David Blackwell addresses the Albany City Commission Wednesday to discuss the local Coalition to End Homelessness. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)
ALBANY — The Albany City Commission tentatively approved a storm water utility ordinance and user fee at its work session Wednesday morning, choosing to support a “tweaked” plan that should sit more favorably with local citizens.
Public Works Director Phil Roberson told the commission he’d worked with consultants to lower the proposed cost of the fee, settling at $2.50 per month per 2,700-square-foot billing unit. (Most residences in the city will be recognized as one billing unit.) The fee had started at $5.95 per unit.
“That rate makes us (with Valdosta) the second-lowest in the state,” Roberson said.
City Engineering Director Bruce Maples told commissioners the updated plan calls for inclusion of the new costs on utility bills starting on March 1 of next year rather than the previously proposed Jan. 1 start. That, officials said, will give the city an opportunity to better educate the public on the fees.
Before the commission voted to approve the ordinance and fee, Mayor Dorothy Hubbard lamented that the city had little choice in the matter.
“If I understand correctly, we’re under federal mandate (to implement a storm water program) and face fines if we don’t,” she said.
Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard, noting that “we as a city do a poor job of informing our citizens,” encouraged using “every means available” to educate the public. Ward III Commissioner Christopher Pike said that while the $2.50 fee is relatively low, he’s still concerned that it will become an issue for “people who can least afford it.”
Also at Wednesday’s work session, pushed forward a day because of Tuesday’s municipal election, the board heard a report from Coalition to End Homelessness Director David Blackwell. Blackwell said a city/county survey conducted by his group and the city’s Department of Community and Economic Development in January would likely show a homeless count between 1,800 and 3,000. That compares with a previous count that totalled between 300 and 400 homeless in the community.
“We want as accurate a count as possible because it affects the federal dollars we might be eligible to receive,” Blackwell said. “Census volunteers (for the 2010 count) spent $3,000 and five days in the county and came up with one homeless person. We need a more accurate count.”
Blackwell said the coalition would sponsor “Project Connect, a “one-stop shop” outreach event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 15 at the Albany Civic Center. Homeless citizens will be served a free meal, be given clean clothes and will have an opportunity to learn about services available to them in the community. HIV screenings will also be available.
Commissioners also approved $125,000 in HUD-sponsored HOME funding for the Flint River Habitat for Humanity to build homes at 903 and 905 Willow Oak Court and gave non-binding approval to continuation of the multijurisdictional Criminal Justice Information System. That system has already been approved by the Dougherty County Commission.
The board OK’d a resolution urging the district attorney to take action that would expedite cleanup of the East Albany Mimosa Trailer Park and other blighted properties in the community. City Attorney Nathan Davis said the district attorney could take direct action against owners of such property under his “health, safety and welfare powers,” much as his office had done in an effort to remove the blighted Georgian Mobile Home Estates neighborhood from property that became the site of a new Walmart.
The City Commission heard a report and recommendation from Citizens Advisory Committee Chairwoman Mary Ligon suggesting that the city put more teeth into its dangerous dog ordinance. One of the components of the committee’s recommendation is that pit bulldogs be defined specifically as dangerous dogs, thus requiring owners to register the animals, obtain liability insurance and keep them in a proper enclosure.