State of the City Address January 14, 2010
Brookwood Grill, Kiwanis Club Meeting
One of the great things about this job is the variety of things you get to do. This morning I began the day addressing the fourth and fifth graders at River Eves Elementary.
It’s great to see all the changes that you make. It’s my pleasure every year to give the Kiwanis Club a State of the City Address and just as last year the biggest issue this year is the economy.
I want to talk about two things today. I want to talk about the City’s financial position and the City’s goals for 2010. I first want to talk on the financial position about our operating budget. Revenues and operating expenses are slightly down from last year. Revenue projections are expected to be down about $1.1 million to $1.7 million dollars, which is a lot of money, but it’s not that big of a deal when you have $58 million dollars of revenue you’re coming down from. So we’ve got a slight reduction in expected revenues, about half of it is from sales tax and about half of it is from court fines. I believe when the economy is bad our violators really can’t afford to pay the fines and interest is down. We’re down about $100,000 a year in interest because the interest rates are down. We’re going to do a budget review on the 20th to take a hard look at the numbers so we should have some more accurate numbers. We may need to cut some operating expenses by not filling some employee positions that are vacant and by deferring some expenses. I do not expect any employee lay-offs, that’s the good news for the employees here, or any furloughs, and I don’t expect any tax increases this year. That’s the good news for the rest of you all. And I don’t expect any reduction in the level of services.
We’re going to be putting off new projects. We’re going to be deferring some expenses, but I don’t expect any cutbacks that you’re actually going to see affecting your firemen or your policemen or street maintenance or your other services.
I want to talk about the capital budget, that’s where the good news is in the City of Roswell. To put in perspective, Roswell’s annual general fund budget is about $60 million dollars a year. We have $70 million dollars in the bank. Now, I don’t think there is any other local government in Georgia that is as strong as that. Of that $70 million dollars, $28 million dollars is not ear-marked for any specific project. $15 million dollars is set aside for reserve. We’ve got about $14 million dollars available to spend on capital projects. That’s good news. We’re $37 million dollars in bonded indebtedness. That’s the bonded indebtedness we put up to pay for parks and roads and in four years that’s going to be paid off. We will have no debt. We will be debt free. Thinking about it in your position debt free is lots of money in the bank. We’re in a very strong position. That’s going to give us a choice that we’re going to have to make of going forward from here. We can either choose to remain debt free at that point in time and probably reduce your millage rate about half a mill, right now you’re at 5 ½ mills, we could probably reduce that down to 5 mills if we pay off the debt and pay as we go. Another alternative would be to borrow for capital expenditures to do the road improvements and the park improvements and other capital improvements that the Council would like to do, and that’s a decision we’re going to have to make. One reason is that it’s now a good time to borrow money to make capital expenditures because the cost of projects is coming in 30-50% less than historical numbers.
We’ve got road projects to do and now is the time to do them. It’s time to spend that $14 million in reserves to do capital projects. Now is the time to borrow money if we’re going to borrow money while interest rates are at an all-time low. That’s the decision we’re going to be discussing. If there is borrowing, it will come back to a referendum of the public and probably wouldn’t be this year, probably be next year. From a capital standpoint, the city is well-positioned to do capital projects. It’s a good time to them if the council chooses to do so.
Now let’s talk about goals for 2010. I told my council, now is the time to chart a new course for the city of Roswell. The economy has changed. I don’t think all these changes are temporary. I think these are permanent changes in the economy. It’s time to take a look at how that’s going to affect our future.
The voters have told us they wanted a change. Of the twenty-one percent of the people who turned out to vote in the last election, 49 percent voted against the incumbent. They voted against me. They were telling me they wanted a change. That wasn’t the majority, but I’m listening. They said we need to make some changes, and I take that seriously.
What are those changes going to be? Every candidate in that race said we need to become more business friendly, so I think that’s a change you can expect. Every candidate said we need to encourage redevelopment, so we’re going to be trying to encourage redevelopment. Every candidate said they would support transportation improvements, so we’re going to aggressively continue to try to make those transportation improvements.
Another reason this is a good time to make a change is now we have the youngest council we’ve ever had. I’m not talking about age (I still consider myself young.) I’ve got two new council members who have just come on board - Betty Price and Nancy Diamond. I’ve got two council members who have been on the council only two years. Historically, I asked Joe Glover who’s a 30 year employee of the city of Roswell, “Can you ever remember a council that is a younger council than this?” He cannot, so this is a young council with new ideas, who want to get things done and now is the time to get them done. With that in mind, on Monday we had a meeting to discuss what goals the staff and the council want. The good news is that there were lots of great ideas.
