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Council wraps up annual retreat

LENOX — Valdosta City Council established 12 goals for the 2014-2015 fiscal year Saturday during the second and final day of its annual retreat.

Valdosta City Manager Larry Hanson said all of the goals are of high importance, but the top two goals are related to the city’s wastewater treatment.

Seven of the 12 goals the city would like to accomplish before June 2015 are:

• Bid, award contract, and begin construction of the Force Main Project

• Bid, award contract and begin construction of the Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant.

• Address the need for improvement and enhancement of broadband throughout the county.

• Improve the gateways and entrances into the city.

• Identify additional revenue sources and/or expense reductions in order for the city to continue to operate in a fiscally responsible manner.

• Work with the local authorities to host a regional economic-development summit to bring recognition, awareness and opportunities to the city and region.

• Adopt a new Code of Ordinances.

The Force Main Project is item number one, and it is scheduled for bid as early as this month, and should be completed around April 2015.

December 2016 is the approximate date for the completion of the city’s new wastewater treatment plant, which is the second item on the list. In order to meet this deadline, the council plans for bids in February, so construction can begin as soon as June 2014.

Seen as an economic-development issue, the city wants to improve its broadband speed to attract more businesses to Valdosta.

“Stockbridge is a community that partnered with Google. The mayor requested to get more information similar to what Stockbridge did,” Hanson said. “The State of Georgia conducted a study that showed there were broadband issues in many areas of the state, including South Georgia.”

On Friday the council discussed improving the city’s entrance ways, and decided to make that one of its goals.

“We need people to know when they enter Valdosta,” Mayor John Gayle said. “We have got to look at our entrances and make them inviting.”

Hanson warned on Friday, “People spoke against it because of money,” but after a discussion, Hanson said the city was going to reapply with the Georgia Department of Transportation for the gateway at Madison Highway, then replicating that gateway because the city wants uniformity with its gateways.

The retreat brought with it the discussion of either expense reductions, or the identification of additional revenue sources for the next fiscal year.

The city has grown by approximately seven square miles, and 11,000 people, but since the council passed a spending freeze last year, no jobs have been added, so the talk of increasing taxes were discussed during both days of the retreat.

Saturday brought a new discussion and goal to the retreat when Councilman Tim Carroll proposed to host a regional economic-development summit.

“We fell short of the goal line on one business and it chose not to move here, and our resources were a part of the problem,” Carroll argued. “A good economy in Brooks (County) benefits Lowndes.”

Councilmembers Joseph “Sonny” Vickers and Alvin Payton Jr. supported the idea of a regional economic-development summit, but proposed to delegate the duties to the Industrial Authority.

Gayle weighed in on the proposed regional summit.

“I am all for the idea because I’ve seen us getting slighted in the recent years. Last year, I attended a conference where the speaker talked about all of the projects coming to Georgia, and not a damn one was below Macon,” Gayle passionately recalled. “We have got to get these people’s attention. People need to know how great Valdosta is. We’ve gone too long without getting the recognition we deserved.”

In an interview after the retreat, Hanson said, “We are going to work hard to implement these goals and work with our many partners in the community, the county, the Industrial Authority, and the Tourism Authority, other cities and counties, and the region to be successful.”

One of the final goals is to adopt an updated code of ordinances. The current ordinance code is outdated and the city wants to to adopt a new code, because the city has been adding to it year by year; the city wants to compile all of the codes and put them online to make them user friendly. This would also allow citizens to compare Valdosta’s ordinances with ones from other cities.

The other five goals include:

• Implement the SPLOST VII projects as approved.

• Develop a Request for Proposal and secure software/hardware for technology upgrades for the Municipal Court and the Valdosta Police Department to assist in more efficiency in operation.

• Broaden City Government 101 to include up to five slots for high school seniors from the local schools who have a parent in the program.

• Collaborate with community and regional leaders to continue advocacy efforts on behalf of Moody Air Force Base in support of its value to national defense and our community and seek opportunities for base growth and expansion in preparation for future Base Realignment and Closure Commissions (BRAC).

• Continue collaboration with the USACE and work with state and federal officials to seek funding and identify solutions to address regional flooding issues.

During the Mayor-Council issues portion of the meeting, Councilman Robert Yost recommended improvements be made to the intersection of Baytree and Alden. Gayle agreed and suggested the Jerry Jones and Baytree intersection be improved, too.

On Saturday, the retreat ended earlier than expected because the council had already discussed many of the issues on Friday.

Hanson said he felt good about the retreat because the city evaluated its past accomplishments, looked at current issues, and used those two items to set realistic goals for the future.

“I think that’s the best way any business or government, to set goals, and set them so they’re achievable. That you have a way to measure them, and I think that’s what this council has done,” Hanson said.

The two-day retreat was moderated by Gordon Maner, senior public service associate for the Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

Maner said he was impressed with the way the council communicated, adding, “It was another great retreat, and you get better and better every year.”

The council adjourned the retreat and went into an executive session to review the performance of City Manager Larry Hanson.

The Valdosta City Council will meet again on Jan. 23 for the regularly scheduled council meeting.

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