Norcross leaders vote for pay raise

NORCROSS -- By a vote of 4-1 Monday night, Norcross city leaders voted themselves a 50 percent pay raise, the first such move in 18 years.

City resident Greg McFarland addressed the governing body, saying that he doesn't agree with the move.

"In this dreary economy, who came up with this idea, and who's promoted it?" McFarland asked council members. "So much in Norcross is outsourced. ... Most people have become so cynical against government. People are so upset with our leaders. Why do we have the highest millage rate in the county?"

Resident Faye McFarland said that, with what is essentially a part-time job in which the mayor and council members can show up or not as they please, she believes a pay raise would send the wrong message to full-time city workers who have not had pay increases in quite some time.

Councilman Charlie Riehm told Greg McFarland that he came up with the idea of the 50 percent pay raise. Compensation for the mayor of Norcross and its city council members was compared to the cities of Milton and Johns Creek in Fulton County, Decatur in DeKalb County, Johns Creek, Suwanee, Duluth, Grayson and many others in the metropolitan Atlanta area.

Former Norcross councilman Terry Bowie stood up during Monday's council meeting and said that he would support a pay raise of 100 percent for those jobs.

"I have no problem with y'all getting a raise. I've done that job."

Riehm stated that Mayor Bucky Johnson spends a lot of his time outside Norcross on matters and committees that indirectly but positively affect Norcross.

"He attends six to eight meetings a week. We've increased the city size by 50 percent, but in 18 years the council hasn't gotten an increase."

Mayor Pro Tem Andrew Hixson said Monday that he was conflicted on the issue, and he voted against the pay increases.

Councilman David McLeroy said that he has never turned in an expense report for all the city business-related trips he has taken in his years of service as a councilman.

"If I miss a meeting because of a ballgame, then I'm sorry. I have Falcons season passes, and if there's a Monday night game, I'm going. Those tickets are expensive."

Councilman Craig Newton said of he and his colleagues, "We work really hard. We do it because we love the city, this county and this country. You can't compensate us for what we do. We make about 20 cents an hour for the work we do on behalf of the city."

Mayor Bucky Johnson's annual compensation was raised from $6,900 to $10,350. Council members' compensation increased from $5,400 annually to $8,100.

Land Acquisition proposition tabled

Council members voted to table consideration of the acquisition of the land located at 250 Pinnacle Way, along with the lake (retention pond) located on that parcel. For a cost of $68,689 (and a Gwinnett County appraised value of $943,800), Norcross can purchase the property. The ultimate intent is to create a passive park with safe access for Norcross residents on that side of town.

Not so fast, say some residents of the city. The overgrown eyesore of a lake is actually a retention pond, according to Bowie. While a cost of $5,000 to bush hog the overgrowth has been estimated, there will be additional costs for a crew to go in after the bush hogging, identify specimen trees and clear others. Then a concept plan needs to be drawn up, one that reflect what city leaders want the lake and land to look like, and a price tag attached to that.

With respect to the bargain price, Bowie said, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." He urged council to do all the necessary homework to truly understand the cost of obtaining and maintaining the property, which also includes an 1,880 square-foot structure with an 800 square-foot finished basement. Bowie said that at one time, the pond needed to be dredged. He did not know if that had ever been done and how much that would cost.

Surrounding property owners spoke in favor of the city purchasing and maintaining the eyesore of a lake, as such action would help them lease out vacant office spaces.

Resident Faye McFarland cautioned city leaders about taking on the liability for the taxpayers of Norcross.

Further public consideration of the move will take place at the May policy session.

Property at Miitchell Avenue and Britt Street to be acquired

For a price of $308,943, Norcross will purchase the lot behind the Cultural Arts Center in the city for future parking.

"We have been looking at this property for years. It's strategic to the city in so many ways," said councilman Keith Shewbert.Opportunity zone created

Two resolutions were passed Monday, one as a Finding of Necessity and one as an Urban Redevelopment Plan for recently annexed land. Parcels of land from Jimmy Carter Boulevard to Brookhollow Parkway to I-85, and all of Pinnacle, have now been identified as opportunity zones in Norcross. These properties will come with incentives that encourage developers to revitalize these areas.

Rezonings along Autry Street

Five parcels of land along Autry Street were rezoned from R-100 to R-65, then variances allowing a 63-foot lot width rather than 65 feet were then granted. Developer Miller Lowry has added these parcels to a pool of others in Norcross, planning to build homes on them. These five parcels, according to Lowry, will be home to 2,600 to 2,800-square-foot homes in the $400,000 range. Each lot will have a minimum 7,200 square feet size minimum.

Councilman Craig Newton asked Lowry about these parcels and others that have sat vacant and undisturbed for several years now. Lowry replied that he plans to begin construction on the five homes within 12 months. The ailing economy has slowed his progress on building on the land he owns in Norcross.