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Clarkston struggles to make end of year deadlines for budget and DDA

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Clarkston struggles to make end of year deadlines for budget and DDA

L to R Councilmember Susan Hood, Vice Mayor Debra Johnson, Mayor Beverly Burks, Councilmember Awet Eyasu, Councilmember Laura Hopkins, and Councilmember YT Bell. Photo by Sara Amis

Clarkston, GA — The Clarkston City Council has two decisions to make before the end of the calendar year. Passing an operating budget for 2024 before the end of 2023 is a legal deadline. Establishing a new Downtown Development Authority is a self-imposed one. 

Both decisions were on the agenda for the Dec. 5 city council meeting. Both were postponed until next week, when a special called meeting will be held on a date to be determined.

Clarkston’s proposed overall budget for next year is $15.8 million, a $3.5 million increase over 2022. The budget as written will not require a millage rate increase.

“The budget represents the vision of the city council and reflects the needs of the community. Of course, funds are limited, but we do the best we can with what we have,”  Interim City Manager Tammi Saddler Jones said.

Jones said that the budget is focused on public safety, economic development, infrastructure, and efficient services.

Finance Director Dan Defnall answers questions about the proposed budget Photo by Sara Amis

Finance Director Dan Defnall said that the city has had good revenue for the last three years and has $4.4 million in reserves. However, the city may still need a tax anticipation note (TAN) to carry it until tax revenues start being received in August.

Jones identified hiring new staff as an immediate need, including an assistant city manager, a communications manager, human resources director, special events coordinator, records clerk, permit clerk, and a parks and pool manager, for a total cost of $532,326.

Several city council members had questions about specific staff positions and the need to hire so many at once. 

Councilmember Susan Hood said that it was the first time the council had seen that proposal, although the list of suggested hires was not changed from last week’s work session.

Councilmember YT Bell said that some of those positions have been asked for over several years and the city is understaffed. 

“This is us taking a proactive approach to solve some of the problems we’ve had around the city…a lot of this is overdue,” Bell said.

Bell added that in her opinion, equity includes not expecting city staff to do five and six jobs at once.

Defnall stated that the city hires lifeguards in the summer, but has no specific person on staff to manage them.

“I’ve been the unofficial pool manager for the last few years, and I’m leaving next year,” Defnall said.

Planning and Economic Development Manager Adleasia “Lisa” Cameron presented a new map for the proposed Downtown Development Authority based on comments from council members at last week’s work session, including a request from Councilmember Jamie Carroll to include commercial areas along Brockett Road and elsewhere.

This prompted a detailed and confusing discussion about where the boundaries should actually be, and ultimately a motion to also delay that discussion to the as-yet-to-be-scheduled special called meeting.

Bell said that council members need to clarify what they want if they hope to make a decision next week.

It’s been a contentious issue forever. We can’t agree, even though [Cameron] gave us a map. I just want to make sure it’s a one time thing, that we won’t go to the meeting, and it’s the same debacle that we have now,” Bell said.

In other news: 

— Clarkston has hired Yolanda McGee as its new Diversity Equity and Inclusion Officer.

McGee said that she will be working on a five-year strategic plan and her goal is to make sure that the city’s dealings with both its own staff and the community are fair, equitable, and inclusive.

“Diversity is inviting everyone to the party. Inclusion means everyone gets to contribute to the playlist. And equity means everyone has the same good time,” McGee said.

Jones said that the position was previously funded through the American Rescue Plan Act and is not part of the budget changes.

— Jones proposed to amend the city holiday calendar to add two extra holidays in 2023, and three and a half in 2024.  Jones said that it had been a difficult year for city employees and this would allow them to take long weekends at Christmas and New Years both this year and next year.

Hood instead moved to add one floating holiday in both 2023 and 2024 that employees can take whenever they wish.

The 2024 calendar will not include the day after New Year’s Day as a holiday or an additional three days (Christmas Eve, the day after Christmas, and New Year’s Eve) suggested by Jones, but will include Indigenous People’s Day (Oct. 14) and a half day on Election Day.

— The city approved a supplemental letter of agreement with Davenport & Co.LLC for a flat fee of $20,000 for financial advisory services in 2023 and going forward. Councilmember Awet Eyasu had previously expressed concern about retroactively approving the agreement for 2023 when it had not been presented to the council in a timely way, and was the sole dissenting vote. The agreement was given to former city manager Shawanna Qawiy in December 2022 but was not presented to the council.

— Outgoing Councilmember Laura Hopkins pointed out that it was her last regular city council meeting. 

“It’s been an honor to serve the city, I appreciate the opportunity, and I’m going to appreciate a little break as well,” Hopkins said.

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