Old Alabama Road, Seventh Street improvements likely to be included in next budget

Emerson work session focuses on FY 2020 projects

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About three-quarters through the 2019 fiscal year, Emerson City Manager Kevin McBurnett said the municipality is doing quite well, budget-wise.

“Overall, we’re looking really good,” he said. “Currently, the general fund is sitting at about $269,000 in the black.”

Meanwhile, he said the City water fund has about $94,000 on the positive side of the ledger, while the City solid waste fund and hotel/motel restricted fund are about $45,000 and $35,000 in the black, respectively.

And the City’s 2014 SPLOST funding, he added, isn’t looking too shabby, either.

“We currently have about $155,000 in the bank, and we’re collecting about $25,000 per month,” McBurnett said.

Recounting the fiscal year that was at Monday evening’s city council work session, McBurnett noted the City has had some success meeting its budgetary goals — such as selling its old elementary school property and getting an expansion going on the Red Top sewer line to help service LakePoint Sporting Community’s northern campus  — but he also acknowledged that Emerson didn’t quite check off everything on its FY 2019 to-do list.

For one, he said the City hasn’t even gotten started on a planned water rate study, adding that the project is likely to be pushed aside to FY 2020’s budget. Then there’s the proposed wastewater treatment plant expansion. 

“That’s kind of iffy,” he said. “We can take a lot of flow, but we don’t know what we’re going to get there. We’re still waiting to see how that develops out.” 

Nor did McBurnett say the City accomplished two of its major solid waste goals for the year. 

“One of them was to have an active recycling program — we’ve done the opposite and removed the recycling center,” he said. “The other was to perform a feasibility study for the curbside recycling program … we have not started that.”

As for why the City suspended its recycling center program, McBurnett said blame it on the individuals who were using it as an illegal dumping ground. 

“Why [do] people have to be so lazy when the dump’s right down the road and it’s free to go there and go dump all their stuff out?” he said. “Then we have to take valuable resources and pull City workers off to go in there and clean it up and take it to the dump, which costs us money … it just became too much.” 

Continuing, he said the City was able to use tourism and product development (TPD) funds procured via the municipal hotel/motel tax to install new audiovisual equipment at the community center. But as McBurnett explained, another potential project at the community center — additional parking — has yet to come to fruition.

“We were moving along on that, but we ran into a very high water table,” he said. “That building is susceptible to flooding … so we’ve been monitoring that to see how that’s going before we put any asphalt up over the top of it and wash it.”

Heading into the FY 2020 budget, McBurnett said he’s encouraged by a series of major economic developments either going on or proposed within Emerson. Obviously, there are the major projects such as LakePoint’s northern campus and Pope and Land’s proposed Vineyard Park mixed-use complex, as well as plans for a multi-million-dollar recreational vehicle park and the arrival of Old Dominion Freight Line, which is anticipated to bring about 100 new jobs to the community.

McBurnett said more announcements could be on the horizon shortly.

“We have a group that’s doing due diligence on the remainder of Highwoods Properties,” he said. “There’s a group that’s looking to buy the rest of the land over there, altogether.”

Another group, he said, has its eye on property near Stegall’s Station. “I suspect they’ll probably be before ya’ll before too long, looking at doing a zoning change,” he said. “They do light industrial — office in the front, warehouse in the back.”

Other developments giving McBurnett optimism are plans for a potential new hotel on LakePoint’s southern campus, as well as the continued build-out of the Village at Waterside and Cumberland Estates communities. 

Early on, McBurnett said he’s expecting about $2.3 million to $2.4 million in potential 2020 SPLOST funding, and for the City’s personnel to increase from 20.5 employees to 23.5 employees. “Really, it would just be the inclusion of one more officer,” he said. “I don’t think anyone here can argue [against] adding more police officers.”

The City, he said, is likely to revisit — and make major adjustments — to its retirement plans through the Georgia Municipal Association.

“To be considered working here — as a regular employee — you have to work 20 hours a week and five months out of the year,” he said. “You can understand the risk that that puts into the retirement plan and that money we have to put in there, because anybody we hire as part-time is eligible for the retirement money.”

One of the biggest FY 2020 targets for Emerson, McBurnett said, is a major Old Alabama Road infrastructure improvement project.

“We need to do lining, replacing some water lines, replacing some sewer lines, putting in curb and gutter, storm ditch, sidewalks,” he said. “That’s a $3 million project.”

Factoring in a litany of  bureaucratic expenses, McBurnett said he wouldn’t be surprised if the total cost of the project eventually rose to $5.5 million.

While he doesn’t expect the City to foot the costs of all the repairs and replacements upfront — a virtual impossibility, he noted, since the City’s annual budget is just shy of $2 million — McBurnett nonetheless said he believes maintenance on certain sections of the road need to be performed as soon as possible.

“The portion from Sixth Street to 293 is dangerous and it has to have some work done … we have to get the integrity of the road back,” he said. “You’re probably going to spend $100,000, and probably $30,000 being professional services.”

The 2014 SPLOST, he said, could possibly provide seed money for some repairs and replacements. “We have money in there for roads, we can use that to start doing the engineering portion of it and figure out what it’s going to take,” he said, “and from there we will come back to you.” 

Other possible projects in the 2020 FY mix, he said, include a proposed Puckett Road Park trail — which, at 1.5 miles, would likely tie into the trails at LakePoint — and a new police department building, currently tabbed at about $600,000. That, McBurnett said, would likely be a 30-year-note item, with some general fund money included for engineering costs.

Seventh Street road improvements, he said, are also on the docket. However, McBurnett said the fate of that project will ultimately be decided by Excel Christian Academy — which he said wasn’t too happy with the last set of engineering designs presented by the City.

“We’ve given it to Excel now and said ‘OK, ya’ll as a collective group, hire somebody or put what you’re thinking on there and try to work through this issue,’” he said. “I do not know where it’s headed, it’s in their hands right now. But we’re trying to do something, and I don’t know what that looks like.”