There was good news for taxpayers and city employees at Thursday night’s East Ridge City Council meeting.
City Manager Scott Miller rolled out the proposed 2016-17 budget which keeps the current property tax rate (1.42) and provides a three percent across the board raise for the 123 full-time employees.
The General Fund budget increased almost $900,000 to $12.864 million, the proposal shows. The proposed all funds budget (which includes seven different funds) was set at $20.2 million, a decrease from 2015-16 of $2.6 million.
Miller also told the council that he wanted to hire an additional six full-time employees. He proposed adding a budget clerk to assist Accounts Specialist Diane Qualls, two additional police officers and three firefighter positions.
Miller said the city must adopt the new budget by the end of August. Mayor Brent Lambert said the council will hold a workshop next Thursday, July 21 at 6 p.m. to consider the proposed budget. He said a first reading of the new budget could be held as early as July 28.
In other action, the council voted to re-bid a job to repair damage to the Community Center caused by a fire some time ago. Miller said the city received two bids for the work that varied by more than $10,000. Miller explained that the disparity in the bids was due to the city staff not giving specific enough information to companies bidding on the job.
The council granted a variance to Exit 1 LLC on a landscaping ordinance dealing with a parcel of land that will become Jordan Crossing. Ethan Wood, a principal in Exit 1 LLC, asked the city to wave the 20-foot buffer space to 10 feet. The developers will plant the required trees and shrubs in the buffer space. The variance will allow more area for parking.
Finally, the council granted a request from Jones Memorial to hang a banner across Ringgold Road advertising its annual barbecue on Sept. 24. In addition, the church will be allowed to put up two wooden signs and the city will provide a dumpster for cleanup after the barbecue.
Prior to the regular meeting, the council held its agenda session, which sets the agenda for the July 28 council meeting.
Mayor Lambert led a discussion centering on the city’s regulating construction activities. He said that some citizens in the Frawley Road area were disturbed by heavy equipment stirring up dust and ruining a July 4th picnic. Other citizens said that heavy equipment is rolling “literally outside their windows,” Lambert said.
Kenny Custer, the city’s chief codes officer, told the council that the current regulations permit construction “weekdays” between the hours of 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. There is no provision about holidays. It was noted that July 4th fell on a Monday, so the construction that disrupted the picnic was technically within the city’s guidelines.
Councilman Jacky Cagle said he anticipated further problems because much of the Border Region district _ which encompasses virtually all of Ringgold Road up to Germantown Road _ is “at the back door” of many residential areas. Cagle said he was concerned if the city becomes too restrictive on when construction outfits may work it could discourage future development throughout the city.
Lambert said the city “must strike a balance.” He added that the council could not ignore citizens complaints.
Vice Mayor Marc Gravitt suggested that Custer research how other cities in Hamilton County regulate construction times.
The council continued to grapple with its political sign ordinance. Lambert noted there was “some confusion” during the last election cycle about when and where candidates could place campaign signs.
“I want everybody to know the ground rules before we get in the middle of it,” Lambert said.
The current ordinance restricts placements of signs prior to 60 days before an election. Councilman Denny Manning muddied the waters by asking if the time restrictions meant 60 days before election day or 60 days before early voting begins?
City Attorney Hal North cautioned the council that the city could not enforce any rules on placing campaign signs in resident’s yards. He said political signs could be a freedom of speech issue. It was his opinion that signs could be regulated along city street rights of way.