By Jim Young
The Crossville City Council meets for their regular March meeting tonight at 6 p.m. and will hold a public hearing on the Myrtle Avenue sidewalk “safe route to schools” project at 4:30 p.m. to discuss right of way needed for the project and potential costs involved.
Letters have been sent out to property owners who would be affected by the project and they can come to hear details about the project. Council members discussed the project at their work session last week and are hoping that most of the property owners affected will be willing to donate property to reduce the cost of the project that should also increase their property values.
City clerk Sally Oglesby added that because the grant includes federal funding, rules on the acquisition of the right of way must be followed. The city has a limited time to begin the project as there is a deadline on the completion of the project. The city has had one extension and may need request another one if the project moves forward.
Oglesby expects to have an estimate on the costs of right of way acquisition ready for the regular meeting.
Also discussed at the work session, councilman Pete Souza said one topic that kept coming up while he was running for office last year was the issue of half-cent sales tax that was approved by voters in 1999 for school funding but a part of that increase went to the city.
Souza said people would ask him when the city was going to give that money to the schools. Souza said he did not know the details at the time but said if elected, he would look into the matter and see what the truth was. Souza presented his research to the council.
Souza's report said a large number of voters approached him about the issue complaining that the funds collected in the city from the tax increase were not distributed as the voters thought they should be. The problem, according to Souza's research, is that the county's proposition failed to have the support of the city, a separate entity from the county. The proposition was non-binding, and both the city and the county cannot dictate disbursement in conflict with state law.
The bottom line, according to Souza, is that the voters at the polls were not presented with all the facts when they voted on the sales tax referendum. He found where the city had written a letter that was put in the Chronicle as an advertisement explaining what the city would do with their portion of the funding generated by the increase. While the county approved the the information that appeared on the ballot, without the agreement of the city council at the time, it was inaccurate.
Souza concluded that the sales tax issue should have never been presented to the taxpayers for a vote as it was without the concurrence of both the city and county in a binding written agreement.
Souza's report went on to explain that the city has been “magnanimous” in its support of the Board of Education by providing two School Resource Officers, as well as road improvements to W. Fourth St., Stanley St. and Miller Ave. to accommodate school traffic. The city also worked to improve the Cook and Genesis Road intersection widening including a traffic light to move traffic from Stone Memorial High School. Other services include traffic control officers and the city has also provided sewer service to four schools and is ready to help when the Bakers Crossroads school is built.
Souza said he hopes that in the future all governmental entities can work in unison with mutual goals and expressed a hope that all parties would learn from from the issue and work together.
Souza also brought up the subject of the enforcement of certain city codes concerning buildings and the difficulty the city has in enforcing them. Souza says the city is limited by state law on the amount of fines that can be assessed by an appointed city judge. Souza is also suggesting that the enforcement be turned over to uniformed police officers.
More discussion of the issues is expected to come up during future budget meetings.
Another costly project on hold is the fire hall 3 on Sparta Highway. The city has a loan/grant combination to pay for construction and equipment but no help to pay for the biggest expense, hiring of fire crews to staff the station. The funding currently in place is through the USDA's Rural Development and due to the delay in starting the project the city may lose the grant portion of the funds totaling $200,000.
Other items on the council agenda include changes to fees for use of the Spirit Broadband Amphitheater, work needed for the elevator at the new city hall building and Meadow Park Lake dam maintenance.