Tucker City Council debates bike lanes in FY23 budget talks

Photo provided by the city of Decatur

Tucker, GA — Tucker City Council met on April 25 to review a draft of the FY23 budget.

Finance Director Beverly Ragland said the proposed general fund budget is $17 million, up from $16 million in FY22. The increase includes changes in costs for city staff, operations, parks and legal services.

The top five revenue generators in the city are business and occupation taxes, franchise fees, insurance premium taxes, millage from DeKalb County and building permits.

Ragland said municipal court fees are projected to bring in more money in FY23. Prior to the city issuing traffic tickets, the yearly income was $66,000 in code violations; now it’s around $80,000. Tucker currently collects approximately $35,000 per month in traffic tickets, Ragland said.

Other funds in the overall budget are the $40,000 tree fund, $1 million hotel/motel fund, $8.9 million capital fund and $6.3 million SPLOST funds.

The city has received $6.7 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds, and expects a second tranche in July to total $13.5 million – all of which must be spent by Dec. 31, 2024. In December 2021, City Council approved doling out $1.2 million to NETWorks for rent and mortgage relief, $583,000 on water and sewer improvements at Fitzgerald Field and $1.2 million for the acquisition of the Cofer Brothers lot in downtown Tucker.

The U.S. Treasury Department as of April 1 expanded ARPA spending to include capital spending, expanding public sector hiring and capacity, premium pay for essential workers and broadening broadband, water and sewer infrastructure.

Assistant City Manager John McHenry said future ARPA spending includes dredging Cofer Lake and improving broadband in city parks.

Mayor Frank Auman said of the projects City Council would consider, “anything that qualifies under ARPA, we want to do with ARPA money” because general fund money is less restricted.

But Councilmember Alexis Weaver said ARPA money is an opportunity to spend on projects the city council may not normally fund.

“I like the idea of looking at the [ARPA] money as an opportunity accelerator,” Weaver said.

Councilmember Anne Lerner reminded the council, “We’re not deciding on [how to spend ARPA] tonight.”

City Engineer Ken Hildebrandt proposed FY23 spending on sidewalks, trail lighting, MARTA bus stops, radar speed signs, bike lanes and overall connectivity. Many projects are already in the city’s transportation master plan.

Bike lanes were discussed at length. Councilmember Cara Schroeder said the city should hold off on bike lanes on Brockett Road, where high speeds and pedestrian safety have been an issue.

“I’ve talked to a lot of neighbors and they aren’t sure they want bike lanes … They want to be safe. They want traffic to slow down on Brockett,” Schroeder said.

Councilmember Noelle Monferdini pointed to the transportation master plan.

“I also talk to a lot of neighbors. I have a transportation plan sitting in front of me saying that the community wants bike lanes on Brockett,” said Monferdini.

If the bike lanes are designed properly with a buffer between the bike lanes and pedestrians, it will be safer for everyone: walkers, joggers, people who walk their dogs, kids who walk to school and people who want to ride bikes in the city, said Monferdini.

Bike lanes on Brockett Road would change plans to install medians as a traffic-calming measure.

“Our whole direction on Brockett was to slow it down. Right? So if we’re slowing it down and adding something from our previous transportation plan at the same time, it’s a win-win,” said Monferdini.

Hildebrandt proposed part of the FY23 budget be reserved for surveys, traffic studies or environmental studies.

“We want to look at our north-south connectivity areas more holistically. We’ve got good connections east-west with Lawrenceville Highway and LaVista Road. North-south you’ve got Montreal, Cooledge, Brockett, Idlewood, Fellowship. A lot of complaints, a lot of congestion, a lot of safety concerns about those north-south collector streets,” said Hildebrandt.

The finance department will present a first read of the FY23 budget on May 23 and a second read on June 13 when City Council will consider approving it.

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