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Duluth purchases land
for Highway 120 widening

DULUTH - The Duluth City Council voted Monday to purchase a triangular piece of railroad right of way on Main Street needed to widen and straighten Ga. Highway 120.

The city will pay the Norfolk Southern Railroad $70,000 for the property, which is located downtown in front of Corley Insurance and Accessorize Again.

Duluth City Administrator Phil McLemore said construction plans for the highway improvements are expected to be completed by the end of the summer and the project bid out by the end of 2009. The city plans to use 2001 and 2005 special purpose local option sales tax funds for the Ga. 120 improvements.

The council also approved a technology fee surcharge for Duluth Municipal Court fines that will add $10 to the cost of tickets issued in the city. Red-light camera tickets, which are limited to $70, will be exempt from the additional fee.

The surcharge will relieve taxpayers of part of the burden of paying for upgrading the city's computer software, McLemore explained. The new fee is expected to generate an estimated $60,000 in annual revenue to offset the cost of the software upgrade, he said. The city court and the police department are included in the upgrade.

At the suggestion of Councilman Doug Mundrick, the funds generated by the surcharge will be designated for the software upgrade and kept in a separate account.

"If you don't want to pay this fee," Mundrick said, "don't get a ticket."

In other action, the council granted a request from Pleasant Hill Animal Hospital to relocate a legal non-conforming (grandfathered) sign displaced by road improvements at Buford Highway and Pleasant Hill Road.

The council also allowed the sign, which would be obscured by a sound wall, to be raised from eight to 14 feet. Landscaping around the base of the sign will be required.

Mayor Nancy Harris and the city council accepted a ceremonial flag and plaque honoring Duluth for being a "Tree City USA" for 20 years.

Downtown Duluth Manager Elizabeth Rudin and Harris recognized sponsors of 2008 city events including Allstate, Cisco, Flagstar Bank, Gwinnett Community Bank and Whole Foods.