Dozens of people representing two groups appeared before the East Ridge City Council, Thursday evening, asking that city leaders take action on two issues that have been lingering in East Ridge for years; building a new animal shelter, and funding the construction of a field house at East Ridge High School’s Raymond James Stadium.
In both cases, the groups walked away with assurances by elected officials that the city would move forward in advancing both projects.
Kathryn Price, speaking for Friends of East Ridge Animal Services, told the council that the non-profit group started in 2015 has worked to provide assistance to the city’s Animal Services Department. She detailed more than a dozen things the group does to help, ranging from financial assistance with paying for veterinarian bills to buying food for adopted animals.
Price said the goal of the group when it was founded was to get a new animal shelter. She said that is still the group’s goal and pressed the mayor and council on a timeline for addressing the issue.
Mayor Brent Lambert said that he knows there have been conversations inside City Hall about finding a location for the new shelter and the construction of a dog park. “I don’t know how far down the road we are on that,” he said.
City Manager Scott Miller said that the city has obligated itself to the tune of $952,000 a year to service the debt on about six projects, including improvements to Camp Jordan Parkway, the reconfiguration of Exit 1 on Interstate 75, and streetscaping on the western end of Ringgold Road. The money to service the debt comes from proceeds of the Border Region incremental tax.
“I have no money to shift over at this time,” Miller said. “I need growth in funding to build a new shelter.”
Miller said that the acquisition of land and the construction of a new animal shelter would cost between $1.5 and $2 million.
Members of the Friends of Animal Services group suggested that the city scrap its plans to build a multi-use pavilion that may cost upwards of $2 million, and use that money for a new animal shelter.
Miller said that would be a decision of the council.
Councilwoman Esther Helton said she liked the idea of setting aside the pavilion project and focusing on an animal shelter. The idea was quickly endorsed by Councilman Brian Williams. Vice-Mayor Larry Sewell said he would like to see the issue of building a new animal shelter on the June 14 City Council agenda.
East Ridge High School football coach Tim James – surrounded by members of the East Ridge Alumni and Supporters Association and numerous athletes from the school – asked the council to consider giving $200,000 to the alumni association to build a new field house at the stadium that is named in honor of his father.
James said the alumni association has raised $75,000 for the project and that Commissioner Tim Boyd has earmarked $50,000 of county money for the building. The $125,000 is well short of an estimated cost of $350,000 to $400,000 it would take to build the facility that would also house restrooms and a concession stand.
“We are at a crossroads,” James said. “The problem is timeliness of raising funds.”
He said that at the current rate it may take 10 years for the alumni association to raise that kind of money.
Mayor Lambert said that he would favor taking money out of the city’s reserve funds (currently at $5.1 million) to help fund the field house.
“I believe our desire as a city is to support this project and make it happen,” Lambert said.
Further discussion of the myriad details of having the alumni association take charge of the entire project was slated for the June 28 City Council Agenda.
The council passed a resolution authorizing a $57,000 change order in regard to the reconfiguration project at Exit 1 on I-75. A resolution to bid out new flooring for the city library was passed. And, James Citty was reappointed by resolution for another term on the Industrial Development Board.
The council’s final action was in regard to hiring a special counsel to investigate an ethics complaint filed on May 14 against Lambert. City Attorney Mark Litchford said he had a conflict of interest in bringing any adverse action against the council or mayor .
Lambert left the dais before discussion began and Vice-Mayor Sewell presided over the discussion.
Prior to the discussion, Ryan Hanzelik, a practicing attorney in East Ridge since 2009, offered his services to the City as special counsel.
Councilman Jacky Cagle said he had a list of names that he would like to be considered for the job, including Jerry Summers, Sam Elliot and Ron Wells. City Manager Miller was directed to contact the attorneys to find out if they had any interest in pursuing the matter and what the price to the City might be.