I want to talk about the goals that we discussed at that council meeting, which was actually the work session after the meeting. There were a lot of great ideas. There was consensus on most of these ideas, and that’s the critical thing in moving forward in government. When we can all agree we will move forward.
I want to talk about it by department and council liaisons, starting with our newest council member, Nancy Diamond. Nancy came with a background with Turner Broadcasting and marketing. One of the ideas she has is we need to do a better job of promoting Roswell, developing a brand and cohesive message for Roswell. So Roswell will be looking at how we do our promotions. Nancy and Betty and some other folks have talked about televising council meetings. I don’t know if we’ll do it this year because of budgetary reasons, but I think that either this year or next year you’re going to see council meetings televised.
I’m just going to talk about the big projects I see this year.
Nancy Diamond is the liaison to the Public Safety Department. We’re going to be looking into moving the fire station on Holcomb Bridge Road next to Martin’s Landing to a new location. It’s all worn out. We’re talking about moving it to Holcomb Woods Parkway. It’s a better location and that’s something you might see, that fire station moved.
Another big project we’re working on with all the cities up here is a radio system for North Fulton County. Currently, we share our radio system with Fulton County and it’s becoming obsolete, so all the cities up here are looking to operate one common radio system. If we go to that, we would likely combine our 911 systems with Sandy Springs and Johns Creek and potentially Alpharetta and Milton, so you’re going to see a change in that system.
The good news in the police statistics in the preliminary report is the FBI crime index indicates crime is down five percent from last year. The reason there’s a different perception is, in 2008 we had two murders and in 2009 we had six murders so if I talk about really serious crimes, those were up 200 percent. But if you take a look at burglaries, larcenies, thefts, arson, rape and murder, all those crimes, we’re down five percent. That’s good news! We’re still going to try to make Roswell safer because we have serious crimes, but I just wanted to throw that out.
Moving on to Dr. Betty Price, the liaison to Community Development department. Her first project is to introduce prayer at council meetings. We’re going to look at taking the Cobb County practice in beginning every council meeting with a prayer. That’s her first project. It’s a good way to begin. Moving on to Community Development, we talked about how we can become more business friendly so we can help our local businesses and create jobs. We’re going to look at reorganizing the Community Development department to streamline procedures and shorten the time it takes to get projects approved and reduce the cost of getting projects approved. We’re going to review the zoning code to eliminate inconsistencies and make it easier to understand.
Right now in this economy there are not a lot of things happening in development, but there are a lot of opportunities for redevelopment, which I can see coming forward when the economy improves. All the ones that are on target right now are in the Holcomb Bridge Road corridor and south of Holcomb Bridge Road. We’re also doing a $3 million project in the midtown area that’s a streetscape project. We hope that will encourage redevelopment there. We’re doing a $1million project on Oak Street next to the Crispy Crème. We’ve done a charrette on the Groveway Community which is behind Oak Street. It’s where Zion and Pleasant Hill churches are located. We’re looking at a possible redevelopment there. We approved a project on the historic square. The economy crashed that, but hope we can bring that back. The biggest key point of that would be an 80 room boutique hotel which would encourage people to come to Roswell and would help businesses.
Another project we’re trying to get off the ground is the Mansell Road extension. Where Mansell dead-ends into Holcomb Bridge Road, if you extended that over to Highway 9 to where Dance Fashions is located. That’s another area for redevelopment. There are a lot of redevelopment possibilities in that corridor and we hope to encourage that.
One of my projects for this year is to try to get a junior college and a technical college to come to Roswell. I’m not at liberty to talk about that right now. I think this year we will have an announcement about a junior college and possibly a technical college coming to the city of Roswell.
Transportation is Rich Dippolito’s department. Rich came from Community Development where he was coming up with ways to encourage redevelopment. He recognizes that transportation improvements are key to getting redevelopment in Roswell, so we’re going to focus on transportation improvements which will encourage redevelopment. He’s going to have some help this year. Brandon Beach, who is our representative on the DOT Board, (he represents a large region of north Georgia), is trying to help Roswell in particular. Jan Jones, the Speaker Pro-Tem at the State Capitol, is going to be a great help. We’ve got an inside line to Congressman Price’s office now! We hope to have more help from Congressman Price’s office.
Now I want to talk about some of the specific transportation projects which we’re going to build this year, or at least start this year. They may not all finish this year. New streets - we hope to cut a new short connector from Swaybranch to Market Place. Swaybranch is just on the other side of the road here (opposite the Brookwood Grill). It’s an old residential street that’s sort of blighted, mostly rental houses. We’re trying to connect that over to Market Place and open that up for development.
