The city of Columbus may undergo a face lift in the coming months after a series of beautification projects were approved at Tuesday night’s council meeting.
City council members presented a united front on almost every issue as they voted on paving, landscaping Highway 45, applying for grant money from the Environmental Protection Agency and hiring additional employees for the Public Works Department.
City Planner Christina Berry appeared before the council with two requests. First, she asked the council for permission to advertise for a design firm that could “design streetscape improvements” for the Highway 45 corridor. According to Berry, Highway 45 is the “cash cow” in Columbus and is in need of updating. Those updates include landscaping that is both attractive and budget friendly. Berry stated that while she was requesting the council’s permission to advertise, the planning commission would pay any design firm chosen from their own fund at no additional cost to the city.
Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box questioned Berry on the need for such a firm, referencing a similar project that took place a few years ago when new signage was designed for the downtown area.
Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin, whose ward includes the Highway 45 area in question, informed Box that the Charrette Project, which was created in late 2009 by the Mississippi Main Street Association, focused primarily on signage and a new logo for Columbus, not landscaping. According to Gavin, having a design team assess Highway 45 would be “taking it a step further.” Gavin also referenced Madison, Miss., calling it a “crown jewel.” Located on the outer regions of Jackson, Madison has quickly gained a reputation throughout the state for their strict zoning and building codes.
Gavin and Berry both then informed the council that HIghway 45 has approximately 175 businesses and land parcels, generating nearly “$150 million” in revenue every year for the city of Columbus.
Gavin took the opportunity to explain the issue of the “deterioration of trees” along Highway 45. According to Gavin, many trees are “about 50 years old” and becoming a hassel for business owners. Gavin claims the trees are causing damage to property with many business owners asking to remove the trees. The councilman agreed with Berry that Highway 45 needs to be updated, calling the search for a design firm “the first stage” of a vision. Berry also expressed in an interest in beautifying areas of Highway 182, Military Road and Gardner Blvd.
The council approved the motion 6-0.
Berry also presented the council with a request to begin advertising for environmental consulting firms. The city was awarded a EPA Brownfield Community-Wide Assesment Grant in the amount of $400,000. The grant guidelines demand Columbus perform “environmental assesments” and “remediation” on select areas. The council approved Berry’s request 6-0.
The council then addressed the recent hot-button topic of ward paving.
In Nov 2010, the city of Columbus recieved a bond for 8.9 million to refinace existing debts. Of that 8.9 million, 3.8 was designated for paving. That 3.8 million was then divided by the six council members with each councilman getting a set alloted amount for paving with his ward. Paving was schedueld to take place in Fiscal Year 2011 and 2012 respectively.
Confusion and tensions occured during the June 5th city council meeting when Mayor Smith asked the council to approve paving projects that he deemed necessary. Since Smith was not awarded money for paving, he asked the councilmen to shoulder the burden of an appoximate $400,000 in paving costs for his special projects. That $400,000 would be divided equally amongst council members and be deducted from their remaining paving funds.
The motion passed 4-2 at the June meeting with Councilmen Mickens and Karriem voting against the mayor’s request. The matter was brought up again during Tuesday night’s meeting when Karriem noticed $268,048 worth of paving to be performed on the Farmer’s Market parking lot, the parking lot behind The Gilmer Inn and the parking lot behind The Back Door restaurant. Karriem question Stafford on the cost of the paving to which Stafford responded the since the board of supervisors would be paying a portion of the paving, the whole dollar amount the city would be paying was lower than originally estimated. Karriem stressed the point that he was not opposed to the paving but did not agree with “how the process was played out.” According to Karriem, he initially voted against the paving to ensure the council did not give the mayor a “blank check.”
On the Farmer’s Marker parking lot the city will be paying $147,348.80 to the county’s $126,318.80 contribution. The paving behing The Gilmer will cost the city $99,205.30 with the county contributing $75,385.30. Lastly, the city will pay $21,493.90 and the county will pay for $17,053.90 worth of paving behind The Back Door restaurant.
All three special projects are in Ward 5, Councilman Karriem’s ward. Councilman Box made the motion to approve the paving with Councilman Mickens giving the “second.” When it came time to vote however, Mickens apparently had a change of heart and voted against the motion. This time Councilman Karriem voted in favor of the motion and it passed 5-1.
The city then approved a request from Public Works Director Mike Pratt to hire six additional laborers, purchase six weedeaters and a zero turn lawn mower. According to City Chief Financial Officer Mike Bernsen, the expence to the city will be $39,924.
In other news:
According to Chief of Police Selvain McQueen, there has not been a single citation issued in relation to the “Saggy Pants” ordinance.
Councilman Karriem, who voted against the ordinance when it passed in June, questioned the police chief asking “why have we written a law we don’t use?”
The chief then responded that he had driven around Columbus earlier in the day and “didn’t see much” sagging to which Karriem quickly reponded “Wow.” When McQueen asked, “Pardon me?” Karriem again responded with “Wow.”
McQueen then informed both Karriem and the council members, “There has been a major decrease in buttocks showing.” which was immediately met with laughter from Councilman Karriem.
Councilman Box first introduced the ordinace to the council on behalf of one of his constituents. Box agreed with McQueen and said that he feels that the law has acted as a “deterrent.”
According to the ordinance, “sagging,” or having underwear visable, is viewed as indecent exposure and is punishable by a fine. The fine for the first offence is $75, $250 for the second offence and a $75 to $250 fine for the third offense, per the judge’s discretion.
Council members unanimously voted to appoint local attorney Shane Tompkins as the new city prosecutor. Tompkins was one of six applicants for the position which was left open when long time prosecutor Tim Hudson resigned in June. Tompkins ran unsuccesfully for county prosecutor, also previously held by Hudson, in November 2011. Tompkins is a graduate of Millsaps College and recieved his law degree from University of Mississippi. He is a partner with Studdard Law Firm in Columbus. The appointment is effective immediately.
The fire department has three new certified firefighters joining the ranks. Will McReynolds, Eric Minga and Damon Estes were sworn in Tuesday night after they completed a year’s worth of training and education including becoming registered EMT’s.0