Avondale Estates City Commission approves 2020 amended budgetPhoto obtained via the city of Avondale Estates website.
By Zoe Seiler, contributor
Avondale Estates, GA – The Avondale Estates City Commission at its Nov. 23 meeting approved the 2020 budget amendment, approved a conditional use permit for a new business and amended the Lake Avondale Advisory Board ordinance.
The 2020 budget amendment was approved to reflect the actual revenue and expenditures the city had throughout the year. Overall, the budget will be balanced and the city will not see a loss in revenue.
“As evidenced by this presentation, given the requested expenditure amendments visa via the expected revenue changes, we are going to have a balanced budget and be in just a strong financial position at the conclusion of this as we were last year, if not stronger,” City Manager Patrick Bryant said at the Sept. 16 work session.
Assistant City Manager Paul Hanebuth said at the Sept. 16 work session that the single biggest factor affecting this year’s budget is the coronavirus.
About $355,000 was added to the budget as DeKalb County plans to share money it received through the federal CARES Act with the cities in the county.
Bryant said in September that the money from the CARES Act will go toward reimbursing the city for all personal protective equipment bought in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It will also go toward paying to relocate the municipal court to the American Legion building, reimbursing administrative leave related to COVID-19 and offsetting the cost of police patrol during the year.
“We think it’s very important that we make ourselves whole and stick to the plan that we had for the year,” Bryant said at the Sept. 16 meeting. “If we weren’t able to offset operating expenditures with CARES Act funds, we would have a revenue shortfall as Paul (Hanebuth) outlined in the original presentation.”
The CARES Act money will additionally help pay for the renovations to City Hall which included upgrading to touchless bathrooms.
The city also added $250,000 as a placeholder that could go toward renovating the public works building. The city is still deciding whether to renovate the building or relocate the public works department.
At a meeting in October, Mayor Jonathan Elmore said that if the department stays in the current location, $250,000 would go to adding storage, ADA compliant bathrooms, locker rooms, a new break room as well as some other work to improve the facility.
“The BOMC has yet to decide whether to move forward with those renovations, but if they choose to move forward, there are now funds appropriated to do so in the amended budget passed last night. Staff recommended amending the budget to provide for that funding in case they make the decision to renovate prior to year’s end,” Bryant told Decaturish.
He added that if the board does not use those funds for the renovation the money could be appropriated for other uses within the 2021 budget.
The City Commission is still considering the possibility of moving the public works department to a new location rather than completing a complete renovation of the current location on Locust Street, Bryant said.
City staff has been working with Oakhurst Realty since March to scope out a potential new building.
“Those two options have been on the table for some time and staff have never ceased looking for potential new locations,” Bryant said.
Elmore emphasized the importance of this issue and the City Commission is working to resolve the situation.
“The board has made public works a priority and we are going to decide something as quickly as we can and we’re going to move as quickly as we can,” Elmore told Decaturish. “Our public works guys are awesome and they take care of us and we want to take care of them.”
Some expenses came in under budget for various reasons and were largely related to COVID-19, Hanebuth said.
“The personnel costs are lower because we had a hiring freeze in place for a couple of months,” Hanebuth said. “Obviously travel and training have been dented because of the things that have been canceled as well as the citizens patrol and academy. Those were largely canceled for this year.”
Other expenses changed as well as various project plans changed. For example, the city hoped to finish the stormwater master plan in 2019 but that was pushed to this year.
The city also aimed to finish the North Woods project this year but at this point, the city is in the design phase and construction will not begin before the end of the year so $300,000 will be pushed to 2021 for construction, Hanebuth said.
Construction on the Town Green was set to begin this year but the $465,000 in the budget is only the design cost. The city hopes construction will start in 2021. The project includes building a park and a mix-use building along Highway 278/ North Avondale Road, Decaturish previously reported.
– In other business, the City Commission approved a conditional use permit for a tobacco and vape shop with a 3-2 vote.
The commissioners and the mayor agreed that this was not their ideal small business to be opening in the city and all had their concerns.
“I know there’s a lot of folks out there who have concerns but to stay within legal lines I feel compelled to vote to allow this use,” Commissioner Lisa Shortell said.
“There have been a lot of scientific reports showing how dangerous vaping is, hate to have this here with our kids in range. Also, I don’t think this is a message we want to send about what our community is,” resident Jan Hover added during public comment.
The store will be located at 2760 E. College Ave, between Jax Package and Stitch and Sew.
Fardeen Sayani, the applicant for the permit, said he does not plan to sell cigarettes and does plan to check IDs. He added that he and Jax Package will be sharing customers.
Sayani plans to sell CBD products, vape products and tobacco products such as cigarillos and raw products.
Some residents were concerned about the vape store opening in the city and were particularly worried about minors purchasing those products.
“When it comes to the environment, I’m not the type of person inherently to sell to a 16 or 15-year-old. I don’t want that,” Sayani said. “The reason why I want to open up this type of business is not to promote bad habits but I used to smoke a pack a day and I stopped by vaping and I slowly toned down.”
Sayani added he wants to give people an avenue to explore other products.
“I have a plan. I have a vision and I want to do something that will help the environment and help the Avondale economy,” he said.
The city is unable to deny an application for a conditional use permit based on desirability and City Attorney Stephen Quinn said at the Nov. 18 work session, that tobacco sales are legal in the state so what the city is basically considering is a retail business.
Commissioners Brian Fisher and Dee Merriam voted against the conditional use permit.
“I wanted to say that I will be voting against it because I do not believe that it will be consistent with the desirable patterns of development in the locality in general,” Fisher said.
The City Commission is meeting again on Wednesday, Nov. 25, at 5:30 p.m. to discuss a resolution to prohibit new smoke/vape shops in the city for six months while the city completes a review of its zoning and land use regulations, according to the agenda.
– Additionally, the City Commission amended the Lake Avondale Advisory Board ordinance. The ordinance previously allowed the lake board to create policies regarding the lake and then direct the city manager to execute that policy. Assistant City Manager Shannon Powell thought that conflicted with the city’s charter.
City Attorney Stephen Quinn said that section of the ordinance is invalid and recommended changes be made to make the lake board more of an advisory board.
“We removed the section allowing them to create policy and provide direction to the city manager and replaced that with provide recommendations to the BOMC and have the BOMC direct city staff if they accept those recommendations, just like any other board and consistent with both our charter and state law,” Bryant said at the Sept. 16 meeting.
At the Sept. 29 regular meeting, Commissioner Dee Merriam said she reached out to the Lake Avondale Advisory Board and they said they have always considered themselves an advisory board and had no problem with the ordinance amendment.
The City Commission will meet again on Wednesday, Dec. 9, at 5:30 p.m. through Zoom.
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