SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News Councilmember Kari Hodge, Ward 1, speaks at Saturday’s Visioning Session next to Dan Porta, assistant city manager.
After two days of visioning, the Cartersville City Council emerged from it’s annual retreat with a plan for the next year and beyond.Prominent items on the list included plans for urban redevelopment and aggressive neighborhood revitalization of homes; finding permanent locations for the gas department and fiber communication system; and finding a way to replace nearly $1 million in federal asset forfeiture funds.A mid-year sinkhole took its toll on the city’s gas and fiber departments, prompting a search for a location less prone to such voids.“That fiber center is the hub for us and the county,” Assistant City Manager Dan Porta said. “If that building were to sink and we lost all operations, it would mean four to six months of no email or telecommunications at all city facilities.”The fiber center allows the city and county offices to have four-digit dialing as well as connecting the computer systems, and because the city owns it, it can get all the services much cheaper than if they were outsourced.“We have a permanent location for the fiber center, but like the gas department, it is in a location where there are sink holes,” City Manager Sam Grove said. “We could move it to a building on the north end of the property, but there may be sinkholes there, too. You could fix the problem by grouting under it, but the cost is probably too high. And, second, are there locations on city property where there are no voids?“If the center is moved too far, you begin having to replicate the equipment and the cost becomes prohibitive, but at the same time, we don’t want to situate somewhere that it’s going to fall in another hole.”Prohibitive costs was a term heard frequently during the session and is a problem further exacerbated by the city’s loss of nearly $1 million in funds confiscated from illegal activities.“Right now, two of our police officers are assigned to a [Drug Enforcement Administration] task force in Atlanta that works cases with state and federal officials,” Grove said. “The city gets a cut from any money confiscated from illegal activity. The dispersion of that money has been called into question by the former attorney general, saying some people abused this authority and took things when they shouldn’t. Then late last year, Congress took all that money and used it to balance the budget. So now we have no funds coming in from that. “We spend more than $100,000 to send those officers to Atlanta plus we take a significant hit to our local law enforcement budget, but in 2015, our cut was little more than $1 million. We used the bad guy’s money to pay for the new Public Safety building, new police vehicles and new equipment. We don’t abuse that authority, but we get lumped in with those that do and they take away all of our money. If the taxpayers had to pick that up, it would add about a mil to property taxes. I’m mad about it, and I think if the people knew about it they would be mad, too.”Home revitalization was discussed, especially regarding some of the older sections of town, but several council members worried aloud that current residents might be hurt if aggressive code enforcement were used. Ward 1 council member Kari Hodge said she understood code enforcement might be necessary in some cases, but she would prefer to use alternate methods.“There are places in every ward that could use a little TLC,” Hodge said. “I would like to see us explore opportunities to pursue grants or affiliate more closely with nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity and seek private investors to refurbish and reintegrate new people in those areas.”Other topics of discussion included:• quiet zones at railroad crossings.• vigorous marketing of the city.• establishing tax allocation districts (TAD) to attract development opportunities.• maintaining a competitive wage structure.• identifying critical infrastructure needs and funding.• security reviews of all city buildings.• improved customer service.
• improvements to utility infrastructure.