Woodstock City Council members, the mayor, department heads and city staff met Friday and Saturday at Magnolia Hall in Woodstock for the annual government retreat to talk about priorities for the upcoming year and plans for the future.
City officials heard reports from each department head during the two-day retreat that lasted about 10 hours.
Woodstock Fire Chief Dave Soumas gave his report Friday and walked the city officials through his objectives for the next five years.
One of Soumas’ main objectives is to purchase property where Fire Station 3 can be built in the future, he said.
“The components of the five-year plan are: land, station, staff, equipment, new engine and replace an engine,” Soumas said. “It’s based on the ISO (rating).”
Soumas said his plan was built around consistently improving the quality of fire services to residents, while also taking into account the city’s Insurance Services Office rating, which impacts fire insurance rates and helps attract business to the area.
Soumas explained the need to add another staffed fire station in the future to maintain and improve the city’s ISO rating, which represents the city’s firefighting capabilities.
The city has an ISO rating of 3, with 1 being the best and 10 representing no fire protection. Soumas said in order to maintain and improve the rating in the future, the fire services needed to keep up with Woodstock’s growth.
Soumas said he wanted to focus on the Rope Mill Road area as a possible location for Fire Station 3, and said he’s been discussing possible plans with a landowner in the area.
“Hopefully we can work something out to acquire the land by 2014-15,” he said.
Council agreed to make locating and purchasing property for the future fire station a priority in 2014.
The fire department is also budgeted to purchase a new ladder truck this year, and Soumas said going out for bids will be on the agenda for the next council meeting Monday.
The ladder truck is expected to take about a year to be built and delivered, Soumas said.
Woodstock Police Chief Calvin Moss explained to council and city officials the city police department has a high rate of officer resignation, and said not having a competitive salary is “a problem that jumps off the pages.”
While the Woodstock Police Department is a great department, Moss explained, many officers come to Woodstock for training and leave for higher salaries in other jurisdictions after a few years,
“We have 21 officers in the Woodstock Police Department that are currently making $16.02 an hour, with hiring dates as far back as 2007. We’ve got new officers literally hired less than a month ago who are making $16.02 an hour,” Moss explained Saturday.
Moss presented information on other police departments and explained he had funds available to implement a plan immediately and sustain it for the first five months.
Moss presented a three-tier plan that would increase salary depending on the number of years an officer has worked with the department and the level of training the officer received.
Moss said he worked with the city’s chief financial officer to determine the plan would cost an estimated $30,436 annually for the first year, and an additional $10,000 annually the second year.
Compared to the market average of other police departments’ salaries that Woodstock competes with, the salary gaps range from $1,820 to $5,007 depending on rank, Moss said.
City Manager Jeff Moon said staff would begin working with all departments to do salary studies, and would put an item on the agenda for council to vote on the police chief’s plan at the meeting Feb. 10.
Moss also presented the police department’s report for 2013, and said violent crime was down from 2012.
“Last year, I’d say we did very well,” Moss said.
In 2013, Woodstock Police made 1,458 arrests, Moss said. Of those, 230 were drug related and 49 were DUI arrests, he said.
In 2013, there were 1,370 traffic accidents, with 234 involving injuries. Of the accidents last year, Moss said 347 of them happened on Interstate 575.
The city manager said one of his priorities for the year is to consider altering the city’s plans for an amphitheater.
“I think we’re going to have to take a look at the amphitheater and possibly look at some scaling back,” Moon said Friday. “There’s some ways we can scale that back, size- and cost-wise, and yet also still accomplish some of the things that everybody would like.”
Council members agreed scaling back the amphitheater might work better with the land available for the project.
Councilman Chris Casdia said he’d be in favor of a scaled back plan, and Councilman Warren Johnson said he liked the scaled back version, too.
Moon said he thought plans for the new amphitheater should be implemented through a long-term, multi-phase plan.
“The positive comments I’ve heard back are about the site, everybody loves the terracing so let’s do that first,” Moon suggested Saturday. “The second thing is, we know we need bathrooms, permanent bathrooms … We can address the building at a future date.”
The goal of the updated plan would lower costs for the city and decrease the size of the facility, to fit better in the space available, he said.
If the terracing is completed first, Parks and Recreation Director Preston Pooser said the city could continue to put on concerts.
“The best place to live means the best quality of life … People move to cities where there’s good schools and stuff to do,” he said.
Council agreed to work on scaling down the size of the amphitheater and creating a long-term, multi-phase plan, over the course of the year.
Also at the retreat, the council members decided on their priorities for 2014, including: complete exploration of water wells and decide on the next step; change municipal court jurisdictions so officers could attend court locally rather than in Canton; determine the location and purchase land for Fire Station 3; annex Woodstock Middle and Woodstock High schools; develop a long-term, multi-phase plan for the amphitheater; decide on Building B plans; begin a citywide software evaluation; and conduct a salary study of each department.
Council members decided their long-term goals included: completing Phase One of the Arnold Mill-Towne Lake widening project; continuing the grid streets network; adding to the Greenprints trail network; working on sidewalk implementation; determining a plan for Neese Road improvements; and continuing to look into the Arnold Mill Bypass.
The next meeting of the city council will be 7 p.m. Monday at the Chambers at City Center.
Also at the retreat:
• Public Works Director Pat Flood reported he could decrease personnel, and continue to improve service, through reallocating duties;
• IT Director Jim Moore said the city is where it needs to be as far as technology goes, after completing a five-year improvement plan. Moore said there were some things that could be upgraded, but none are immediate needs;
• Director of Economic Development Brian Stockton said the city saw about 137,000 people downtown for various events in 2013;
• Stockton said there were 401 new housing units downtown, and said there could possibly be a hotel coming to the downtown area;
• Community Development Director Jessica Guinn said single-family housing permits were up by 26 percent from 2012 to 2013, and expected the number to continue to rise this year;
• Guinn said 100 of 102 spaces in the Outlet Shoppes are filled, and there are 721 total businesses registered with the city;
• Parks and Recreation Director Preston Pooser said he would like to build a two-mile, paved mountain bike trail at Dupree Park for young children to use, which would be less difficult than existing trails;
• Pooser said the department is looking at adding restrooms to Dupree Park and Rope Mill Park; and
• Pooser said he hopes to make Dupree Park a destination fitness park, and said he is considering options for possibly adding a dog-washing station to Woofstock Park.