Tucker considers taking over some services provided by DeKalb CountyA map of the city of Tucker. Image obtained via Google Maps
This story has been updated.
By Logan C. Ritchie, contributor
Tucker, GA — In a special called meeting June 29, Tucker City Council debated taking charge of services currently run by the DeKalb County Department of Public Works.
Tucker became a city in 2016 but relies on intergovernmental agreements (IGA) with DeKalb County for public safety, roads and drainage, stormwater, sanitation, and sewer services.
A staff presentation by City Engineer Ken Hildebrandt and Community and Economic Development Director John McHenry encouraged Tucker to take over roads and stormwater management.
“We have an aging infrastructure,” said Hildebrandt.
The report said residents are vocal about sidewalk conditions, street repairs, and road improvements. It also said addressing stormwater facilities is increasingly urgent with two sinkholes in the city and corrugated pipes likely to fail.
“Stormwater is naturally linked to road service,” McHenry said, adding that city-owned dams at Lake Erin, Twin Brothers Lake, and Kelley Cofer Lake are a liability in their current condition.
Currently, the DeKalb County Department of Public Works has 4,000 outstanding work orders. Tucker has 130.
Councilmember Noelle Monferdini is in favor of taking over public works with proper budgeting and planning. She said, “It is going to cost taxpayers more money, but they’ll get a better service out of it … We should take it over and do it well.”
Council members Anne Lerner, Bill Rosenfeld, and Matt Robbins agreed now is the time to end the IGA with DeKalb County.
Robbins said, “It’s going to come back to hit us eventually. It would be really important to address this in light of effective service management and hope we can avoid any kind of emergency … The city needs to be responsive to the people.”
There was no formal vote. Mayor Frank Auman said a legal notice will be posted by July 16 in a local newspaper. The city must hold public hearings and call for a referendum by early August, then add a referendum vote to the ballot in November. Taxes may increase if the referendum passes, and Tucker could be responsible for roads and water by July 1, 2021.
Road repair, maintenance, and improvements are budgeted by DeKalb County at around $2 million for Fiscal Year 2020. A Tucker spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a question about how much is budgeted for stormwater maintenance.
Council members also discussed creating an Urban Redevelopment Authority to “utilize strategies for targeted economic development ranging from blight removal to tax relief funding to grant programs.”
An Urban Redevelopment Plan (URP) will “afford the City opportunities to apply or be considered for a variety of local and federal funding to support projects within the plan.”
McHenry, the city’s Economic Development Director, said a URP allows Tucker to purchase property and resell it to private parties for redevelopment.
The Georgia Urban Redevelopment Act was passed in 1955 to enable local governments to rehabilitate, conserve, or develop areas identified as blighted.
Mayor Frank Auman said, “The primary purpose is to deal with blight. To the extent that we have blighted areas in the city, this is a powerful tool to redevelop those in a way that benefits the whole city.”
City attorney Brian Anderson said blight is defined as pervasive crime, code infractions, health and safety standards, and disaster relief areas.
Councilmember Robbins said although residents will not want property to be defined as “blighted,” it will be important that authorities explain the URP benefits their future. It could be a public relations problem, he said.
“If and when we reach a point where we declare an area blighted, we better be committed to doing something about it,” said Auman.
Lastly, council members reviewed options for the replacement of bridges to be completed by 2028. The I-285 Major Mobility Investment Program by Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) plans include bridges at Henderson Road, Northlake Parkway and LaVista Road, and Lawrenceville Highway.
Tucker has an opportunity to enhance the standard bridge design with decorative fencing, lighting, landscaping, and design elements for between $1 million to $3 million per bridge.
Hildebrandt said construction is set to begin in 2024. Tucker Northlake CID plans to contribute financially to the project.
Councilmember Pat Soltys pressed for a cost benefit analysis on an aesthetically pleasing bridge versus a standard bridge.
“I’m not real sure I see where I see those numbers returned to the city in any way other than vanity,” she said.
Soltys asked anyone knew how many of the vehicles passing by the bridges would be spending money in Tucker.
Councilmember Anne Lerner directed the question to Tucker Northlake CID Executive Director Matthew Lee.
“I don’t have a direct dollar turnaround,” Lee said. “It’s a great question. But I think, you know, when you drive somewhere you get your first impressions when you pull off the expressway ramp, right? So, we do a lot to get the garbage off the ramps, the for-sale signs, the ‘we’ll getcha a cheap cable TV package’ and make the grass look great. If we get a $45 million dollar bridge, which is what we’ve leveraged to get from GDOT express lanes, it just doesn’t seem right in my opinion to have them put chain link [fence] on it. There’s so many other parts of town where things are looking just a little bit better, and we just want to keep that headed in the right direction.”
Lee said this kind of work is occurring in other communities.
“You know, you’re seeing this all over the place,” he said. “You’re seeing it in Perimeter Center, they’re making it look better. That’s really what we want to relate to. We want to bring in a higher class of folks in our rental properties, with our businesses. … But as far as a hard number, that’s something I don’t have the answer to. For me it just makes sense to have a better-looking front door … as soon as you pull in. [It’s] more opinion than data.”
Monferdini agreed that aesthetics is important.
“[Bridge design] speaks volumes to some of the larger and busier guest services companies,” Monferdini said. “You don’t want to be getting off an exit, and like Matthew Lee said, and see a lot of things that make you want to lock your doors. Our gateways are super important to Tucker.”
The next City Council meeting is scheduled for July 13.
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