Susannah Murdock Returning To Signal Mountain Town Council; Plans Made To Better Care For Town Facilities

  • Tuesday, March 28, 2023
  • Gail Perry

Susannah Murdock is returning to the Signal Mountain Town Council. She has previously served on the board for a four-year term, including two years as vice mayor. After being chosen unanimously from two applicants, she is stepping back in to replace Vicki Anderson, who recently resigned.

Other appointments approved at the council meeting Monday night were Andrew Coyle and Jo Garvich to the municipal planning commission, Chrissie Vieth to the condemnation board and Lauren Davis to the recreation board.

After seeing the condition of many town-owned properties, Vice Mayor Elizabeth Baker has come up with a proposal to get better results. It would restructure two departments by adding more organization and structure to the public works department. Some employees would be moved from the parks and recreation department. Some examples of disrepair that she discovered are floors of buildings are sinking leaving gaps between walls and floors. Siding and exterior boards are rotten and paint is peeling. Buildings are covered with mold and mildew. The mechanical room for town hall floods with every rain to the extent that mud covers the floor and worms are found inside. At the ball fields, fencing and bleachers are rusted and the floors in some concession stands are disintegrating.

The parks and recreation department in Signal Mountain is in a transition period after Jarred Thompson, the previous director, left making the council think it would be a good time to reorganize. Currently, the parks and recreation department spends the majority of its time maintaining the town-owned facilities. The vice mayor said that the department now spends 40 percent of its time in facilities maintenance, 46 percent of its time on the maintenance of parks and recreation facilities and 14 percent on managing the recreational sports such as the baseball leagues, the pool, and the gym. Facilities maintenance is largely unplanned for and without a timeline. In addition to a director, this department now has a lot of seasonal positions and one part time employee.

Vice Mayor Baker has proposed creating a dedicated facility maintenance division under the public works department. There would be a department head and a crew. Her plan would not add positions overall, but people would change jobs shifting from the rec department to fill the facilities maintenance division. Two new positions would be created by moving these employees: a facilities maintenance superintendent and a communications/program generalist who would communicate with the sports leagues and others who use the town’s fields. This person would manage a part-time and seasonal staff. There would be little difference in the cost to make these changes, she said.

The condition of town-owned properties are an embarrassment, with Signal Mountain having one of the highest tax rates in Hamilton County, said Councilman Clay Crumbliss. Commissioner Andrew Gardner said that when something has been neglected, it often is because of a lack of clear responsibility and this plan would clarify who is responsible for the town’s buildings and park spaces. Mayor Charles Poss thanked the vice mayor and Town Manager Elaine Brunelle for tackling the problems, which he said cost more overall if they are “kicked down the road.” All board members voted in favor of the proposal, which will now go to the town manager with an eye on the upcoming budget.

The parks and recreation board has been planning new programs after seeing a survey of what citizens want. Lauren Hughes, representing the board, said that three events have been discussed: a “guided history hike,” a family movie night, and a bicycle course for children under the age of six. Discussion took place about what responsibility the town would have for participants and if waivers would need to be signed the way they are required by baseball leagues. Council member Gardner said that the leagues are also required to provide their own insurance which provides a layer of insulation for the town. The chance of someone falling and getting seriously injured on a hike prompted the caution. Despite the council members liking the activities that are being planned, they will be put on hold until the next fiscal year budget is finished and when the transition in the parks department has been made.

The city manager presented the bid that was received for new software which would replace what is currently being used. The software from ERP would be used to manage day-to-day operations. There will be a one-time cost of $105,800 and $50,000 annually, an increase of about $5,000 from what is being charged now. But Ms. Brunelle said that additional functions would come with it and the software would not duplicate other services that are already being provided. Plus, she said that American Rescue Plan funds could be used for the purchase.

The public works department is requesting to buy a John Deere Gator to replace a Cub Cadet. It would be used to clear up trails and for maintenance issues, said Public Works Director Loretta Hopper. Considering that the new budget season is about to begin, the council questioned if the new vehicle could be shared by the fire and parks and recreation departments, which both use 4x4 vehicles. Previous councils have established a vehicle replacement fund where annual contributions would be made for purchases on a rotating basis, but Ms. Brunelle said contributions had fallen short. And Councilman Gardner noted that this would be replacing equipment before the end of its useful life. Ms. Hopper said that this would be an upgrade, not just a replacement. Before approving the purchase, the council has asked for the amount that would be available from the replacement fund.

Dick Graham, representing the Mountain Arts Community Center, reported that the facility is being heavily used. It has over 250 people coming for a variety of classes each week and 200-300 using the building for other activities. He said that about 700 people are expected to come to the Easter egg hunt on April 8, where there will be 8,000 eggs hidden for different age groups. The MACC is now in the process of hiring a director of development whose job would be finding grants and organizing fund raising events that could provide a long-term financial plan.

Mayor Poss said that the tree board is making plans for a fall festival and, with help from UTC students, is mapping the tree canopy. It will be compared to mapping done in 2013 to see how the canopy has changed.

The recycling board continues asking residents to take cardboard to the recycling center and not the transfer station. Councilman Crumbliss repeated that Signal Mountain is charged $58 per ton to take cardboard from the transfer station, but it is paid $15 per ton if it is taken to the recycling center.

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