The East Ridge City Council passed on first reading a new sign ordinance that may regulate LED signs during its first meeting of 2016, Thursday at City Hall.
Vice Mayor Marc Gravitt, who had tabled the measure from its Nov. 12 meeting, initially wanted to leave the ordinance tabled. But, after a quick sidebar discussion with codes official Kenny Custer, Gravitt made a motion to take the proposed ordinance off the table.
One of the new elements in the proposed ordinance deals with LED signs _ illuminated signs that use bright bulbs. Custer explained that the Council could pass the new ordinance on first reading and that he and staff could do additional research on how other municipalities handle specifics of LED signs, including requiring that they be dimmed at night.
Gravitt asked that when the ordinance came up for second reading the Council “could expect moratorium language on LED’s in the second reading?” Custer assured him that would be the case.
During the agenda session, Jason Martin, a representative of the accounting firm Henderson, Hutcherson and McCullough, reviewed the audit of the 2014-15 budget. Martin told the Council that the “most important thing” in the audit was that the accounting firm gave an “unqualified opinion” on the audit, meaning that it was “materially correct.”
No copies of the audit were available to the audience.
In reviewing the audit, Martin said that the city’s general fund showed a $1.1 million deficiency. That was in large measure, he said, due to the “money to the Exit 1 LLC project.” As of June 30, the total assets of the city was roughly $15 million, with liabilities of $7 million, leaving the city $8 million to the good.
Martin said the city had a “fairly decent” fund balance, although no figure was given. He said the goal is to “keep it healthy” allowing the city to remain in a solvent position. He continued by saying the main concern is how to fund future Border Region projects. Martin advised the Council not to “take on too much debt.”
Councilman Denny Manning asked the only question from the board: “How far are we in the red?” Martin told the Council that there was an “overall increase of $500,000.”
The Council adopted its finalized budget for 2015-16 on second reading without discussion.
Mayor Brent Lambert administered the oath of office to two new police officers, Cory Hinsch and Gregory Beck. Mayor Lambert told the audience that doing this is one of his most pleasurable duties as mayor.
The board approved the purchase of software licensing for computers in police cruisers. The price for 25 licenses for the in-car computers was $34,250. Police Chief J.R. Reed said the department had raised more than $90,000 from the sale of surplus vehicles and that money was being used to offset cost of purchasing new technology for the department. Chief Reed noted this was the first time he had come to the Council to ask for money for new technology.
The Council discussed the city’s 95th birthday celebration, deciding to spend $25,000 on the gala at Camp Jordan. About $15,000 that the city received from the Christmas Nights of Lights (Officials got two check totaling $30,310 from light show producers) would go toward the event scheduled for May 13.
Councilman Larry Sewell said he wasn’t against a party, but the figure sounded like a lot of money to him. He noted that events in the past at Camp Jordan had drawn only about 100 people. Sewell said that the money could be better spent on staffing issues the city is experiencing.
Mayor Lambert noted that “the heart of the issue” is that if you don’t get a big-time act to perform nobody will show up for the event.
It was noted that the City would not put on free concerts during the summer and would not have its Libertyfest celebration this year.
The measure to spend $25,000 on the party passed 3-1 with Sewell voting no. Councilman Jacky Cagle left the dais after the agenda session because he said he could not hear anything that was being said.
The board discussed adding a position to the codes enforcement department. The department transferred an employee out and is now down to two people for the entire city. The proposal is to start the employee at a salary of $31,000. The cost would be $54,000 with benefits. In addition, Councilman Sewell wanted to increase Chief Building Official Brad Hayen’s salary by $5,000.
Fire Chief/Interim City Manager Mike Williams said that not only was the codes department short-staffed, but many city departments needed additional manpower, including fire and police.
Mayor Lambert said that in reviewing the budget for next year that council should consider adjusting all department head salaries. No action was taken on the measure.
A request from the owners of Superior Creek Lodge to extend the deadline for rehabilitating the extended-stay motel was not considered by the Council. City Attorney Hal North said the issue would have to go before the city’s Zoning Appeals Committee.
The Council amended its facade grant improvement program by allowing owners of buildings that yet have tenants to be eligible to participate in the program.