Aragon officials hold work retreat
Conversations over what the city should do on everything from SPLOST spending to a direction to take in future developments were on the table for discussion during a long retreat over the weekend at city hall.
Council members joined Mayor Garry Baldwin and City Clerk Christie Langston for the hours long session in called work session for the board, where no decisions were made but ideas were put forth to consider.
Baldwin sought from the council guidance on what they thought was important to do going forward, but also to give them a clear idea of what money was available, and what might not be based on Special Purpose, Local Options Sales Tax collections.
One area where he was happy to report some progress and provided a promise of a due date back to the council were regarding past due audits.
Audits for previous years were caught up from 2009 to 2014 in late 2016 after new council members were elected to serve, but the final two missing years for 2015 and 2016 were still to be completed.
Baldwin said that those final two missing years will have audits completed “by September.”
Once those are done, the city can then become eligible to apply for state money provided via grants and other opportunities, such as paving funds provided by the Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant or LMIG program.
He added that “we’ve got someone who is experienced in writing grants and has expressed an interest in helping out with that part time” and that anyone who would be willing to help out the city provided a value not expressed in money, but instead interest in seeing Aragon move forward.
Recreation and parks were a big focus of council members and Baldwin during Saturday’s retreat, as ideas for what to do about the old mill site to reworking Aragon’s stage to have a better space to hold concerts or show movies during community nights are also among the areas of interest.
No matter what the outcome of conversations is, Baldwin and the council also recognized that for any future growth to happen, one thing needs to occur first: an upgrade to the city’s sewage plant.
Baldwin said that he’s working on starting discussions with the Polk County Water Authority, who owns the sewage facility following the close of Aragon’s mill in the late 1960s, and because of that getting them to expand the facility has been difficult. At present, with new houses being built and completed needing sewer access in the new Oak Hollow subdivision on White Oak Road, Baldwin said that the plant will reach a capacity and won’t be able to process any more sewage under state Environmental Protection Division guidelines based on the permit for the treatment plant.
“Without being able to expand that plant, we’re at a standstill,” council member Judson Fee said.
Another factor limiting what the council will be able to complete is whether SPLOST money will be available. Baldwin told the council that revenues from the fund have come in much lower than were estimated when the fund was designed and voted on in 2011 and 2012 and later implemented in 2014, Aragon officials asked for $509,000. They’ve only received 50 percent of those funds through 60 percent of the timetable — through 2020 — and the projects initially listed don’t now fully match up with the needs and future expectations of city leadership.
However without a fire department anymore, one of the major spending areas no longer has a category for funds. Some $94,000 was set aside for fire department equipment when the list was put together in 2011, but then two years later the department was abolished when the city ran into financial difficulties and later sold off some of the equipment.
Baldwin said that if the SPLOST revenues fall short of the $509,000 requested, that all the fund will be used up until they run out, allowing for the fire department requests to fall off the list since the funds weren’t available for use.
He added that he’ll have a more clear picture of where the city stands once audits are completed, and a full accounting of SPLOST spending is completed. Additionally, he asked for a list of areas where the city should request funds as the list is being drawn up for an extension past 2020.
Those will likely include funds for recreation spending, public safety equipment and vehicles, replacing the city’s garbage truck, computer equipment and more.
Council members also had numerous comments and requests for changes being made to the city’s personnel ordinance. Baldwin explained that it was a process begun under City Clerk Sandy Norman and carried over following her departure, with Atlanta- based attorneys at the law firm of Ellerby and Thompson were completing the work.
In draft form, council members decided during the retreat during the final conversation of the day to ensure that they retained a lot of control over the process of handling grievances, appeals for changes to a employee’s job such as a demotion, and one problem pointed out by Fee during his evaluation of the document.
During his research, he found a clause that doesn’t allow the city to change the salary of former Police Chief and now Sergeant Mark Riley since it would be lower than what he’d made previously despite the demotion in rank based on no fault of his own.
Fee said the city will have to fix the problem, and Baldwin agreed it was an oversight he missed during the process of deciding on a new chief for the Aragon Police Department. He said he would go back and adjust the salary accordingly, and that despite his lowering in rank and duties that Riley had been compensated considering his time in service with Aragon.
Aragon City Council members discuss topics during the retreat work session called by Mayor Garry Baldwin.