Athens Council Roundup: Councilman Gross wants citizens to vote on Cain Center

Councilman Robert Gross

By Michael V. Hannigan/HCN

The Athens City Council met in a regular session Monday night. Here are my takeaways from the crowded confines of the Council Chambers of the City Hall Annex and police station.

— Councilman Gross wants the public to vote on the Cain Center issue.

In a rare move, City Councilman Robert Gross left the dais and went to the podium during the time set aside for citizen comments to speak about the Cain Center. As he read from prepared notes, he continually came back to the idea of allowing the public to vote on a potential bond issue.

“The correct way is getting the citizens the financial impact, make sure they understand everything and allow them to vote,” he said.

“Every councilmember here has said at one point or another that the last council went about getting the funding for the Cain Center the wrong way,” he said. “I think we’ll all admit that. Therefore, if we just continue down the path the way they did it, with that funding, we are just as guilty as they are.”

Mr. Gross said he wasn’t against the current direction, which includes a community group led by Steve Grant trying to find a way forward to save the Cain Center. In fact, later in the meeting he suggested the council schedule a workshop meeting to help provide some direction for the Steve Grant Group.

But Mr. Gross has been consistent in saying the Certificates of Obligation money set aside for the Cain Center should be returned to the bank. He voted against keeping the money earlier this month when the Steve Grant Group was formed. 

Mr. Gross asked that question of the Certificates of Obligation money be placed back on the agenda at the council’s next meeting.

— Move to increase police pay scale takes another step forward.

The council approved the first reading of an ordinance that would increase the pay scale at the police department.

The move is being made to help with recruiting and retaining officers. Currently, the department has seven positions open and could lose three more officers before the end of the year. If that happens, the department would be short nearly a third of its budgeted officers.

To put that in perspective, there are only three other openings in all of the city government and two of those could be filled soon.

The City Council appears to be solidly behind this effort.

“If you love living here, these guys right here lead the teams that provide the security blanket for us,” said Councilman Ed McCain.

You can listen to our podcast about this issue here. 

— It is time to sign up for the City Christmas Parade.

City Manager Elizabeth Borstad said there’s still time to enter a float in the annual Athens Christmas Parade, which is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8.

The theme of this year’s parade is “Christmas at the Picture Show.”

Prizes will be awarded to first, second, and third place winners; with first place receiving $1,000, second place receiving $700, and $300 given to third place. All prize money is generously donated by our 2018 parade sponsors.

There is no entry fee this year. The parade is limited to the first 100 entries.

Learn more about the parade here and you can download the entry form here. 

— Council accepted a bid to rehab another water tower.

The council approved a bid from Cherokee Painting and Sandblasting for $335,700 for rehabilitation of the State Highway Loop 7 Water Tower.

This is a continuation of a project started two years ago in an effort to get all the water tanks in compliance with the state. As we reported in 2015, All seven of the city’s water storage tanks were out of compliance at that point.

The Loop 7 Water Tower is the sixth tank to be rehabilitated.

“It is amazing the amount of money spent and the work done on this in a short amount of time,” said Councilman Ed McCain.

Mayor Monte Montgomery asked city staff to prepare an update on the city’s plans stemming from the last water rate study.