Public safety, blighted properties top city's 2010 priorities

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY -- City leaders agreed Monday that public safety will stay atop their list of priorities for 2010 with blighted property eradication and overhauling the city's water and sewer infrastructure not far behind.

At their annual retreat at the Resort at Lake Blackshear, commissioners discussed and ranked the various issues confronting the city for 2010.

Commissioners expressed a desire to grow and expand the Albany Police Department's Gang Unit and other anti-gang initiatives in what Mayor Willie Adams said is an attempt to capitalize on momentum created in 2009.

"It's pretty clear that this commission is committed to advancing public safety and that anti-gang efforts are central to that," Adams said.

The $1 million Gang Unit was created last year and has arrested nearly 400 suspected gang members, City Manager Alfred Lott told the board.

Mayor Pro-tem Christopher Pike said that, in addition to ramped-up police efforts, that he would like to see an increase in intervention activities that target at-risk youth.

Continued efforts to demolish or rehabilitate blighted properties throughout the city was chosen to be the second priority in 2010.

In addition to demolition, commissioners discussed creating a land bank program that would allow the city to demolish blighted properties and sell the property at fair market value to local developers in hopes of getting the properties back on the tax rolls.

The Pritchett Ford building on North Slappey Boulevard and the Heritage House Hotel both were discussed as projects that could get top billing in 2010.

Steps will likely be taken in 2010 to overhaul the city's aging water and sewer systems as commissioners discussed spending a large portion of the city's share of the upcoming local sale tax referendum money on infrastructure improvements.

The city is faced with updating and repairing the storm water and sanitary sewer systems -- a task that could cost upwards of $50 million to accomplish.

Adams said that while infrastructure improvements aren't likely too impress constituents, they are vital to improving the quality of life in Albany and enticing manufacturers and businesses to town.

"It's not exactly a feel-good kind of project, but we have to start doing something about the infrastructure," he said.

Commissioner Jon Howard cautioned against waiting to overhaul drainage systems.

"We can't procrastinate and wait and let another flood of 1998 or '94 happen and destroy more neighborhoods," he said.

The area's sixth special local option sales tax will go to the voters in November for approval and some commissioners estimate that as much as 80 percent of the city's share could be earmarked for infrastructure improvements.

Rounding out the list of priorities for 2010 is economic development, poverty and development and planning of sales tax projects.

Commissioners also discussed encouraging community-wide fundraising efforts for a planned $12 million regional Senior Citizen's Center, researching ways to get the city involved in the Strive to Thrive anti-poverty initiative currently building support throughout the area, and creating a special storm water utility development authority to oversee storm water improvements.

The retreat's facilitator, Gordon Maner from the University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute of Government, recommended that the commission consider taking a look at the city's brand and work to market it around the state.

"You know what your problems are, you just have to make sure you constantly spend your time improving them," Maner said. "What is your brand? What is the image you want to project? These are important considerations going forward."

The Dougherty County Commission is set to have its retreat at the Resort at Lake Blackshear next week.