By Jennifer Jacob Brown
A new year has dawned, and with that new year come new plans and goals for the city of Meridian.
Meridian Mayor Cheri Barry has created an agenda for 2010 which revolves around improving basic services, including infrastructure improvements and public safety, for the city.
Barry said she will begin the new year by appointing an advisory board to help her make decisions on infrastructure improvements. Barry has previously made use of advisory boards made up of regular citizens to aid her in choosing school board members and civil service commission members.
She plans to do the same when looking at infrastructure improvements, she said, because she wants the input of the entire community.
Barry said the city needs so many improvements in infrastructure - everything from wastewater treatment to road repairs - that it's difficult to figure out which problems to address first. That's where the advisory board will come in. Because, as she said, "There's only so much money to go around, and we've got to start somewhere," the advisory board will make recommendations on where that start should be.
Barry made a lot of changes to board and commission appointees in 2009, and said she will continue to do so in 2010. She said approximately 10 positions will open in 2010, and she plans to fill them all promptly, looking first at the transportation commission.
Barry said she and her staff will also begin working on plans to build a new police station in 2010. She wouldn't say whether she would make a proposal this year, but did say she will be working to find the funding for the new building, the construction of which is likely to be costly.
In 2009, Barry pushed to end an agreement for the redevelopment of the Threefoot building, but said she will look for a more favorable development plan in 2010. The 2009 agreement required both public and private funding, and Barry said she will look in 2010 for private developers willing to work with the building.
She said the end of the Threefoot agreement is not the end of work on economic development, but that she will focus her economic development efforts in places other than downtown.
"Everybody's been talking about downtown Meridian, but we've got so many other areas, like the interstate, that we can develop," she said.
She said she will also seek partnerships with businesses, churches, and non-profits for the development of economically depressed neighborhoods in Meridian.
Barry said her main goal in 2010 is to listen to the people of Meridian, and that all of her efforts will revolve around striving to fit the description she gives herself: "the people's mayor".
City council president Bobby Smith has a long list of goals for Meridian this year, and though his goals are ambitious, he said he feels every one of them can be accomplished if all parties involved work together.
Smith agreed with Barry that it's time to start working on a new police station. "I think it's something that we're going to have to do because if you look at the police department, it's falling down," he said. "I think it can be done, but we'll just have to wait and see how the money goes."
Smith said he will also push hard in 2010 to bring police officer's pay up to standard of the rest of the state.
Along with constructing a new police station, Smith said providing all necessary services, including a fire station, to the annexed area is high on his priority list.
Another thing on Smith's priority list: roads. "I hope we're going to be able to some way or another do some paving, hopefully some major paving," he said. "It's about time."
Smith also wants to see a clean-up effort, specifically with the demolition of abandoned houses, which is already underway, and the removal of abandoned vehicles.
Smith said he expects to see a no-smoking ordinance passed for public places, including restaurants, in Meridian this year.
A no-smoking ordinance was passed by the council several years ago, but vetoed by then mayor John Robert Smith. With a new mayor in office, Smith said he thinks it's time to try to put an ordinance in place again.
Another top priority that Smith said will require more teamwork than any other is job creation.
"I hope that we can create some jobs for Meridian," he said. "We've talked about it till we're blue in the face, but it needs to be done... Even in the economy, I think it can be done, but the city, the county, the state, the federal government, and the EMBDC are all going to have to work together to make it happen."
Smith was also optimistic that one economic development project that fell though could still happen. The Threefoot project, he said, is not necessarily dead.
"(New Orleans developer HRI Properties, which previously attempted to develop the Threefoot building) are probably the only ones in the country who would come in and bring that building back to what it is supposed to be," he said. "I haven't given up on HRI yet. We'll have to get with HRI and see what we can do. We have to get everyone on board."
Smith was optimistic in general about 2010 in Meridian, saying that the economic crisis doesn't have to stop progress here.
"We've got a lot to do, and there's nothing that we cannot do," Smith said. "I believe all these things I've mentioned can be done."
By Jennifer Jacob Brown
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