The proposed budget for the city of Brunswick for the 2019-2020 fiscal year has a lot of good news for city residents. At the top of that list is the millage rage staying at 13.219 for the fourth consecutive year. The sanitation service fee will also be the same.
It also includes pay raises for many city employees, including police and firefighters, and plans to provide a public bus service that could fill a big need for the city.
Unfortunately, not all of the budget plans were good news. Brunswick Mayor Cornell Harvey said something was missing from the budget proposal — funding for the city’s Urban Redevelopment Agency.
Mayor Harvey wants to find $100,000 in the budget for staffing and projects to help the agency in its job to guide redevelopment projects. Harvey said at the meeting that the commission “does nothing for the URA.”
Before the city shells out $100,000 for the URA from a budget that City Manager Jim Drumm already has concerns about being stretched too much, we need the answer to an important question: What is the URA actually doing that benefits Brunswick?
The organization has shown throughout the entire Oglethorpe Conference Center debacle that it does not know some of the basic things about how government works.
Let’s start with URA’s chairman LaRon Bennett asking to be paid more than $12,000 for drafting site plans for the Mary Ross Waterfront Park in an email to city officials last October. The city responded to the request in an email that Georgia law makes it illegal for Bennett, or any other URA member, from financially benefiting from URA projects.
That didn’t stop Bennett from asking the city to hire him as project manager with a salary of $120,000 and an additional $50,000 for an assistant for the conference center project. This request came just days after the city attorney counseled him on the legality of such a request.
Then there’s the entire conference center fiasco. The URA is currently seeking $35,000 for a study to determine the actual cost of the project. Why this step wasn’t taken before asking to borrow $5 million to complete a project that nobody seems to want is still beyond comprehension.
Until the Urban Redevelopment Agency shows it can pull its weight, the city should not risk stretching its budget too thin to support it.