Discussions are taking place now about the fiscal year 2022-2033 budget for the town of Lookout Mountain, Ga. An amendment will be needed at the end of fiscal year 2021-2022 to account for unexpected expenses that took place, said Mayor David Bennett. Highlights of the amendment includes a projection that the General Fund will end with a surplus of $147,000. Losses are expected in other areas. An estimated $15,000 loss is predicted in the Solid Waste Fund and $33,000 in the Water / Sewer Fund, he told the council at the May meeting Thursday evening.
Highlights of the draft budget for the coming year include no property tax increase at this time, however the mayor is making a recommendation for a two percent increase. An annual fee of $25 for all customers is proposed in the Solid Waste Fund budget and Sewer rates reflect a 15 percent rate increase, which is around $7 monthly, per household. This budget will include a four percent raise to employees and debt service for the town center will be paid 100 percent out of SPLOST funds and from hotel/motel taxes.
The mayor is scheduling meetings individually with each of the councilmembers to discuss the proposed budget before the next council meeting.
The higher rate for water and sewer is needed due to the losses in operations this year, plus the cost to build a new pump station and because WWTA, which processes the sewage, continues to have rate increases. Chairman of the Sewer Board Wes Hasden said in 18 months since the original estimate to build the pump station was received, the cost changed from just under $1 million to slightly over $2 million. The new facility is needed because the existing one is 22 years old and replacement parts are not available. The new estimate is also subject to change, he said. A grant for $600,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission for this project was already approved and it is hoped that the amount will be increased based on the additional cost to build the station. Other increases may be caused by the location that is on a rock shelf which could be expensive to build around, but Mr. Hasden said it would be more expensive to move it. And a retaining wall may be needed to separate the pump station from a nearby creek in the event there is ever an overflow.
The council approved spending up to $61,700 to build the Joe Wilson Park that will serve as an introduction into the city. Built around the theme of Irish Fairy Rings, it will be at the intersection of Red Riding Hood Trail and Lula Lake Road and on both sides of the road in front of the new city hall. Community Volunteer Jimmy Campbell is heading the design and construction of this new park. Components of the cost include $10,000 to remove several trees, which the council approved previously. Additionally there will be an estimated $21,000 for a sprinkler system and $40,000 for garden costs. The council approved using $61,700 from SPLOST funds.
The area in front of city hall will be developed into commercial space by Wes Robbins. He has proposed that living spaces, such as apartments, condos or vacation rentals, be allowed on the second level. After some councilmembers expressed opposition to Airbnb’s there, a vote passed to refer the request to the planning commission. To have living spaces would require a change to the town center zoning. The planning commission will make a recommendation and the council has the option of revising, objecting to or accepting it and will make the final decision.
The public works department is busy with ongoing projects and is planning ahead for upcoming work. Council Member Kevin Leckenby, who is the liaison with the department, said for the next few weeks SEC gas company will be connecting the new lines on Hardy and Tinkerbell. Picking up brush continues and residents can see the zone progress on the city’s website. People are reminded to keep brush piles manageable so they can be picked up by a tractor. The headwall stonework across from city hall is now finished but repairing sidewalks has been delayed.
Projects that have been planned include repairs to Wood Nymph behind Hole 2 and repairing the gazebo on the sidewalk that has structural and environment issues caused by nearby trees. The commissioner said that problems are being created by people putting non-permitted items out for the public works employees to pick up. The department is considering issuing a penalty fee to the offending party. A full list of non-permitted items is available from City Manager Kenny Lee. The next dumpster day will be Saturday, June 4. A second “Spring Cleaning Dumpster” may be made available.
Taylor Watson, representing the fire and police department, said the fundraising event for the fire department held this week at Café on The Corner had a great crowd. She thanked Ruth Oehmig for being so supportive. Money that was raised will help buy equipment for the fire department. She also said the city is still discussing options for how to handle stray and lost dogs.
After not being able to have the fundraiser Fairyland Festival for two years, it was an amazing success this year, said Council Member Caroline Williams. There was a big crowd including students, both current and past, and people from both Georgia and Tennessee. It was a great community effort, she said. The fifth-grade field trip was also held for the first time in two years at Camp Lookout. The school year is almost over with the last day of classes on Friday, May 27.
The Garden Club of America recently recognized and honored Jimmy Campbell, who has volunteered his time and talents to lead efforts to beautify the city of Lookout Mountain, Ga. He has been in charge of coordinating the planning, design and building of gardens and trails around the city from concept through completion. He has secured grants to pay for the various projects, worked with landscape architects, local garden clubs and nursery suppliers for each of the new parks. The Fairy Trail Garden on Whitt Road was completed and opened in September. Joe Wilson Park, that is now in the planning stage, will be expanded and built in front of city hall along Lula Lake Road. He has also planned a network of trails and paths that will serve as connectors throughout town. And Mr. Campbell was responsible for putting together the partnership between the city and the Lookout Mountain Conservancy to restore gardens and build a park at the 5-acre site where the Sims family previously had a motel and gardens. The award he was given acknowledges the “exceptional contributions as a talented leader who is promoting the knowledge and love of gardening, as well as to restore, improve and protect the environment.”
The next meeting of the Lookout Mountain, Ga. commission will be June 9 at 6 p.m.