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Morrow officials unveil city's new operating priorities

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Morrow's city manager and planning and economic development director stressed the need for a city business plan to members of the city council on Tuesday.

Morrow City Manager Jeff Eady and Planning and Economic Development Director Michael McLaughlin laid out two lists of priorities, one to guide economic development, and another to help guide the city's business operations. The priorities include building partnerships with community and government groups, and taking an almost "back-to-basics" approach to city government.

Eady, who oversees city departments, said revenues are expected to decline slightly in the city, and multi-year planning will be needed so the city can focus expenditures on the areas that most need money.

"There is going to be a three-year business plan coming with the budget this year, which is going to be something new for the city," Eady said. "That will allow us to plan ahead."

Eady said his and McLaughlin's presentations were just beginning steps towards developing the city's fiscal year 2012 budget, which he said will go to the city council in June for approval. He said the size of budget had not yet been set.

Eady did tell city council members, however, that he believes Morrow needs to begin working on building up a large reserve fund. His short term goal is to build up a reserve fund of $2.75 million, which he said would cover approximately three months of operating expenses for the city, but he projected it would take up to four years to build that reserve.

The city manager's longer term goal is to build a reserve fund of at least $5.5 million, which would take longer to build, but would also cover six months of operating expenses for Morrow.

"Long term, I'd love to have six months of operating funds in reserve," Eady said. "I could sleep well at night, if we had that money in the reserve fund."

One way the city may likely move towards those goals is to cut out spending that may be deemed wasteful. "It's important to stop doing things that don't add value to the city," Eady said.

McLaughlin also told city council members he wants to cut his department's $1.9 million budget 10 percent, which would equal $190,000. One option he suggested to the city council is "liquidating" some of the properties the city owns, including auto shops and a shopping center located on Ga. Hwy. 54.

Eady echoed some of those sentiments about dumping those properties when he told council members the city should "get out of the business of competing with private businesses."

McLaughlin said one major focus for the city's planning and economic development department, in the upcoming fiscal year, will be the redevelopment of the "Olde Towne Morrow" property.

The city spent approximately $12.5 million to initially develop "Olde Towne Morrow," according to McLaughlin. But, city officials shut down the property in December, over a myriad of problems, including the lack of a business plan for the development, and violations of the city's fire code.

McLaughlin said the city currently has a market study being conducted to determine whether the property can be used as a tourism center that would highlight, and direct people to, tourists spots across the state. He said state tourism officials have expressed an openness to the idea. He added the market study may be completed within the next two weeks.

"From there, we'll look at stepping into the feasibility study," McLaughlin said. He promised not to repeat the mistake of the initial development of "Olde Towne Morrow" where a business plan was not created. "We're not going to spend a dollar without a business plan," he said.

The 10 planning and economic development priorities, laid out McLaughlin, include:

• Creating a business, financial management and asset review plan for the city.

• Beginning a marketing, outreach and public relations program.

• Coming up with a development plan for the "Olde Towne Morrow" site.

• Creating a "one-stop shop" at Morrow's City Hall, to help new businesses get set up.

• Restructuring the city's approach to zoning and comprehensive planning.

• Designing a redevelopment plan for the Southlake Mall area.

• Focusing on "hotel, senior, multi-family/mixed use development."

• Investigating the possibility of establishing charter or private schools, as well as tax-allocation districts, opportunity zones, small business programs, and community development block grant programs.

• Working with the Clayton County Economic Development department on the "Gateway Village" project, which is located in Morrow, and being developed county economic development officials.

• Creating recreation partnerships with parks, such as the county's William H. Reynolds Memorial Nature Preserve, which is located in the city.

The city's five business plan priorities, laid out Eady, include:

• Providing "genuine and friendly" customer service with contacts within the city, as well as those contacts that exist outside Morrow's city limits.

• Enhancing the city's financial position through "sound management making wise fiscal decisions based on factual, supportable information."

• Utilizing data to "cultivate the economy" using "responsible planning and innovative program development" so the city can become economically sustainable."

• Focusing on providing "professional and high quality core services."

• Using benchmarks to measure the city's progress and performance in all of its "priority areas."