Columbus tables plans for Courthouse Square improvements

Published 10:14 am Friday, August 29, 2008

The design by Withers and Ravenel would be something more final for the town to work on so council can decide on a final design. The town has already held a public informational meeting and has sought comments from residents who have been invited to write suggestions on draft documents located at town hall and the Polk County Library.

Council member Margaret Metcalf said she has suggested getting people from the public to help with the project and said she doesn&squo;t think the town should rush into this project. At some points Metcalf took audience polls asking people if this should be the town&squo;s top priority right now. She said the town may should keep the project simple and only do some items, such as replace sidewalks.

But Columbus Town Manager Tim Holloman said about 80 percent of the project is the sidewalks and paving. Holloman also said if the town just did sidewalks, an engineering design would still be needed. Regarding funding for the project, Holloman says the plan is for the town to finance the project money from the state Powell Bill fund. No taxes would increase for the project, Holloman said.

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Metcalf said that the town could use the Powell Bill money for some other project and this project may not directly affect taxes. But he said two to three projects later, taxes could be affected because the Powell Bill money was used on this project.

&dquo;I&squo;m not 100 percent sold that this is what Columbus needs,&dquo;Metcalf said. &dquo;We need to take a breather on it.&dquo;

Council member Michael Gage also said he doesn&squo;t want to see the town obtain another loan. He suggested finding another funding source such as fundraising.

Columbus Mayor Kathleen McMillian said she would like&bsp; the town to proceed with the project. The mayor said the town has finished part of the downtown project and anticipates the second phase. She also said Columbus could use some beautification and safety improvements.

The draft designs include options for several improvement items, including features such as arbors, gazebos, planters and a shed over the Womack building as well as new sidewalks and making Courthouse Street one-way. Some options include relocating the doughboy, but town officials have said the doughboy will stay after having heard citizens say they are against the move. A more attractive and inviting area surrounding the doughboy has been discussed.

Columbus resident Kathleen Kent said people she has talked to want to keep the project simple and Columbus should remember that the whole economy is shaky right now. Kent said people she speaks with don&squo;t want the town to incur more debt, but do agree that the sidewalks should be made safer and trees should be replaced.

The town will discuss the issue again next month with consideration of the design fee on the table again.&bsp; Councilman Ricky McCallister was absent last Thursday and other council members said they want to discuss the issue further when he is there.

The town is considering paying about $32,000 total for design and engineering fees. In the loan the town could also include about $45,000 for a dump truck purchase.