BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Blue Ridge Finance Director Alicia Stewart met informally with council members elect Robbie Cornelius, Nathan Fitts and Kenneth Gaddis along with Mayor Donna Whitener Wednesday evening, Dec. 13, to discuss city priorities, projects and finances for the coming term.
In the process, Stewart presented the incoming council members with a wealth of city financial information in an effort to familiarize Cornelius, Fitts and Gaddis with the day-to-day operations of the city and the various procedures required of the City Council regarding financial operations. In addition, the finance director also fielded a number of questions from the future council members.
Among the many projects and potential projects mentioned during the course of the 90-minute session were a possible parking deck, a downtown bathroom facility and revitalizing the city pool.
The potential parking deck project, a topic of conversation for the city for quite some time, was discussed, and Whitener told Cornelius, Fitts and Gaddis the city would like to build a two-story deck on the city hall property to alleviate downtown parking congestion.
Regarding the downtown bathroom facility, Mayor Whitener explained plans have already been drawn for a two-story bathroom complex to be built near the depot building and the project is expected to be financed with grant money from the Appalchian Regional Commission (ARC).
As for the city pool, Gaddis suggested talking with representatives from Union County concerning that county’s recent city pool project. “We could mirror that (project) … that would be great for the citizens,” Gaddis stated.
Another city issue discussed at the meeting was water loss. Whitener stated Blue Ridge was once among one of the worst municipalities in Georgia regarding the average percentage of water loss. According to Whitener, the percentage of city water loss from aging water infrastructure near the beginning of her mayoral administration stood at 58 percent. Whitener added that while the city has improved in this area, maintaining those improvements has been difficult.
Gaddis, owner of All Choice Plumbing, mentioned the future state Route 5 highway expansion along with a water main replacement project for that area of the city would help with water loss. “I’ll be surprised at what percentage (water loss) drops instantly,” Gaddis added.
Prioritizing road paving was another area of concern Whitener pointed out, and the mayor stated the city at one time rated roads and streets according to need. Whitener added she would like to see a return to that policy during the next term. “We’re going to rate (roads and streets) again. That’s one of the projects that I have planned,” Whitener stated.
Later, when Gaddis asked Stewart what improvements she would like to see come from the incoming City Council, Stewart answered by saying better prioritization of projects was needed.
“We need a good five to 10-year capital plan with clear objectives and prioritize (those objectives),” Stewart said. “We need) a clear, focused idea of where (the city is) heading. what we’re doing and what we want to get done first.”
“I think we all agree with that,” Fitts told Stewart.