While discussions on the city’s efforts to rid the town of unfit structures and whether it is proper to keep chickens drew most interest, New Albany aldermen had the rest of a two-page agenda to deal with at their monthly meeting Tuesday.
Concerning continuing improvements to the downtown area both for visitors and residents, the board hear a report from the city’s parking committee.
Terry Young, newly appointed member and chairman of the committee, said the group met this past Thursday to work on ideas. “We have set our meeting time for the first Thursday of the month, right after your meeting,” he said. The time will be 9 a.m.
Young said they are still hearing complaints about people parking downtown and leaving them for long times. “Businesses do not own the street,” he said, and so they cannot control the parking spaces near them, regardless of any signs they might place.
He said the committee is suggesting the city establish short- and long-term parking areas. The short-term, maybe two to three hours, would be the on-street parking while long-term would be the lot behind City Hall or at the library.
“People come in to ride the trail and park and leave their cars here for five to seven hours,” he said. “They won’t mind parking (farther away) and walking. We just need to put up parking and directional signs, and put this on the web sites.”
Another complaint the committee has heard concerns the alleyways. “Center of the street parking is a problem because it blocks the alleys and it hurts congestion,” Young said. “Also, people are parking in the turn lane (turning left onto Railroad Avenue from Bankhead).”
Bankhead Street is a state highway and the downtown area is bisected by a yellow line, which usually would make parking there illegal.
The mayor promised no specific action but said he would notify aldermen of the committee meetings and some of them should be able to attend.
Parking committee members include Young, Tommy Sappington, Leann Murphy, Laura Dunnam, Jeff Olson, Gayle Rutledge and Emily Foreman, who may be leaving the committee and may be replaced by Logan Rutledge.
Another item that drew quite a bit of discussion among aldermen was the need to work on a new cable television franchise agreement since Metrocast Communications is being purchased by BCI Mississippi. Mayor Time Kent said they plan to invite representatives from both companies to be present at the next regular board meeting to make comments or answer questions. Kent mainly wants a much shorter contract period than the 10 years with the current one. He is also interested in whether the city can have any control over rate increases. At present, the CATV company pays the city an annual fee of $3 for each utility pole it hangs it cable on. Kent said he would hesitate to ask for more because the company would probably just pass it on to the customer. Ward Two Alderman Anderson asked if some possible competing company could be interested but Kent said there seems little likelihood of that.
He did say that the company has assured him they will be carrying the new SEC sports network as part of their basic package.
Alderman also are beginning more focused work on the city budget for next year.
They approved publication of the notice for a public hearing on the 2014-15 city budget. A specific hearing date was not set. Mayor Kent later said they probably will have a called meeting in the next week or so to begin going over the preliminary budget. He said the city personnel committee, including himself, Ward Two Alderman Johnny Anderson and Ward One Alderman Jeff Olson usually do most of the initial budget work.
Although it is too soon to tell, the mayor does not expect a city tax increase (although city schools are asking for a small increase), at least partly because the city’s assessed valuation is up this year, meaning more dollars coming in per mill of tax.
An important source of revenue for New Albany, and which many towns do not have, is the two-percent tourism tax levied on lodging, some entertainment and food prepared on site.
Tourism and marketing director Sean Johnson reported that the city’s tourism tax collection for April was $57,000, up 11 percent over the average for the past two years. He did not compare it directly to a year ago because a larger-than-usual adjustment payment was made by the state for that month.
Johnson also said the retail sales tax return to the city was $264,000, up about four percent over last year and the second-highest in years.
He told aldermen the Department of Transportation had accepted the first application phase toward the creation of a William Faulkner Historic Byway on Hwy. 30 West. He is working on the next application step and said the length of the byway has been reduced from 30 to 16 miles, actually beginning at Darden Road in western Union County because of an advertising sign restriction issue.
Johnson has hired a videographer to capture various scenes around New Albany to be used in 30-second promotional TV spots and said they will be here again Saturday to shoot part of the farmers’ market and folk arts program, sportsplex, tennis courts and river.
He also said Legends magazine is doing upcoming stories about the wolf preserve in western Union County and Sugaree’s Bakery as well as the Tallahatchie RiverFest.
Plans for RiverFest are proceeding, he said, with a map now available, T-shirts on sale and information on a web site. Johnson plans to close Bankhead Street in the downtown area Saturday with vendors set up in the street and added he is trying to entice businesses who don’t already have a downtown presence to participate as well.
In other business:
- The city board approved setting a public hearing for the Historic District Preservation Committee at next month’s meeting. Sponsor Alderman-at-Large Scott Dunnam said the hearing is needed to establish a district. A committee was appointed several years ago but never got off the ground at the time. The committee will act to prevent structure owners from doing work that would damage the character of buildings in a historic district. Members of the committee are the same as those on the city parking committee.
