Aragon of­fi­cials hold work re­treat

The Standard Journal - - FRONT PAGE - SJ Ed­i­tor By Kevin Myrick

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.

Kevin Myrick / SJ

Aragon City Coun­cil mem­bers dis­cuss top­ics dur­ing the re­treat work ses­sion called by Mayor Garry Bald­win.

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