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Rezoning, pay raises occupy Fort. O

The three sitting members of the Fort Oglethorpe City Council were unanimous in denying a request that would allow 20 apartments to be built, but were divided about altering laws regarding the sale of alcoholic beverages and on employee pay raises.

Robert Burris came before the Council to ask that a parcel of land on Fort Town Drive have its zoning changed from commercial C-2 to residential R-5. The change would allowed construction of 20 “upscale” apartments near the road’s intersection with Battlefield Parkway.

Property owner Ted Moss said these would be “the nicest” buildings in his Fort Town Estates development. There would be 18 two-bedroom apartments and two one-bedroom apartments, with monthly rents starting at about $750, that would have front porches and patios.

Councilman Earl Gray asked why the city’s Planning Commission had rejected the rezoning request by a 5-0 vote.

Concerns were about adding more apartments that could potentially become Secton 8 housing and the possibility of more apartments causing overcrowding at nearby Battlefield Primary and Elementary schools.

Councilmen Louis Hamm and Johnnie “Red” Smith wondered aloud if the property could become Section 8 if resold and suggested that rezoning to PM (planned development - mixed use) rather than R-5 would allay their concerns.

All three councilmen voted against the rezoning but said they would be inclined to agree to a request for PM rezoning.

Deannexation brewing

While the Fort Town property owner might reapply for a zoning change, that will not be the case for a property owner asking that 41.25 acres be removed from the city’s tax rolls.

Northwest Georgia Bank Executive Vice President Kerry Riley attended the meeting to present his company’s request that property near the intersection of Battlefield Parkway and Dietz Road be deannexed.

Developers interested in the property have informed the bank that their purchase of the land, valued at more than $ 4 million, is contingent on the ability to sell alcoholic beverages on Sunday.

Fort Oglethorpe residents in 2011 rejected a referendum that would have extended to Sunday the already-in-place laws that regulate alcoholic beverage sales Monday through Saturday.

Last November, a provision for Sunday sales of alcoholic beverages for on-site consumption and package sales was approved by voters in both the unincorporated areas of Catoosa County and within Ringgold’s city limits. Now, restaurants can sell liquor by the drink and retailers can sell beer and wine for off-site consumption anywhere in Catoosa County — except within Fort Oglethorpe’s city limits.

Gray made a motion to consider the bank’s request for deannexation. But rather than reopening discussion about Sunday sales, the Council simply let the matter die due to lack of Gray’s motion receiving a second.

Riley said the Council’s refusal to reconsider the matter was expected.

“Their intentions were well known,” he said.

The County Commission has already adopted a resolution recognizing the deannexation request and a willingness to accept the acreage into the unincorporated area of the county. The matter of deannexation can now be decided by state lawmakers during the current legislative session.

Should the legislators grant the bank’s request, the deannexation becomes effective immediately.

Legislators are free to do pretty much whatever they want when deannexing land as a Local Act. It is not necessary that property being deannexed abut an unincorporated area. Islands of deannexed land within an incorporated city’s boundaries are permitted.

“As I believe one or more famous Georgia appellate court opinions have noted, the Legislature’s power over annexation and deannexation issues is “plenary” in nature, County Attorney Chad Young said.

Ruckus over raises

The last piece of new business considered by the Council was a request by Hamm that all employees be given a 75 cents per hour raise.

Gray asked if such an amount was “in line” with the budget, to which City Manager Ron Goulart replied, “Deciding which city employees should receive pay raises, and how much, has been a point of contention between the council members and the city manager for nearly a year.”

During a meeting in March 2011 the Council asked Goulart to develop a “more fair” way of giving raises. In July, Goulart informed the Council that after meeting with all department heads a consensus was reached that it was fair and equitable to give cost-of-living raises to all employees.

In October, the Council rejected the 2013 budget when it was presented for a third and final reading after Councilman Charles Sharrock again raised questions about how raises were being determined.

That proposed $13.5 million budget that went into effect Jan. 1 left the tax rate unchanged, included 3 percent across-the-board pay raises for all employees and projected the city would add to its reserve fund.

Rather than redo the budget and rush through a public hearing and three readings, Goulart shifted the amount dedicated toward 3 percent raises into the city’s contingency fund. That left the budget intact, but did not specify how raises, which are usually given in March, would be allocated.

“This budget has a proposed 3 percent raise for all employees,” Goulart said in October. “At the end of the year I figure we’ll have about 2 percent inflation, so this means employees will be able to catch up on any shortages in the past.”

With uncertainties regarding optional sales taxes — if the countywide special purpose local option sales tax will be extended and what formula will be determined for dividing local option sales tax revenue between the county and city — Goulart said it is difficult to plan on raises beyond the 3 percent already factored into the budget.

Gray noted that the amount had been agreed on and said the Council was just to determine how the raises would be given.

“I’m not objecting to raises, just that there are no facts and figures — we don’t need to spend it if we don’t have it,” he said, and asked that Goulart be given a few weeks to consult with department heads to develop a pay plan.

Hamm withdrew his motion that a 75 cents per hour raise be given and asked that the matter be tabled until the next council meeting, scheduled for Monday, Feb. 25 at 6:30 p.m.

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