M&C 5-11-22

The Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission held a meeting Tuesday evening to discuss several issues. (Photo/Lucinda Warnke)

During a Tuesday evening work session, the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission discussed the financing behind a renovation of Bethel Midtown Village, the 2023 fiscal year budget for Athens-Clarke County and other agenda items.

North Downtown Housing

Athens Housing Authority Executive Director, Rick Parker, concluded the agenda items by discussing the North Downtown Athens Project. 

The group is currently working on a project to renovate a section of Bethel Midtown Village, a low-income subsidized housing complex, but the endeavor is threatened by funding issues. 

As construction costs and interest rates have increased, there has been a want for redevelopment, despite an anticipated financing gap of $13.7 million.If their project does not close by November,Athens Housing Authority risks a 9% loss of allocated tax credits, termination of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 8 project-based rental subsidy contract and relocated residents would face permanent relocation. 

If the AHA stops the Bethel renovation, they would lose $22 million in pre-allocated tax credits and have a 5-year waiting period before they can reapply.

Some residents have already been temporarily relocated, but if they are not moved back soon HUD’s Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Act requires that approximately $50,000 in benefits be given to each household for permanent relocation. 

NDAP was initially proposed in 2019, pre-COVID.Construction bids from last July created an initial shortfall of almost $7 million, but were covered through applications for tax credits. In March, estimates for construction increased by $70,000 per unit, a 33% increase since last July, contributing to $8.7 million of the financing gap. 

The remaining $5 million contributing to the estimated financing gap is due to rising interest  rates and increased design, engineering, surveying and material testing costs.

The development team for NDAP has strategies to fund $4.1 million of this project, but is asking the ACCgov to fund between $5.2 and $-9.6 million of the $13.7 million gap that remains unfunded. 

The Department of Community Affairs issued a draft Notice of Funding Availability inquiry due in early June to request $4 million in funding from them. There is no guarantee that DCA will award these funds and will know their decision in July. 

The AHA needs a preliminary commitment from the ACCgov to pay at least $5.2 million of the $9.6 million needed in additional funding by May 17 at the Mayor and Commission’s agenda-setting meeting in order to apply for the DCA NOFA. Depending on the amount received from the DCA NOFA, the ACCgov is asked to cover the remainder of the gap. 

2023 Budget

The session closed with the initial discussion of the 2023 budget. District 8 Commissioner Carol Myers, who also serves as Mayor Pro Tempore, said she hopes to finalize the budget by next Thursday.Throughout the districts, the largest concern was equitable pay for citizens and support for various employees. 

District 3 Commissioner Melissa Link was the first to voice her issue with librarians’ salaries. Link said it is important to bring them up to the same pay floor of $15 per hour that the rest of  government employees receive. However, their salaries are allocated by the state. 

Mayor Girtz said that, unlike Athens-Clarke County’s government, the state does not have a recommended salary schedule for library employees.Instead, the money is handed out in blocks regionally to each library system.District 5 Commissioner Tim Denson said he wishes they did not have to “step up locally” to provide the additional wage boost to get employees to $15 per hour. 

District 7 Commissioner Russell Edwards said they dealt earlier in the session with solving the compression from raising the wage floor for government employees and is worried that they will have to address the same issue if they were to increase salaries for librarians. Edwards said he wants to see something from library leadership that will prove that the same problem will not be repeated. 

Other Agenda Items

Other meeting items included a discussion of pavement, sidewalk expansion, a sales tax bond, minimum wage research and a tree study. 

Assistant Transportation and Public Works Director Rani Katreeb explained pavement conditions and ratings that have led to the need for a recommended $7.4 million project to repair weak roads. Repairs started in South Athens in 2021 and worked counterclockwise around the Georgia State Route 10 Loop. The Lexington Highway Corridor  Project received approval last September but Derek Doster, the ACC SPLOST project administrator, updated the Mayor and Commission on Tuesday evening and said that they hope to complete work adding sidewalks and other bike and pedestrian improvements by March 2024 and improve intersections by June 2023 with the Mayor and Commission’s approval. 

Human Resources Assistant Director Laura Welch then presented a study explaining how the July 1, 2021 minimum wage increase to $15 an hour caused immediate compressions and recommendations on how to resolve them. 

Rodney Walters, an ACC Community Forester, and Dr. Jason Gordon, an assistant professor of community forestry at the University of Georgia announced their community tree study, which will be presented as an agenda item for formal acceptance next month.The meeting also approved a resolution of general obligation sales tax bonds for the Clarke County School District.  

The next Mayor and Commission Work Session will take place on Tuesday, June 14.