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Lovejoy council meeting gets personal

By Ed Brock

The discussion on zoning and occupation taxes was getting personal, so Lovejoy Mayor Joe Murphy slammed his hand on the counter and demanded order.

The crowd that came to Tuesday night's council meeting filled the small council chambers at Lovejoy City Hall and flowed out into the small hallway. As the council addressed a zoning request by GT Communities to put 106 town homes on about 14 acres near City Hall the protests began.

"They're going to put 106 houses out here?" one woman asked.

By the time the council turned to a resolution on creating a city library the crowd was snickering at the idea. And when Ellis Conkle of Conkle's Tree Service started talking about the increase in occupation tax that sent the cost of his license from $70 a year to $2,525, the screaming began.

GT Communities Vice President and Comptroller Larry Bazemore stood quietly as members of the audience took turns expressing their concerns about the project.

"All this building is great," resident Grant Watts said. "But none of these roads are equipped to handle the traffic from all these houses."

Chris Thompson pointed out that the families living in the town homes would probably have children who would attend the local schools.

"That's going to increase the burden even more on the school," Thompson said.

Finally Murphy bluntly told Bazemore that he would have to sacrifice a portion of the development to greenspace and a 6,000-square-foot recreation area.

Murphy also insisted that the front of the homes be 100 percent masonry, that sidewalks would be built on both sides of the roads in the development and that each building would be at least 1,300 square feet.

The council approved the portion of the plan Bazemore was presenting Tuesday (he withheld two parcels because they had to be approved by the Atlanta Regional Commission) with council members Arlie Auckerman and Peggy Johnson voting against it.

After some discussion on the library resolution in which some residents pointed out that the county planned to build a library just about a mile away, Murphy recommended that the council table the resolution, and it did.

Conkle began his speech by asking if any of the council members would vote to rescind the increase in the occupation tax. When none of the council members offered to do so, Conkle asked how they devised the guidelines that led to the increase.

City attorney Greg Hecht explained, saying that the council had elected to adopt the same occupation tax system used by the county and other cities in the county. That system bases the amount of the tax on a business's gross proceeds. Hecht also said that the "dynamics" of the city had changed with the addition of sewerage and the possibility of a commuter rail station being located in the area.

"Granted, Lovejoy was probably the last place in the county to go in the same direction as the county," Hecht said. "That is basically the way cities now raise money."

Conkle said that the city shouldn't try to charge the same rates as other cities because it doesn't offer any services, such as police or fire protection (which is provided by Clayton County), or garbage pickup.

The sewer service was installed in parts of the city six or seven months ago as a joint venture between residents, the city and the Clayton County Water Authority, Murphy said. It cost about $650,000 and is maintained by the Water Authority.

"I don't see no purpose at all for even having a city of Lovejoy," Conkle said.

Murphy said the decision to increase the tax was properly advertised and approved in two votes.

"The vote actually cost me dearly," Councilman Bobby Cartwright said. "I voted for it and it cost me $1,000 a year."

That didn't satisfy Conkle.

"If I told my customers ?Hey, I'm increasing your rates 35 percent because I'm going to expand my business next year ?,' do you think I'd have any customers," Conkle asked.

Conkle went on to say that he wanted to "clean up city hall," complaining that the city's two employees conducted personal business at City Hall. He accused Murphy of doing his job as a building inspector for the county while on city time.

"If you want to attack me personally, fine, I have nothing to hide," Murphy said. "I don't see how a man who grosses millions of dollars a year won't pay $2,500."

Lovejoy City Clerk Cheryl Murphy grew angry at complaints from other residents that she is not at City Hall often enough and when one resident began calling into question her qualifications to be city clerk.

"I don't have to explain myself to you," Murphy said. "I just have to explain myself to (the council.)"

It was at this point that Joe Murphy slammed his hand down and demanded that the personal attacks end.

After some more debate on various topics Murphy said that the council would take all the complaints into advisement and said the council was considering putting a cap on the occupation tax.

As the meeting concluded Clayton County Commissioner Charlie Griswell urged audience members not to abuse their elected officials and said they would regret it if the city was dissolved.

"We're a small community but we still have a lot," Griswell said.

Other business owners, like Mac Tools Racing owner John Johnson, still did not leave the meeting feeling satisfied.

"The city doesn't profit me at all," Johnson said. "I bought a business license because I had to."