Intersection improvements - the Grimes Bridge Road/Warsaw Road roundabout is controversial right now. The final report is not in, but we’re in the process of acquiring right-of-way and that’s a possible project we’ll see this year. It’s already been funded, but the council is still reviewing it.
Holcomb Bridge Road and Highway 9, the biggest intersection in Roswell this side of 400, we are talking about adding turn lanes in each direction. That’s about a $1.5 to $2 million project, which we will be breaking ground on soon. We’ll be doing a red light at the Crabapple Road and Rucker Road intersections.
We’re going to see a lot of new sidewalks this year. The biggest one is just east of here. If you drive on the bridge over Big Creek, that’s a new sidewalk which will complete this sidewalk all the way to 400. The other big sidewalk project is on the other side of 400. This year we hope to complete sidewalks all the way from Centennial High all the way to Ellard. So most of Holcomb Bridge Road will have sidewalks on both sides begun, if not finished, this year.
We’ve got some streetscape projects. These are very important to redevelopment and improving the look and feel of the streets we’re on. The Midtown Streetscape project is a $3 million project and we’re weeks away from beginning it. It’s been years in coming, getting all the permits, but that will be between Holcomb Bridge Road and the Triangle. There will be new sidewalks, curb cuts and cleaning that up, and street lighting making it a much more attractive area and I hope to do a ground-breaking in February.
The Oak Street streetscape is a million dollar project just the other side of city hall to try to encourage redevelopment there. We’ve got a gateway project at 400 and Holcomb Bridge Road which is at an intersection you really don’t notice. Brandon Beach has secured a $50,000 grant for us to beautify that intersection with plants and trees and clean that up. We will probably be going after more grants to make that an attractive entry into the city of Roswell.
We got $1.2 million from MARTA, which we’re going to be spending on pedestrian improvements and bus stops and other things that will tie into mass transit. We’re also talking about automatic transportation management systems, which is another fancy word for computerized, linked traffic lights on Holcomb Bridge Road so traffic will flow smoother. That’s what we hope to do this year.
I want to mention what’s in the planning and design phases. The biggest project is the Big Creek Bridge. This is about a $20-30 million project. It’ll create a new connection between Warsaw Road and Old Alabama Road to make it easier to get from one side of Roswell to the other and would open the area behind Red Lobster, where the apartments are, for redevelopment.
South Atlanta Street - we’ve been struggling with what to do with South Atlanta Street where there have been three reversible lanes that have been there for years. It looks like the council is inclined to approve what I call a “skinny four lane,” a neighborhood friendly four lane with a couple roundabouts mixed in. It will be the first four-lane roundabout in the state of Georgia. That’s under consideration.
We’re looking at improvements down at the river, just before the Chattahoochee River Bridge, which is always a traffic jam at rush hour. We’ve got an idea called a bowtie roundabout, not my idea, it’s the technical term for it, to improve that intersection and make it flow better and eventually put in a divided grade so that the road that follows the river will actually go under Roswell Road at that point. That’s under consideration.
Public Works is the department council member Becky Wynn is assigned to. A big issue in the State of Georgia is drinking water. What is Roswell doing about that? We drilled some wells and one of the wells was artesian. There was so much water pressure coming out of the ground we had to stop drilling and call in another driller. We hope to finish that up and get it into production and bring a second well into production this year. We’ve got some other sites lined up. The problem there is that Fulton County doesn’t want us to drill wells on their property (we’ve identified some good sites) because they want to sell us the water and not let us take it out of the ground where it’s less expensive. That’s an issue for another day. We’re drilling wells to try to supplement our water system and we’ve also applied to increase our withdrawal limit from Big Creek so we’ll be able to supply more water and control more of the water which you drink. About one-fifth of Roswell is on the Roswell water system, but we’re going to try to create a robust system to create as much independence as we can from Fulton County in the water business.
Stormwater is a whole other side of it. That’s rain water and most of us don’t think about stormwater and what to do with it, but stormwater is what causes folk’s houses to flood, which has been a big issue this year. Our storm water system, which is the culverts and the drains and the retention ponds, is not maintained. It’s falling apart. We’ve got to find another source of funding for it. Last year we passed a stormwater utility, which would authorize a utility fee of about $2 per household every month to deal with the cost of dealing with that storm water. We didn’t pass it because of the economy. I’m not sure we’ll pass it this year, but that’s on Becky Wynn’s list of projects to look at this year.
Another area I’m encouraged about is regional attention to retention ponds. Right now every piece of property you develop has to have a retention pond, which makes development much more expensive. If we can go to regional retention ponds we can reduce the cost of stormwater maintenance to the developer. We can reduce the cost to the property owner and it will be easier for the city to make sure they’re maintained. I want to get aggressive about regional retention ponds and we’ll be a leader in that. No one is doing regional retention ponds and it’s something that needs to be done.
