Newly elected Meridian City Council President Randy Hammon said he wants to keep Mayor Percy Bland's administration focused on improving the city's infrastructure.
Hammon, the Ward 5 Councilman, was elected the council's new president at Tuesday night's city council meeting at city hall. He succeeds District 2 Councilman Dustin Markham, who held the post for the past year. District 4 Councilwoman Kim Houston was selected vice president.
Hammon has been a vocal critic of Bland's focus on adding programs through the Meridian Parks and Recreation Department at the expense of the Community Development Department.
"As president, this budget year is going to involve roads, raises and community development," Hammon said. "Your infrastructure is what brings your taxes in; your taxes is what pays for all these other programs. So we are pushing this year. All I want is to have an equal billing tax base of Parks and Rec and Community Development. I want both of them to be at 7.5 percent."
"When I came into office, Community Development was at 4 percent and Parks and Rec was over 8 percent," Hammon said. "Since that time, we have brought Community Development up to 7.5 percent and you now see the result in quality of life for the people. It's all based on what's more important and I think its the quality of life. Everything goes from there. If you get the tax base up and people start moving into these areas you will have money to do the other."
Hammon cited two other issues that will affect how Meridian moves forward in the next year. One is the ongoing issue with the Environmental Protection Agency. In February, the EPA had alleged the city was in violation of the Clean Water Act, largely due to sewer system overflows during wet weather.
The second, is with the National Resource Network (NRN). The city of Meridian is working with NRN to help further its role as the region's medical hub by creating an enhanced medical district.
"We are already doing something about both of those, so I feel that we are ahead of the curve," Hammon said. "The NRN has come back with a report and not only said they can help us with the medical quarter, but they can also help us get some federal grants. Richie McAlister (assistant to Mayor Bland) at the mayor's office, has been working with them and I think he's done a great job of keeping communication with the National Resource Network so we can get these grants. We've already got the report, now we need them to help us push forward."
Hammon was also happy that the council approved the tax increment financing bond issue that will allow RCG Ventures of Atlanta to build an expansion at Meridian Crossroads.
"Our bond is for $2.8 million and it will be paid back to us over a 15-year period," Hammon said. "The cost per month is like $270,000, but the return from the projected sales tax will be between $500,000 to $600,000 per month. So we're likely to double our funds."
Meridian Chief Administrator Officer Mike McGrevey told the council that city taxpayers have zero tax burden with the proposed expansion that will bring at least six new anchor stores to Meridian Crossroads.