- Police Chief Chris Robertson reported that several local pastors have called him about have a departmental chaplain. He suggested Jerry Lowrey, who is already chaplain for the sheriff’s department and is also a certified law enforcement officer himself. “We need something like this when tragedies occur and also, officers can feel comfortable talking with him,” Robertson said.
- Aldermen approved the appointment of Lowrey as chaplain.
- Street commissioner Johnny Payton’s only business was receiving bids on asphalt for the coming year. APAC was the only bidder (and Mayor Kent noted they are really the only supplier in the area). Their bid was $70 per ton for hot mix, F.O.B. at the New Albany plant, $95 per ton laid in place (with a minimum order of 500 tons) and $85 per ton for cold mix. Although aldermen said they wish more bids had been submitted, Mayor Kent said the prices are actually a little cheaper than last year and the city can still pick up asphalt at other plants to lower cost. Aldermen accepted the bid.
- Fire Chief Steve Coker told aldermen that equipment certification is going on this week. All the ladder tests were done Tuesday and both city and county trucks will undergo pump pressure tests at the library parking lot near Carter Avenue Thursday and Friday. Coker added they have been doing extra maintenance on hydrants and plan to paint all of them in the city this fall.
- Building inspector and zoning administrator Mike Armstrong presented his monthly permit report and told aldermen that the city planning and zoning committee had approved a request Monday by Dan Skinner and John Ellis to rezone the building at 706 First Street from R-2 residential to C-2 commercial. They apparently do not have a specific use for it but want to get it ready for a more practical use. Aldermen voted to set the needed public hearing on the change at the Sept. 2 board meeting.
- Aldermen approved the July claims docket.
- Aldermen approved selling some computer equipment to the town of Blue Springs. Mayor Kent said the equipment is obsolete for New Albany because it will not run current software, but Blue Springs officials believe they can use it. Board attorney Regan Russell said the equipment could not be given away but aldermen needed to either set some value or accept a specific offer. Ward Two Alderman Anderson moved to set the value at $1 and sell the equipment to the town. The motion passed unanimously.
- The board tabled giving some computer equipment to the New Albany Boys and Girls Club. This equipment, like that being sold to Blue Springs, is obsolete as far as the city is concerned but board attorney Regan Russell wanted to check to make sure giving them the equipment meets legal requirements.
- Aldermen learned that the Lamar outdoor sign company is planning to erect a digital billboard at the end of Hwy. 30 West where it intersects with West Bankhead. The company is apparently going to allow the city some use of the sign to promote civic events or alert residents to emergency messages.
- The board approved the resolution for the $1,739,000 sewer and water bond that will be used to help pay for the recent water system improvements.
- Aldermen discussed repairing the small bridge on Oxford Road near the turnoff to the Healthplex. The bridge is settling and not rated to allow a school bus or, particularly, ambulance to go over it. With the opening of the new hospital emergency room, use of the road has become more important. Mayor Kent said they plan to get the city and county engineers to look at the bridge jointly and make a suggestion as to what is needed. County officials have already expressed support for the project.
- Aldermen also discussed the possibility of work on part of Oxford Road, which is now the only way to the hospital emergency room and which is a narrow street. Mayor Kent said he hospital has purchased a home at the intersection of Oxford Road and Coulter Drive where there is a sharp 90-degree turn and are asking if the city can make the location more of a radius turn. Kent said when engineers look at the bridge near the east end of Oxford Road they can also look at the turn.
- The board approved amendments to the 2013-2014 budget, which included some additional expense for the judicial department, purchase of a new police car and a small amount for yard mowing.
- Aldermen discussed but did not act on a proposed new rental agreement for the community center on Wilson Street. Not all the aldermen had had time to familiarize themselves with the agreement, which calls for a $250 rental fee and allows city employees to rent the facility two times a year at a reduced (but not specified) rate. The issue is expected to come up next month.
- Board members approved payment requests on the ongoing water system project partially funded by the USDA. Paul Smithey Construction had asked for $76,271.59, Parks and Parks Well Service had asked for $83,220 and ESI asked for $50,595.36.
- Aldermen granted a sign variance to Rebecca Dewberry Billissimo. Mayor Tim Kent said she has recently moved her business from Main Street to Bankhead Street and wanted to use the business sign she purchased for the first building. According to the sign ordinance, it would be one foot too long in the new location.
- Before adjourning, went into executive session to discuss making a land purchase but Mayor Kent said they took no action.
The next regularly scheduled meeting for the New Albany Board of Aldermen will be at 5:30 Tuesday, Sept. 2.