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December 6, 2013

Council raises accommodations tax

VALDOSTA — The city council's meeting Thurs. night began with business as usual, but ended with two emotional farewells.

During the business portion of the meeting, the council voted to raise the Accommodations (Hotel/Motel) tax from five percent to seven percent. The tax increase was approved by six of the seven representatives. Councilman James Wright abstained from voting because he did not receive the information he requested at the City's work session.

The tax was increased because 91 communities in Georgia have an Accommodations tax higher than five percent. A portion of the increase will go to sustain the Mathis Auditorium until a replacement facility can be constructed; another portion of the increase will go to the Tourism Authority because that is what a Georgia State law requires, according to Larry Hanson, city manager.

For a public hearing item, City Engineer for Valdosta, Pat Collins, presented a request to close an alley located between E. Moore St. and E. College St. However, one citizen stood in opposition to the closure, and one stood in favor. Requesting more information, six of the seven councilmen voted to table this item until their next meeting in January.

Jessie Marshall, III requested that the council

 allow his Single-Family Residential (R-6) home to facilitate as a small church in the public hearing portion of the meeting. The church would be located at the 600 block of E. Gordon St.

The facility is an older building, with a small yard that would only provide eight parking spaces, but Planning and Zoning Administrator, Matt Martin, informed the council that the congregation could utilize eight parking spaces on the street without a problem.

The request was approved by a 5-2 vote. Councilmen Sonny Vickers and James Wright opposed the request. During the council comment portion of the meeting, Wright clarified that he does not oppose churches, but excess traffic could become a headache for residents trying to leave for work on Sunday mornings.

Hanson presented a request from the City of Lake Park, asking the City of Valdosta and Lowndes County to provided their licensed building inspectors. The council unanimously approved the request.

The council voted on other pubic hearing items:

• Cynthia McDougle and Theresa Patterson requested a conditional use permit to turn their properties into personal care facilities. McDougle's property is located on the 800 block of Bethune St., and is currently zoned as Single-Family Residential (R-10). The council unanimously approved McDougle's request. Patterson's property is zoned as Residential-Professional (R-P), and it is located on the 100 block of E. Adair St. The council unanimously approved Patterson's request.

• Mac Mackey has requested that the council rezone his 2.2 acre property located on the 100 block of of B Ave. from Manufacturing/Distribution (M-2) to Wholesale Light Industrial (M-1). The council unanimously approved Mackey's request.

At the end of the meeting, Mayor John Gayle and the rest of the council said goodbye to Council member Deidra White and the Chief of Valdosta's Fire Department, J.D. Rice. White did not seek reelection, and Rice is retiring.

Rice has agreed to serve an extra month, until a replacement can be found, but this was his last council meeting as chief.

During the meeting, Rice requested that the council approve an application for two grants from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

One grant is to purchase a 75 foot aerial truck and the other grant will go towards purchasing more protective fire fighting gear.

The council unanimously approved Rice's requests.

In a joking banter Hanson said, “Even as Rice leaves us, he is still trying to buy equipment for his department.” Rice humorously requested that the council construct six new fire stations. Hanson replied, “Chief, sit-down.”

During the manager's comment section, Hanson thanked Rice for his outstanding service to the community, and requested Rice to make a statement.

Rice approached the council, and said that Valdosta is nicknamed “Winnersville,” not only because of the great athletic programs, but also because of its extraordinary citizens.

“We've been blessed to live the dream,” Rice said.

In the final moments of the meeting, Mayor John Gayle and Council members had a special presentation for White because of her service to the community. White received a plaque to commemorate her service, her daughter received a rose, and her son received a mayoral coin during the final moments of the meeting.

The council adjourned into executive session after the regular session to discuss real estate, with no action taken.

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