Councilman Igleheart is in charge of Recreation and Parks. Kent wants to continue with his Green Ribbon Committee and talk about sustainability and how Roswell conserves and can become greener. Within his department we have a lot of great projects this year. East Roswell Park - I want to try to put a community garden in like we now have at Leita Thompson Park. So if you don’t have a place in your backyard to garden, there will be city property where you can go and garden. These are some of our projects. Not only will you have fresh vegetables, it becomes a community and a social event for people to have these community gardens. I want to eventually have a community garden for everyone in Roswell who would like one near their home. Being government, I’m going to try to create the first one and lead it at the East Roswell Park.
One of the biggest successes we had this year in recreation was our splash playground at Riverside Park. If you have young kids, they love it! That place was slammed from the day we opened it. It’s just fountains for kids to play in during hot weather. We hope to open up another splash ground on the other side of 400 in East Roswell Park.
We hope to extend the riverwalk all the way to the Chattahoochee Nature Center. If you drive along Azalea Drive, there’s one point where you leave the river and there’s a big mud flat. You go back up to the road again and there’s a little row of trees along the river. I believe we have permission to take the boardwalk right along so the boardwalk will follow the river. It will be a great trail and we will tie the trail to the Chattahoochee Nature Center.
Don White Park - I think it will be a great place to have beach volleyball, right there on the river.
The National Recreation area - one of the biggest parks in Roswell and we don’t have to pay for it, is the Vickery Creek unit. We hope to put a couple of trails in there. One of the trails will follow an old railroad grade up the hill. Another trail will follow the creek until we get to Lover’s Leap, a rock formation where people do rock climbing in Roswell. It will allow more people to enjoy that great resource. It’s a beautiful park.
Our most senior council member, our Mayor Pro-Tem, Jerry Orlans, has been assigned to Administration. He’ll be looking at the bond issue question. The first step is going to be looking at capital projects and how we currently spend our money. That’s going to be a big question in administration, if and when we do a bond issue. Budget is a big issue this year with falling revenues, so Jerry Orlans is going to be looking at ways to do cost savings.
The council is going to do all the work, but I’ve got a couple projects which I want to bring forward and I’ve encouraged the council to do. One of Roswell’s biggest assets is strong institutions. We’ve got great churches, schools, civic and charitable organizations. I want to see more of a partnership between Roswell and those organizations. It’s a way to leverage what the city does. It’s a way to get the people involved. In a lot of cases, those organizations are much more effective and efficient in how they spend money and they get things done on projects that otherwise government would do. I want to strengthen the relationship with those people. Right now we sponsor a lot of fundraisers and events for non-profits. The council has been cutting back and saying we don’t have enough money to support all those people. I want to make sure they’re all fully funded. So if the Chattahoochee Nature Center wants to do a Fun Run, I want to make sure we fund it. I want to make sure that all those non-profits that are raising money for charities get full funding because we get much more than our money’s worth back for the little bit of money that we spend.
Another thing I want to do is create a community calendar. The city needs to get serious about a community calendar. So if Kiwanis has a public event, like Give One to the Chipper, I want it on the community calendar. I want a robust community calendar for non-profits and charitable events, so if you want to know what’s going on in Roswell, you’ve got one place to find all of these things. You can find some of these things now, but it’s not as robust as it needs to be. I want to make this a big project.
The last thing I want to do is to work to recreate Milton County. There are two approaches to recreating Milton County. I’m supporting Jan Jones and her efforts to get that done at the legislative level. That’s the last step in recreating Milton County, but there are lots of steps we can take until then.
Here’s my strategy to create Milton County. When I was two years old my mother wanted to take my blanket from me because it was all worn out. Every night she cut a piece off and every day it got smaller. My strategy to recreate Milton County is, every year we cut a little piece of the county off, from a service standpoint. We’re trying to get all of the cities here working together, like the radio system and the 911 system, getting away from Fulton County with that project. We’re trying to get the other cities to join with us in a recycling center up here. We talking of getting them involved in our Roswell/Alpharetta fire and police training facility. As the opportunity arises, we cut a little piece of the services of Fulton County off and have the cities up here take it over until one day it won’t be a big deal when the last piece goes.
We had a great goal-setting session with all the council members bringing forth their ideas. Council member Price summarized her goals thus: to share ideas, to work together and to move ahead, which is a great common goal for our council. I just want to add one thing to that. Get ‘er done!
Mayor Jere Wood