With no discussion, the East Ridge City Council passed on first reading a budget for next year, Thursday night at City Hall.
City Manager Scott Miller told the council that the $13.66 million General Fund budget includes the addition of five new city employees and will not require the city to dip into its $5.16 million reserve funds to balance. The property tax rate of $1.33 will remain the same and there will be no new rate or fee increases.
John Davis, the city’s insurance broker, told the council that he negotiated a one percent decrease in the city’s health insurance premium with Cigna for the next fiscal year. Davis explained that data provided by Cigna showed the city’s premiums last year exceeded claims by about $300,000. Davis said he leveraged that information in favor of the city.
The fiscal year 2018-19 budget will receive a second reading at the council’s June 28 meeting where the full council – Mayor Brent Lambert and Councilman Brian Williams were absent at Thursday night’s meeting – will vote. A public meeting on the budget is scheduled for 5:30 p.m., prior to the council meeting.
Members of Local 735 of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers presented a $500 check to the East Ridge Needy Child Fund. Sgt. Scott Butcher, the president of the newly formed ERPD chapter, said that during the formation of the chapter it was the desire to work with the community that the police department serves in hopes of building a much closer relationship with the citizens of East Ridge.
“The dedication and hard work of our union members along with the fantastic public support we’ve received, made tonight’s presentation possible,” Butcher said during the check presentation.
The rezoning of two properties – one on Ringgold Road and another on Fountain Avenue – drew the scrutiny of citizens.
The owner of the property at 3636 Ringgold Road applied to rezone the eight acres from General Commercial (C-2) to Warehouse and Wholesale District (M-3). The largest building on the property was once home to the bowling alley. A smattering of other buildings on the property are home to various retail businesses.
Kenny Custer, Director of Community Services, told the council that he had met with the owner of the property, Pryor Bacon, who agreed to withdraw his application for the rezoning. Last month, the city’s Planning Commission voted against the plan to rezone the property to allow a “cold storage” facility to operate in the old bowling alley building.
Vice-Mayor Larry Sewell, who ran the meeting in Mayor Lambert’s absence, verbally agreed to the owner’s withdrawal. However, City Manager Miller emphasized that he wanted the record to reflect that the entire council had accepted Bacon’s withdrawal of the rezoning request.
The public hearing concerning the rezoning of property at 3623 Fountain Avenue, owned by Sweetbay Apartments, drew vocal opposition.
A part of the property where Sweetbay is located is zoned residential, and has been since the late 1980s, city officials said. Custer said that parcel was “legally non-conforming” because it had been in operation for many years. Several Sweetbay buildings were closed for renovation and not used for six years. Those buildings have been condemned by the city. The owners of Sweetbay are attempting to get financing to raze and rebuild the buildings. But because they are currently zoned residential, new banking policies will not allow a loan until the buildings are zoned for apartments.
Charles McCullough, a Reeves Avenue resident, told the council that he didn’t believe that more apartment buildings in East Ridge would spur the revitalization of the west end of East Ridge.
“This council needs to make decisions that benefit the city as a whole and not just developers and landlords,” McCullough said.
Laura Mathis, a strident critic of the city, told the council that it needed to first address the demolition of the derelict buildings on the Sweetbay property before hearing the issue of rezoning.
Laura Seneker, who filed an ethics complaint last month against Mayor Lambert, scored the city for taking six years to address the derelict buildings on the Sweetbay property, while citing average residents to appear before the Administrative Hearing Officer after having not addressed code violations within 30 days.
Seneker also noted that there are two other large apartment complexes in the area. Adding dozens of new apartment units on Fountain Avenue would increase traffic in the area.
“I would hope, especially you Ms. Helton since you want to move on to the State House, that you would listen to citizens as we will be voting in November,” Seneker said.
Councilwoman Esther Helton is seeking the Republican nomination for the District 30 seat in the Tennessee House of Representatives.
Lesley Bostain, who lives nearby, showed the council photos she had recently taken of the dilapidated buildings at Sweetbay. She asked if the property were rezoned allowing apartments if the owners could then rebuild and offer the apartments for short-term rental. She noted that an adjacent property is being advertised for VRBO – vacation rental by owner – that would accommodate up to 10 people.
City Attorney Mark Litchford said the apartment owners could apply for a city certification to do just that.
“That’s a little concerning,” Bostain said.
Councilman Jacky Cagle made a motion that the rezoning be tabled and heard at at time when all five council members were present. That motion was passed unanimously.
The council approved resolutions allowing the police department to purchase headsets for the SWAT team at a cost of $15,000. It also approved accepting a donation of three “dynamic entry” kits from Aegis Law Enforcement Foundation of Greater Chattanooga.
The council passed a resolution authorizing an agreement with S&ME Inc. to provide engineering and survey work for proposed improvements to Camp Jordan Park. The cost of S&ME services will be about $43,000.
The council passed a resolution authorizing CTI Engineering to oversee the construction of stormwater improvements on South Seminole Drive and Boyd Street. The cost of CTI’s services will be $22,600.