The Standard Journal

Baldwin seeks growth in Aragon

- By Kevin Myrick Editor

Aragon’s Mayor Garry Baldwin is looking ahead to the future of what the city can do as he settles into his new role in office following a tragic year for the city.

His term as mayor began in November after local residents voted him into the job in a three-person race, and what he seeks is to bring some stability to the city in a time where residents and officials alike face tough decisions about the future.

Baldwin sat down with Editor Kevin Myrick f or l unch i n Rockmart last week to talk about some of the issues the city is fac- ing in the coming year, ranging from economic growth to how he wants to create better relations with the residents of the Frettiebur­g Road neighborho­od.

Among the first issues that Baldwin wants to address first is figuring out a plan to bring more recreation opportunit­ies to Aragon.

He said plans are still being figured out for an overall project to provide a whole range of new opportunit­ies, starting with extending out Pittman Field to be a regulation sized softball field. The walking track will be moved and will even require the move of the Stage at Aragon to accomodate for the larger field.

Baldwin said plans also include the building of two new basketball courts across from Veterans Park and where the old city swimming pool once stood, along with additional features being added to the area around the Aragon Mill Pond leased by the city from mill owners, which would include picnic tables, barbecue grills and a pavillion.

A new walking track for the park and the mill pond are also part of the plan, Baldwin said.

His idea is that through the developmen­t of a subdivisio­n that was put on hold, with more details to be annnounced at the February meeting.

He also discussed the need to stimulate growth along Highway 101 commercial­ly gives good reasons to use recreation dollars from SPLOST to provide opportunit­ies to bring people from outside Aragon city limits in, and potentiall­y spending money in the process.

“First of all, we don’t have a mill anymore, and we’re not going to get one back. We don’t have the infrastruc­ture to support one. We don’t even have the property for it. We don’t control the water or sewage,” he said. “So trying to think about bringing an industry in, and jobs, is ineffectiv­e. What we have to look to is commerce, things up and down the highway. It’s been mentioned by people from time to time, you know, we’d like to get a McDonalds across the street.”

Baldwin said that’s a step in the direction of growth, but not necessaril­y the right one. The problem he foresees with bringing in a chain restaurant with a location not more than a few miles down the road is this: the sales taxes will generate revenue for the city, but it’s only stealing away that revenue from Rockmart.

By focusing instead on ideas the city can put into place now to bring about improvemen­ts and look to recruit outside visitors to Aragon, say as Council member Tammy Mulkey has mentioned in the past adult softball tournament­s, there’s a better chance of developing more business along Highway 101.

Asked about efforts to bring about a cleaner Aragon both within the mill village and all around to the city limits, Baldwin said that more cleanup days are in the works to allow residents to come get rid of trash and items they no longer need in order to help beautifica­tion efforts.

He also said he realizes there is a problem with blighted properties, and wants to do something about it.

“We have set aside in SPLOST to deal with blighted properties,” Baldwin said.

However it’s not an immediate process. He pointed out the city will have to take property owners through the legal process, which could take months or years before any blight issues could be handled.

“It gets real touchy when you talk about people’s property, and we have to be careful,” he said.

One other area Baldwin wants to address within his purview as mayor is how the city handles trash collection­s. He said in the past, utilities and trash collection­s were handled by the mill owners, and when the city government took over in the early 1970s they retained street lights and trash service, while the Polk County Water Authority took on water and sewer service.

Baldwin said that since then, residents have essentiall­y been forced into taking on city trash service without any other option, and his hopes is that he can figure out a way to change that and allow for private contractor­s to compete.

He’s not saying he wants to do away with trash collection­s by public works, but force the city prices to be more competitiv­e, since billing systems are being better worked out.

“We’ve got a problem facing us since the economy. When it got really bad, people got behind because they couldn’t afford the bill and their groceries,” he said. “We’ve got to get away from this way we’ve done this before. I’m looking at a way to revamp the trash service and how we charge. First of all we want to remove the street lights from it... We need to do it where our price is competitiv­e.”

Baldwin also said he’d like to look at a way to provide municipal fiber optic service to Aragon residents if possible, but that there is much research still to be done on the possibilit­ies of municipal internet service.

One thing too Baldwin wants to do in the coming months is find a way to bridge the gap formed between the city and residents of the Frettiesbu­rg Road subdivisio­n.

The city council voted down a request for the neighborho­od to leave the city and become part of unincorpor­ated Polk County, which Baldwin said he understood.

“I plan on having a town hall meeting soon, and I haven’t scheduled it yet to tell us your concerns and let us work on it,” he said.

He added that recreation could be a good example of an area where Aragon could help improve the ties between the neighborho­od and the city, but that property donations would have to be part of any plans.

“I’d love to sit down and talk to the residents about their old complaint of no gutters, no sidewalks and no sewers,” Baldwin said. “Do you really want us to come over for the better part of a year and tear up your yard and driveway for us to do the work?”

He added any work to be done on curbs and gutters would have to also be done under new regulation­s that weren’t in place when the neighborho­od was first developed in the late 1980s, requiring a drainage pond for runoff to collect.

“Where would that go?” he asked.

Baldwin, the owner of a computer repair business in Aragon and a former council member also served with the Aragon Fire Department as a volunteer for many years before the department disbanded.

He was voted into office in 2016 as mayor after the death of Curtis Burrus, who had been serving in the position and was running to retain his seat.

Baldwin got into the race late against Melisa Hughes and Steve “Skip” Elders.

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