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City of Madison meeting… surveys, budget, sewage and buzzards discussed

Nancy Taylor: Greene Publishing, Inc.

Tuesday evening, Feb. 7, the Madison City Commission held a special meeting for the purpose of planning and goal setting for both short-term and long-term projects.

City Manager Tim Bennett distributed a handout from Scott R. Koons, AICP, of the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council, which indicates “the engineering costs for the preparation of plans and specifications for the Federal Fiscal Year 2016 Florida Small Cities Community Development Block Grant application.” The costs for these services included $47,586 for sanitary sewer improvements (excluding sewer hookups), and an additional figure of $16, 524 for street paving.

Bennett and Mayor Jim Catron also distributed a notebook containing information to assist in setting goals and priorities for the City of Madison for 2017.

In order to begin prioritizing the city’s goals, commissioners heard first from Lauren Yeatter, the consultant assisting the city with the application for a Small Cities Community Development Block Grant. Ms. Yeatter updated the commission on the grant status and reminded them of the point values to be gained from completing these sanitary sewer and street projects.

Maximizing the points enhances, but does not guarantee the city’s chances of receiving the grant.

The engineering and design fees would not be reimbursed by the grant because the grant has not yet been approved.

Whitman also provided a rating of roads and the Florida Rural Water Association’s lists of needs regarding Wastewater infrastructure. Whitman referenced specific issues with the lift station at Happy Valley where a problem occurred that sent 400,000 gallons of wastewater out into the community.

After hearing from Whitman and Yeatter, Mayor Catron began the Goal Setting Workshop portion of the meeting. The purpose of this workshop is to begin discussion for developing a plan that will ultimately be adopted and incorporated into the fiscal year 2018 budget.

In the weeks prior to the meeting, Mayor Catron prepared a questionnaire to solicit feedback from citizens. Five percent of Madison’s population participated in the survey, which was published in the Madison County Carrier, posted online at www.cityofmadisonfl.com, www.WeCareMadison.com and www.themadisonflnews.com. The survey was also available at City Hall. The survey did not include a request for demographic information on the participants who took part in the survey; therefore, none are available.

In his overview, Mayor Catron stated, “Like other local governments, Madison faces a series of challenges that are the result of both structural and cyclical issues. The combination of growing costs of compensation and stagnant or declining revenue is not unique to Madison. Many of these problems have developed over a series of years….” Catron feels that addressing these issues cannot be handled by looking at the problems and solutions “one year at a time.” Thus, “the need for a multi-year financial planning process,” Catron went on to stress.

Catron further states, “A balanced budget is necessary – but it does not guarantee that a city will meet the larger goals of economic prosperity and overall quality of life.” He explains “…the intent of a multi-year financial planning process is for the city to regularly update and adjust the plan as assumptions, goals and strategies change.” Ultimately, sustainability and accountability must be addressed.

The importance of achieving a balanced budget was reiterated by Mayor Catron based on a letter received from the city auditors which indicated, “deteriorating financial conditions” for the City of Madison.  However, according to Florida statute 218.503(1), the city is not in a financial emergency.

During the meeting, a letter from Commissioner Thompson was also distributed. Commissioner Thompson wrote, “The city really needs to look at other possible ways for revenue, but of course our options are limited. We need to think outside of the box.” Thompson noted, “The fire and police are our biggest pull on the budget.”

“We all have to work together on this to come up with the best plan for everyone,” Thompson stated.  Commissioner Thompson went on to say “Citizens need to be aware of options.”

Mayor Catron concurred with Thompson that “city government has an obligation to act as an effective steward of taxpayer dollars.”

Commissioner Thompson asked why input could not be sought from other engineers. Thompson was told that per attorney Clay Schnitker it is illegal to “bounce back and forth between engineers.”

During the course of the meeting as the commissioners reviewed survey results, time was given for commissioners to voice their concerns and priorities. Commissioner Thompson indicated her main concern is infrastructure. City Manager Bennett listed safety, technology, training, and policing as his priorities. Mayor Catron listed the city departmental priorities as fire/rescue, police, sanitation/public works and water.

At this point a concerned citizen voiced concerns about an issue on a piece of property in her neighborhood. Her concern was in reference to an over-abundance of buzzards in the area. The issue was referred to the county commission because of the location of the property. It was also suggested that the Fish and Wildlife Commission, along with the Department of Agriculture would need to work together to solve this problem.

When the discussion returned to priorities, Commissioner Stanley gave safety as his main concern, and Commissioner Cooks gave sewer as her top concern.

As this was just a planning meeting and a starting point for discussion, no decisions were finalized.

Following the meeting the concerned citizen who had attended the meeting did say she was glad she came. “It has given me a better understanding of what our commissioners face, and knowledge is the first step.” She thanked Mayor Catron and several of the commissioners for their work on behalf of the City of Madison.

The next commission meeting is Tuesday, Feb. 14 in City Hall.

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