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ACC Commission Meeting - April 2, 2002

There were no zoning items this month; but the Mayor noted that from now on zoning items will be at the end of the agenda, and will be heard no earlier than 8 pm.

Highlights:
Approve CDBG and HOME funds distribution
End free leaf and limb drop-off program
Change to ACC Employee Health Benefits
Approve ARMC $50 million bond issue

Consent agenda adopted unanimously. This included the creation of a no-parking zone near Clarke Central High School.

The Commission voted to adopt the recommendations of the Logan Committee for the distribution of CDBG and HOME funds.

There was quite a bit of public input on this issue. Several people spoke on behalf of Athens Area Habitat for Humanity, which is proposing to build a subdivision on Hawthorne Extension. Several people spoke in favor of the Athens Justice Project, an innovative program that provides free legal and social support for low-income people with criminal charges pending who have demonstrated that they want to become law-abiding, productive members of society.

Commission discussion centered on two issues: Athens Justice Project and use of CDBG funds to run water lines to low-income neighborhoods. Commissioner States McCarter raised the issue that there is a cap on funds that can be allocated for public services; in order to fund the Athens Justice Project, some other project would have to be de-funded. Commissioner John Barrow asked whether there was some other funding source the county could find to help the program.

Commissioner Cardee Kilpatrick spoke against using CDBG money to fund the water line project, because both streets to be served are over half vacant land. She argued that ACC would be providing water lines for developers to hook into, and moved to adopt the other recommendations of the Logan Committee, but transfer the utility money to the Council on Aging's request. Commissioner Harry Sims pointed out that the neighborhoods served by this project are the very reason that ACC receives $1.6 million in CDBG money; and that each homeowner will have to pay $1,600 to connect to the water line, so it's not free to anyone. Commissioner Charles Carter agreed with Commissioner Kilpatrick, but feared that if it wasn't funded this year these people might never get their water, noting that they had discussed the same issue last year. Commissioner Tom Chasteen agreed that running the water line would encourage development, but saw that as a benefit. Commissioners McCarter and Linda Ford agreed with Commissioner Kilpatrick. Commissioner Carl Jordan agreed, but didn't feel he had enough information to decide whether the Council on Aging request was the best use of the funds. Commissioner Alvin Sheats said that we are losing development and that we need more development.

Commissioners voted 6 - 4 against Commissioner Kilpatrick's motion, with Commissioners Carter, Sims, Chasteen, Sheats, Logan and Jordan dissenting; then voted 8 - 2 to adopt the Logan Committee recommendation, with Commissioners Barrow and Jordan dissenting.

The Memorial Park Master Plan, East Athens and Thomas Lay Center changes, Meigs St. parking reconfiguration, and Baxter Street streetscape project all passed unanimously with little discussion.

Southeast Clarke Community Park construction services contract was approved unanimously.
Citizen input centered on the Commission's agreement in October to look into the feasibility of a skate park at the site. Commissioner Chasteen said the citizen interest seemed to be mainly from one family, and asked Debbie Mockus of Leisure Services if that was the basis of their report. She informed the Commission that the study would be done within two weeks and will include information on cost, design, liability, lessons learned from other skate parks around the country, as well as citizen input. Commissioner Jordan commended the inclusion of grassy pavers at a very reasonable cost, and pointed out that their use will translate to significant savings in the treatment of stormwater.

Commissioners voted to end free leaf and limb drop-off at the ACC Landfill. Commissioner Hugh Logan spoke in favor of extending the program, claiming it's been a success because it has resulted in 800 tons that the county didn't have to pay to haul to the landfill. Commissioner Jordan asked Solid Waste Director John Corley to quantify the savings to the county resulting from citizens hauling their own leaf and limb waste, which could be deducted from the cost of operating the program in order to give the Commission a clear idea of the true cost of the program. Mr. Corley replied that there were no savings resulting from citizens hauling the leaf and limb waste because what they were bringing to the landfill was, for the most part, material that the County would not have picked up. He said that people were not only dumping illegal items along with their yard waste, they were bringing commercial-scale loads that the county would otherwise charge to remove.

The commission voted 6 - 4 to end the program, with Commissioners Carter, Sheats, Logan and Ford dissenting.

The most controversial issue of the evening was the vote to change the ACC Employee Health Benefits package. The Commission voted to accept the recommendation of the Ford Committee, which raises employee premiums for the PPO while keeping the HMO available at no cost to the employee, with an amendment requiring employees and retirees over 65 to sign up for Medicare Part B.

Several ACC employees, as well as non-employees spoke about the difficulties that the proposal would cause, especially for the lower-paid workers and those with significant health issues. Others pointed out that for many employees, the benefits were the incentive for them to work for ACC. Some questioned the legality of the change, as the Unified Government Charter requires that employees receive free health insurance.

Commissioners were mostly in favor of the plan, with Commissioner Sheats vehemently opposed. Commissioner McCarter requested that the Medicare Part B requirement be added. This way, Medicare becomes the main provider with the ACC plan the secondary provider, saving ACC a good bit of money. He pointed out that whether ACC or the employee is to pay the premium for Part B could be decided later. Commissioner Jordan said that it was a "no-brainer" that we should include the Part B requirement, thereby enlisting the federal government to help us pay for employee insurance. County Attorney Ernie DePascale averred that the proposal is legal.

Commissioners voted 7 - 3 to adopt the proposal with the amendment, with Commissioners Sims, Sheats and Ford dissenting.

Commissioners voted to approve a $50 million bond issue by the Hospital Authority. This item did not appear on the agenda setting session. Commissioner Barrow suggested that this item be tabled for one month, to allow the Commissioners to gather more information. He expressed concern that the hospital is already $100 million in debt, and also pointed out that the Commission had just enacted a health plan that would prevent many employees from using ARMC (the county's HMO is affiliated with St. Mary's.) Commissioner Jordan agreed that this was a substantial decision, and shouldn't be made quickly, but he understood that the hospital wanted to be able to issue the bond right away before interest rates rise.

Commissioners voted 9 - 1 to approve the bond issue, with Commissioner Barrow dissenting.