City Manager Eric Wilmarth said he hopes the city can take the first steps toward adding more sidewalks.
Wilmarth said the city has a lot of work to do on the project, including noise pollution and environmental studies. He said he’d also like to get the design plans done this year and submit the documents to the Georgia Department of Transportation for approval.
Last year, the city was awarded an $560,000 transportation improvement grant from the GDOT to install sidewalks, streetlights, water features and resting pavilions along Valley Street between Depot Street and Howell Bridge Road. Wilmarth said ideally, the city would like to put the project out to bid in 2013.
Mayor Rick Roberts said the city would like to link the city’s existing sidewalks to Ball Ground Elementary School. The city received a grant through the National Center for Safe Routes To School earlier this year, which would put in new sidewalks on Old Canton Road and Howell Bridge East to connect the Lantern Walk subdivision to the school, and to connect the core city to the school on Old Canton Road at the north end of the city.
“That’s something we’d like to achieve,” Roberts said, adding that plan is part of the city’s overall objective in making Ball Ground a more pedestrian friendly city.
The city is also in the process of putting the final touches on renovating its old City Hall building on Gilmer Ferry Road. The City Council is expected to discuss what it would like to do with the facility during its Feb. 4 planning retreat, but Wilmarth said options include using it as a retail or office space.
Also, Wilmarth said the city would like to get someone back to the table to discuss opening either a grocery store or another convenience store inside the city limits.
“We really think the community here would support a grocer,” he said.
Wilmarth also said the city would like to obtain ownership of the old Ball Ground Elementary School facility. Ball Ground is in talks with the school district to purchase the facility and Wilmarth said the school’s gym and playground area would enhance the city’s existing parks and recreational facilities.
The main building could be used as either an assisted living facility or a post-secondary educational opportunity.
Roberts said it was important for the city to show residents it’s improving its amenities and working to make the city pedestrian-friendly.
“We always like for people to see change happening,” he said.
Councilman Lee Prettyman said he’d like to see another county fire station built inside the city limits. Cherokee County Fire and Emergency Services already has one station on Groover Street.
Building a new fire station, he said, would allow the city to use the existing fire station, which he said the city owns, as a garage for its Public Works vehicles.
Councilwoman Andrenia Stoner said she’d like to see new businesses open and create jobs in Ball Ground.
“I want something that pays a decent wage and not take advantage of the fact that the economy is so lousy that people would take a job for minimum wage,” she said.
Councilman John Byrd said one new business, Tadpoles, a Cajun food restaurant, is set to open soon on Gilmer Ferry Road.
Council members also believe 2011 was a year in which they were able to maintain operations without making cuts to operations or staffing.
Stoner said the city’s employees have not slacked in their duties to the public, despite having to do more with less.
“I think that’s a great accomplishment for a city in today’s economy,” she said. “Our greatest assets are our employees.”
Prettyman added the city has done an excellent job in keeping expenses in line with dwindling revenues.
“The main thing is we are in the black,” he said, adding other cities often call Wilmarth to inquire how he’s able to maintain services in today’s economy.
Byrd said he was also happy to see the city operate last year without taking on more debt or raising taxes.
“We’ve been able to tighten our belts and we’ve been able to keep the same rate of services with the employees we’ve got,” he said.
Roberts said the city completed a half-mile installation of sidewalks throughout the city. The new sidewalks are along Valley Street between Beck Street and the entrance to the new Ball Ground Elementary facility and along Old Dawsonville Road between Gilmer Ferry Road and Calvin Farmer Park.
The sidewalks were funded through federal community development block grants.
The city also saw a great deal of progress on what Roberts called “largest public works project in the city of Ball Ground,” the construction of the replacement Ball Ground Elementary School. Wilmarth said the building is “substantially complete,” and the district is set to open the school in August 2012.
“That will be huge for the future of Ball Ground,” he said, adding the building will accommodate future growth.