Albany City Council welcomes two new members at first meeting of 2021

Posted January 12, 2021 at 2:48 pm

Albany City Council held its first regular meeting of 2021 last Tuesday, January 5, with all members present, welcoming the two newest seated members, Sarah Browning and Joe Stockton to the local governing body.

Primarily, only general items of business were addressed during the 45 minute session, with much of the discussion centering on the city’s financial condition and the need for new and/or updated equipment in several departments.

City Clerk/Treasurer Melissa Smith first informed the council that the COVID-19 relief funds the city had applied for, in the amount of $144,100, had been received and will go towards reimbursements of costs the city incurred due to the virus.

Smith noted a second such COVID relief grant has been applied for, but no time line as to when or if funding would be approved is currently known.

The city clerk also noted that city auditor Sammy K. Lee was in Albany later last week to begin work on the upcoming fiscal year city audit.

Councilman Reed Sloan then addressed the mayor and council about the current city tax rates, noting the current rates were only 18 cents per $100 of assessed value on property.

Reed compared that to the early 1990s when the property tax rates in Albany were at 24.5 cents per $100 assessed value, saying the current 18 cent rate had been in effect since 1992, and indicated that was too low a rate to sustain city services and also added the City of Albany had among the lowest property tax rates in the state.

Smith recalled the city decreased the rates due to property value reassessments made in the county back in the early 90s.

Sloan said that street and fire department equipment was getting worn out and needed to be replaced.

During the discussion on the possible need to increase property taxes in the city, councilwoman Tonya Thrasher said if the situation (with the city’s finances) became dire enough, “the state may have to come in and that would hurt everybody.”

Most council members agreed the city’s infrastructure was also in poor condition.

Smith did tell the council that since the water rates were increased, the water department is getting back on its feet financially. However, water revenues can only be used for water and sewer purposes, and not for the general fund, which pays for the street, fire and police departments.

Sloan also said he had heard several complaints about dogs running wild in the city limits and neighborhoods. The city currently does not have any leash laws in effect, but that issue may be brought up again in the future.

Brooks Ferguson, with the street department, announced that road salt was on order and the council discussed ways to store the salt once it arrives.

“We need a lot of manpower and equipment (for the street department), plus the city building leaks,” said Ferguson.

Although city police vehicles are currently in good condition, Albany Mayor Lyle Pierce recommended, as a way to save money in the future, to lease police cruisers with the best rates the city could find, and that would help keep a fresh fleet on the road.

Reverting back to the tax issue and discussion on ways to increase city revenue, councilman Stockton suggested a possible sales tax in lieu of a property tax increase, noting all citizens, not just property owners, would be responsible for helping increase funding.

Councilwoman Browning also recommended setting up a system to allow water customers to make online payments and the council also discussed putting in a drive-up window for persons paying water bills, instead of having to get out of their vehicles.

Prior to the meeting being adjourned, mayor Pierce noted there was a lot of illness in the city and county right now, especially with the COVID pandemic, and asked for continued prayers for all.

The next regular meeting of Albany City Council is scheduled for Tuesday, February 2, at 5 p.m. at Albany City Hall.