ACC Commissioners Agree and Disagree on spending issues
Athens-Clarke County Commissioners agreed on several transportation-related measures, while disagreeing sharply on a potential raise for themselves at their Tuesday meeting.
Commissioners unanimously approved three big transportation projects – a paving program covering nearly 200 miles of county roadways [link: https://www.accgov.com/DocumentCenter/View/83294/04-CY22-Pavement-Maintenance-Program---Roadway-List-and-Project-Resolution], a prioritized list of improvements for Prince Avenue [link: https://www.accgov.com/DocumentCenter/View/83303/13-TSPLOST-2018-Project-16---Prince-Avenue-Corridor-Improvements-Proposed-Priority-Projects-List], and a finalized list of projects for TSPLOST 2023. [link: https://www.accgov.com/DocumentCenter/View/83333/15-TSPLOST-2023-Final-Projects-List]
That TSPLOST list has changed somewhat since a citizen advisory committee finalized it; a group of Commissioners led by District 8’s Carol Myers added several projects.
“There's $34 million for corridors, making them safer for people walking, biking on buses and in cars - Atlanta Highway, Lexington Road, Prince Ave, Jefferson Road and Timothy Road,” Myers told colleagues. “There’s $23 million for underserved neighborhoods and lower income residents in Stonehenge, Westchester Drive, the West Broad Neighborhood, Sycamore Drive, North Athens and East Athens.”
County staff also updated the expected revenue from the sales tax from $144.5 million to $150 million. Tuesday’s vote paves the way for the referendum to go in front of Clarke County voters in May.
But, if commissioners largely agreed on transportation improvements, they differed sharply on a pair of last-minute additions to the agenda – the appointment of members to a the newly-created public safety oversight board, and a measure to begin a discussion on a possible raise in commissioner salaries.
Mayor Kelly Girtz and some commissioners spent about twenty hours over the course of two days this week interviewing nearly four dozen applicants for the public safety board. However, while most commissioners expressed their support for the board and for the membership, District 4’s Allison Wright voted against the measure, saying, “I applaud the board and the work that they'll do, but due to the inconsistency of how [the interview process] was carried out, I will not support the vote.”
District 9’s Ovita Thornton also expressed reservations about the selection process. She abstained on the vote. District 10’s Mike Hamby supported the measure, but brought up his concern in an exchange with Mayor Girtz, asking the mayor whether it was fair that not all commissioners were able to sit in on all of the interviews.
Commissioners were also divided on the issue of a potential salary increase for themselves. District 6’s Jesse Houle introduced a motion which would formally notify ACC residents that the Commission would consider a proposed pay hike at their March 3 meeting. However, the debate over whether to take up the issue next month rapidly turned into a debate on the issue itself, with Commissioners introducing arguments that they’re likely to repeat next month.
Supporters of the salary bump – Commissioners currently make $15,000 a year – say that they haven’t gotten a raise in two decades, and that the job of serving on the Commission has become more difficult and time-consuming. Opponents say that the Commission should commit to doing more for low-paid county workers before voting themselves a raise.
Commissioners also unanimously approved a $207,000 purchase of a ballistics identification system which ACC Police officials say will make it easier to investigate gun crimes in the county.