Thursday, January 12, 2006

City acts on plan to boost economy

Staff Writer

The Holly Springs mayor and board of aldermen took a giant step toward planning for growth and redevelopment last week by unanimously passing a resolution for a comprehensive Tax Increment Financing plan.

The measure allows the city to issue bonds to finance specific projects that will be paid for by additional future ad valorem taxation on the properties included in specific projects. The Holly Springs Commons and future medical center and hospital projects are examples of ones that the city will use TIF plans as a means of financing public investments in infrastructure (water, electric, sewer, gas and streets).

Watkins Ludlam Winter & Stennis firm in Jackson provided the comprehensive general development (TIF financing) plan for the public hearing last week where the measure met no public opposition. The firm will come back to the board with a TIF plan for specific projects and districts, according to Don Hollingsworth with the city.

A second public hearing to change zoning laws that will allow building heights to go from 35 feet in height to 75 feet, also met no opposition. The board unanimously voted to adopt the new zoning change following recommendation by fire chief Ken Holbrook.

He said the city has equipment sufficient for firefighting of buildings higher than two stories already. Building codes also require sprinkler systems in three story or more structures, and fire suppressing equipment is in hand, he said.

In other news from the meeting, city employees selected public works director Ricky Shoffner as the employee of the year. The mayor and board presented Shoffner with a plaque and other personal gifts.

“I can’t think of anyone more deserving to get this recognition,” Mayor Andre’ DeBerry said.

Several measures were recommended for board action by Hollingsworth.

The board approved a resolution for application for a CDBG (community development block grant) application through USDA/Rural Development to make repairs on the Chatham Heights sewer project.

Hollingsworth reported a total of $8.58 million in construction permits for new and existing residences and buildings for year 2005.

The board adopted changes in the International Building Codes by unanimous vote.

Hollingsworth requested $30,000 in repair work for two of Holly Springs’ deep wells. The two wells were drilled in 1954 and 1968 and wear has caused output to dwindled by about 20 percent, he said.

The repairs will increase output by 8.5 percent citywide and guard against falls in output when large water mains break.

The board discussed the city’s contribution to the Marshall County/Holly Springs Airport Authority and unanimously voted to allocate $3,000 for one year to pay for monthly utility bills at the airport.

Several other issues raised by aldermen Russell Johnson and Tim Liddy drew vigorous discussions.

Johnson was concerned with the employee handbook and policy manuel - that is, how harassment and how employee grievances are handled.

He said the procedures are not spelled out for things such as employee conduct, how physical assaults are handled and assurances of confidentiality.

DeBerry said he “served notice” at a beginning of the year staff meeting that procedure violations would trigger “swift termination.”

He said policies and procedures in the handbook should be broad so as not to leave something out.

Employees are now required to take their grievances to department heads who bring the matter to the mayor, DeBerry said.

Johnson said the policy manuel should spell out a time line for how long the board of aldermen takes to act on a grievance.

DeBerry reiterated the policy should be broad.

“Mayor, we don’t have a policy,” said Johnson. “We have too many unfinished items - stuff discussed (by the board) and no action taken - for too long. We lose cases when people file suits against us because we don’t have a policy.”

DeBerry said he would bring a performance evaluation procedure before the next meeting.

Johnson then complained there are no job descriptions to fit all city employees.

DeBerry said the job descriptions were published in 1980 and 1989.

“The same jobs are there in terms of function,” he said.

“But no performance (evaluation procedures),” said Johnson. “My personal opinion is (for us) to be fair to all employees, we need to have a job description.”

“We probably need to talk to legal counsel,” said alderman Nancy Hutchens.

“He (Johnson) mentioned that we talk about things, then meetings go by and we don’t finish it,” said Liddy.

“We leave some items on the agenda, items that we may want to bring back up,” said DeBerry.

“Also, there are those things in recent history, like something we discussed the first of November and is still not settled,” Liddy reminded. “My point and his point was we have some things left open ended. So, maybe we as aldermen should keep our own list of things (for the agenda).”

DeBerry said unfinished items could be taken up as board concerns on the agenda.

When a motion to pay bills and claims was brought for action, Liddy asked to know why the city is paying $3,000 a month for a Jackson lobbyist instead of getting the same representation from local legislators in the districts.

“In talking to people who are in Jackson, it seems like a more appropriate way to do this is to have a lobbyist when we have a specific need (project),” Liddy said.

DeBerry said the lobbyist, W.T. Consultants, works year round, not just the four months when the legislature is in session.

He said a lobbyist has his ears to the ground and can help a city to get items on the legislative “pipeline” early.

Liddy asked if the mayor gets any type of report from the consultant.

DeBerry said he could get a report for the board.

And he named four projects that were obtained through the use of consultant contact with state agencies - a $381,000 grant for the Information Technology Center, a grant for Chalmers Institute, a cemetery grant and $4 million for the street project near Holly Springs Commons.

Funds for the Chalmers’ Institute grant and cemetery have not been used, he said.

“You can’t use our representatives for that?” asked Liddy.

“No, our representative (Kelvin Buck) is a freshman and with the pecking order now, no,” said DeBerry. “The pecking order is unless you have been around here for a while, you wait your turn. Government is a slow process, and, if you don’t have somebody there to pour oil on those wheels, it doesn’t happen.”

“So, this year we are going to have an agenda for this consultant?” Liddy asked.

“Yes,” DeBerry said.

“I think that’s where our representatives should be involved,” Liddy said.

Hutchens offered a solution.

“Why don’t we have him (the consultant) give us a written report or come back up here?” she asked.

“What I’d like to see is a copy of the contract,” said Liddy. “I’m getting vibes we don’t need a consultant to serve four months out of the year. I’m doing my duty to check into things. I’m questioning whether we need to have a consultant year around for $3,000 a month.”

With that, Liddy motioned to pay bills and claims.

After executive session the board voted to table the consultant matter until the board has a contract to look over.

The board of aldermen is scheduled to attend mid-winter conference January 24-26.

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