might be a few changes in particulars, the goal of the plan has remained constant: reworking roughly one-mile of LaFayette Road between the entrance to Chickamauga Battlefield Park and Battlefield Parkway to make it more closely resemble a “main street” than a high-speed motorway.

Jeff Epperson, local business owner and chairman of the Fort Oglethorpe Downtown Development Authority, said preparation of the masterplan has taken a little longer than expected but everything should go before the city council during their March 25 meeting.

“This plan is a catalyst for renewal of this part of town,” he said.

moneal2480@comcast.net 

 



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