Facing citizen oppositiion and with concerns about the city's ability to service new areas, Collegedale Commissioners on Monday night approved on first reading only about half of a large number of tracts proposed for annexation.
The mass of proposed annexations on the agenda was met with reluctance from some commissioners. The city’s planning committee had recommended the addition of 256 parcels. All properties being considered are contiguous to the present corporate city limits of Collegedale and are within the urban growth boundaries established for the city.
The annexations as proposed would consist of 588 acres and include 192 houses. The trepidation was expressed with votes of abstention or nay by Mayor John Turner, Vice Mayor Tim Johnson and Commissioner Katie Lamb on many of the ordinances.
Vice Mayor Johnson explained the concerns he had about stretching the police department to cover so much additional property, and said he wanted to make sure there is adequate staffing so that Collegedale does right by the people that are brought into the city as well as the existing residents.
Ted Rogers, city manager, interjected his belief that concerns about personnel were premature. He said, “We can stretch our resources as of today” to hire additional police. He also told the commissioners that a part-time public works employee has recently become full-time, which adds capacity to that department. For the upcoming budget, Police Chief Brian Hickman is planning to request three more officers, one to be added to each shift. Mr. Rogers repeatedly said that could be done immediately if he was directed to do so by the commissioners but that it would require a budget amendment.
If approved on second reading, the annexations would be effective at the end of May. The vice mayor noted that three recently hired police officers would not be on the street for seven months due to the academy and field training requirements. Mayor Turner stated that the city would not see any revenue from annexations approved now until May 2015 and said the commissioners had worked too hard to build up a reserve and are not willing to deplete it. Addressing Mr. Rogers, the mayor said, “You keep pushing it” but it is the commissioners that are elected to make decisions and be good stewards of the city. They are the ones to move the city forward and it is the job of the city manager to carry out decisions made by the commission, he said..
Commissioner Larry Hanson said he had conducted his own study of the ratio of police to citizens of Collegedale several years ago, and had determined it was three officers to every 1,000 residents, which is higher than the other cities in Hamilton County. With the rapid growth of the area, he said that ratio is not exactly the same now; however, he suggested a closer look before adding personnel. Commissioner Debbie Baker said she would prefer to wait on hiring more police to make sure the decision is the right one. Vice Mayor Johnson requested substantiating data from the police chief before the commission agrees to increase the police force.
Commissioner Lamb would like to pursue the new zoning designation of “historical district” to be established for Collegedale. Some areas under consideration for annexation in Ooltewah should be given this zoning, she said. She asked Kelly Martin, strategic planner for the city, if it would be possible to add the zoning category before approving the annexations. It was agreed that the James County Courthouse has a lot of history and should be protected. However, Ms. Lamb was told that zoning changes would require a lot of time but changes could be done at a later date. Mr. Martin suggested considering an “overlay” for buildings in this area versus the strict requirements that come with historical district zoning.
On first reading, 46 ordinances voted on at the Monday meeting resulted in approvals for 23 annexations and the accompanying ordinances to designate the best use zoning. Seven annexations were given R-2 status, seven given C-2 status, six were zoned AG, six other parcels were given the R-1 designation, and one was assigned to R-3 zoning.
Commissioner Hanson, speaking to the large crowd of concerned citizens, said, “I know you’re not here because you want to be in the city of Collegedale.” He told them that he would rather hear their concerns now instead of hearing them on the same night as the second vote on the annexations. A public hearing will be scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on April 22 before the next regular commission meeting where a second reading will occur on all the ordinances voted on Monday night.
Mr. Hanson also invited individuals to call or email him with their concerns and he met with them as a group after the meeting adjourned. The general consensus expressed by individuals at that time was their wish to remain under county government since annexation into Collegedale will increase taxes on their properties.
In the city manager’s report, Ted Rogers reported the bid for work on a park pavilion at the cost of $17,000. Approval to sign the contract was given to Mr. Rogers. A bid to buy additional garbage carts at $56.80 based on the purchase of 1,000 also received approval.