EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one in a series of op/ed pieces that will provide readers with proposals to improve East Ridge by write-in Mayoral candidate Dick Cook, publisher of East Ridge News Online. The incumbent is welcome to submit his own op/ed articles, as are candidates for City Council.
Early voting for the East Ridge Municipal Election begins tomorrow and the stakes have never been higher.
In the past, our elections for the most part have been a popularity contests. If voters liked the candidate and perceived them to be a good guy/gal, they voted for them … never mind their qualifications or level of education.
With the city imposing a 27 percent property tax increase, and this year’s budget taking a quantum leap from $17.3 million to more than $29 million, we can no longer afford to elect people who don’t pay close attention to how the taxpayers’ money is being spent.
In my travels around the city, my neighbors are expressing concern over a number of challenges facing the city. We’ve got some growing pains, for sure. The multi-modal project on Ringgold Road is a headache. Many of our city streets have been neglected for so long people are fed up. The economic development is exciting but how is it benefitting the residents? Some of the city’s extended stay motels are perceived to be little more than a haven for drug dealers and crooks. And when taxpayers try to get answers out of City Hall, their questions fall on deaf ears.
Let’s get real about running the city going forward.
The multi-modal project has been on the drawing board since May of 2015 when a couple of non-competitive grants fell into the city’s lap. Mayor Brian Williams told me some years ago that the multi-modal project would coincide with the I-75, I-24 reconfiguration project. It would take two years and more than $10 million to complete. The project was never budgeted, as far as I know. But when the city received some federal relief funds due to the pandemic, suddenly it was on.
I get it. The idea is to make the central business district more attractive to new businesses. But what about the existing businesses that must deal with the disruption of the construction? Let’s be real: the city does not give two flips about small businesses in East Ridge. It’s the big players that get all the action.
What I have trouble understanding is the city’s mishandling of the biggest player of all, Bob Martino’s $150 million Gateway project, you know, the Red Wolves stadium.
The mayor and council were all smiles and backslapping at the media event announcing the project in May of 2019. Heck, the governor came down for the groundbreaking. But, city fathers are still struggling with building a road to access the south side of the project.
The city has boasted of all the new businesses moving into East Ridge and how it has bolstered tax revenue. Over the past four years, the city’s expenditures has outstripped its revenues. It has been forced to dip into the rainy-day fund to balance the budget. All these new businesses and its tax revenues didn’t stop the city from raising property taxes, did it?
When the November 8 election neared, city officials got busy on our neglected streets. Nothing like having voters outraged over pumpkin-sized craters in the roadway to get elected officials and city staff motivated, huh? The mayor has announced that $1 million has been earmarked for city streets to be spot paved in two dozen locations. A desperate band-aid approach as election nears? Perhaps.
The city’s streets over our eight-square miles must be maintained. For years the state gas tax revenue money (roughly $1 million per year), intended to fund roadway maintenance has not been used properly. We must establish a paving schedule – something this administration has failed to do for the past four years – and keep our roads navigable.
The focus of the street department’s staff must shift from keeping Exit 1 immaculate to maintaining storm drains, sweeping our streets of debris and litter to help the motoring public. Here’s a question: where is the $200,000 street sweeper that the city purchased several years ago? If it’s broken, fix it. If you don’t have a qualified operator, hire one.
We have a real problem with some of our city’s extended stay motels that are using an inordinate amount of law enforcement resources. Day in and day out, our men and women in blue beat a path to Mack Smith Road answering calls for service.
In 2016, city officials spent months debating an ordinance to regulate extended stay motels in the city. That ordinance is a failure. It needs to be revisited. When it was crafted, the city attorney at the time said the businesses would absolutely not self-regulate, and that the city would have to increase manpower in codes to enforce the rules. The city needs to scrap the existing ordinance and enact a new one that is enforceable.
I believe those inside City Hall have convinced themselves that everything is going along just fine in East Ridge and that they are doing an outstanding job on all fronts. If a citizen who is up in arms about an issue complains, they are routinely ignored. Good luck getting any real answers via a call-back or an email.
The prevailing attitude at City Hall is that only a handful of people are upset and believe change is needed. I’m betting those inside City Hall are wrong.
Let your voice be heard at the one place that will get you some action: the voting booth.
Early voting at Brainerd Recreation Center located at 1010 North Moore Rd. starts Wednesday October 19. You may vote from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday thru Friday. On Saturday early voting is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Early voting concludes on November 3.