The Emerson City Council approved a memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the municipality and the Bartow County government at a called public meeting Tuesday evening.
Under the approved MOA, the City of Emerson agrees to pay $100,000 as part of a project to construct a new roundabout on Red Top Mountain Road. County officials tab the total cost of the project to be $1.15 million, with the State chipping in $500,000 to cover construction expenses.
“The City is not in the position to advance funds to the roundabout project and therefore, the County is willing to advance the funds on the City’s behalf, to be paid back from future revenue,” the agreement reads.
Under the agreement, the City of Emerson also agrees to reimburse Bartow County $100,000 by Dec. 31, 2023, “in a lump sum payment or through multiple payments.” That date would be extended to Dec. 31, 2025, “in the event no substantial development has occurred” by Pope and Land Enterprises — a developer looking to bring a mixed-use project to a roughly 153-acre parcel with an entrance near the proposed roundabout.
Councilman Charles Lowry cast the sole vote against the MOA.
“I will remind you that when Avatron was coming here for hundreds of millions of dollars, within 10 days of that closing — correct me if I’m wrong — it fell apart,” he said. “There’s a slight reference to the fact that this money would be coming from revenue generated from the project — I would like that to be more specific.”
He also suggested the council remove the Dec. 31, 2023, payment deadline from the agreement.
“My thought is, if we had revenue from that project, if somebody from the County decided we needed to pay that back, I would like to see a sharing of that revenue coming to Emerson for our employees, for the good of Emerson,” he added.
Emerson Mayor Al Pallone said the developer has already invested in the proposed Vineyard Park property, which would entail multifamily housing, offices, restaurants and retail.
“This is not someone thinking about buying the property, they physically own the property,” he said. “We’ve got five years to pay back $100,000, it’s our investment to attempt to get some development in that area.”
Emerson City Manager Kevin McBurnett said, written as-is, the MOA isn’t connected to a specific revenue source. Councilman Ed Brush said doing so would be almost impossible.
“They have a plan of how it might develop, but that is subject to change,” he said. “So therefore, trying to earmark it to a hotel/motel or any other thing that doesn’t end up occurring there, is the difficulty with it … I don’t know how you can when you’re projecting that far off into the future.”
Per the MOA, the developer will pay $100,000 to finance construction of the roundabout, while Bartow County will seek $100,000 from the Development Authority of Bartow County and $50,000 from the Cartersville-Bartow County Convention and Visitors Bureau to pay its share of the project costs.
“The County will perform the work with its road department forces and will provide the rest of the funding,” the agreement reads. “Bartow County has begun clearing and grading on the roundabout, and anticipates it will be completed within six to eight months, providing there are no inordinate rain delays, rock or utility relocation delays.”
The MOA indicates the developer also paid for the project’s preliminary engineering and design costs.
Council members also approved an impromptu agenda item — a recommendation from McBurnett to remove the pews from the Emerson City Hall building.
“We’ll be having court most likely every week and before, when we used to bring this place to full capacity here, we can’t do that anymore, we have to do the social distance,” he said. “We could have court running every day here, there is a possibility of that, and no way for me to clean these pews.”
When municipal court hearings resume at the building, McBurnett said about 50 plastic chairs will be brought over from the local community center.
As for the fate of the pews, council members agreed to donate the City property for $0 — although a potential recepient was not specified at the public meeting.
“There may be a church that wants them,” Pallone said. “When we got these pews, we gave the other pews that were here to another church.”
McBurnett concluded the meeting by bringing up a proposal concerning West Indiana Avenue.
“We have received several complaints here recently on the roadway,” he said. “The roadway does have a section there that is very narrow, 15-foot-wide — the regulations call for a 20-foot-wide roadway right there.”
He estimated that repaving the roadway to meet the City’s development regulations may cost around $35,000.
“That has not been put in the budget, as far as spending for that roadway, however, you do have money in your SPLOST that we could utilize for that,” he said. “We’d be glad to put it in the FY ’21 budget if you want to spend $35,000 on it — and if you do not, then we need to turn that road into a one-way road.”
Although no vote was taken on the matter Tuesday evening, Councilman Donnie Bagwell said he was in favor of the latter option.
“To me, that makes more sense, especially faced with what we’re going to be looking at for fiscal year 2021,” he said.