Plans, projects, vision on agenda
Lexington’s new City Council tackled ongoing issues Monday at its informal retreat, which lasted well past dinnertime but didn’t quell members’ appetites for progress.
The Council met with key city leaders to discuss long-term city projects that are at various stages. The projects literally range from the earth to the skies – sewage and water lines were of equal importance to sustainability, wireless connectivity, and a greener Lexington.
To catch up to the rest of the council on these issues, the three new members, Marilyn Alexander, David Cox and Bob Lera all said they prepared extensively. Alexander said she did “a lot of reading” and “a lot of asking questions.”
The new council members also did a lot of listening. While all three had something to contribute to the discussions, for the most part they sat back and heard veteran members’ opinions about ongoing projects.
The 40-item agenda covered all areas of Lexington’s operation, but a few of the items inspired more groans or questions than others.
The Moore’s Creek property and the Jordan’s Point dam were two such issues. The new council members were especially interested in those items because, they said, those were the most common citizens’ concerns they tried to address during their campaigns.
Lexington owns the Moore’s Creek property, which includes a reservoir and an aging dam.
The city is considering selling the property surrounding the reservoir to the Virginia Department of Forestry, though questions remain about who would be responsible for the dam and whether it’s necessary to maintain the reservoir as a backup water supply.
The City also owns the dam at Jordan’s Point park. City planners pointed to five possible solutions for the dam issue, ranging from removing it completely to creating a water park.
Though the issues were discussed at length, none of the council members firmly supported any one plan of action. Cox said both the Moore’s Creek property and the Jordan’s Point dam needed to be resolved.
“But not this month and not the next,” he said. “Us newbies need time.”
Mayor Mimi Elrod agreed with Cox’s desire to wait – at least for a little while.
“With this many new people, we need time to think about these issues,” she said. She suggested that the public hearings scheduled for Thursday’s council meeting be pushed back two weeks.
Elrod said the new council needs ample time to digest the issues completely before being faced by community members. She said that citizens’ concerns would be better addressed if all the council members felt completely competent about the issues at hand.
Issues such as the recent citizen satisfaction survey, solid waste facilities and cooperative planning with Rockbridge County all called for a little more time as well.
Some items were finally checked off the agenda. Members groaned in relief when it got to the sections on the new courthouse, emergency services, and the joint services agreement – issues that have been around for years.
Council members said that they would be checking off even more projects at their next retreat. Lera suggested that the council make “programs, not plans,” so that concrete things get accomplished rather than having great ideas waiting on paper for another two years.
In addition to facing challenges caused by large long-ranging issues, the new council also has to deal with the economic situation.
“These are tough economic times and it’s time to be frugal,” said Bill Blatter, the city’s director of planning and development.
Though Blatter’s sentiment was echoed by all at the table, most agreed that it can be disheartening to make the frugal choice. Alexander said that she was most worried about wanting to make things better, knowing that there simply aren’t the tools – such as money – to do so just yet.
City Manager Jon Ellestad was more confident about Lexington’s ability to handle the economic situation.
While he didn’t deny that there would be belt-tightening and maybe even cutbacks, he said the city is fortunate to have a relatively stable and consistent economy. He said Lexington is well-equipped to handle the times.
Council member Frank Friedman echoed Ellestad’s confidence.
“Downtown Lexington is open for business.”