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Monday, June 04, 2007

New Cities Make Strides, Hit Snags In First 6 Months

DOUG NURSE The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionPublished on: 06/03/07

Residents of Milton and Johns Creek overwhelmingly voted for cityhood last year. Kick-started Dec. 1, the municipalities have followed similar but not identical tracks.

Milton, population 20,000, is known for its horse farms, mansions and country clubs. Johns Creek, population 63,000, is home to stacked-stone and brick shops, landscaped subdivisions and teeth-grinding traffic.

Both hired Denver-based CH2M Hill-OMI to provide daily services, except for public safety and some top-level administrative positions.

Johns Creek generally has unanimity on its City Council, while Milton's City Council is riven with dissension. It is common to see votes of 4-3 with Mayor Joe Lockwood in the minority. Each city has struggled with a lack of revenue. Milton has a first-year budget of $12 million; Johns Creek, $32 million. To fund operations, they both obtained letters of credit from area banks that will be repaid when tax revenue starts coming in.

Here's a rough scorecard on the cities' first six months.

PUBLIC SAFETY

Milton determined it could provide police and fire services more cheaply on its own than by paying Fulton County to furnish public safety services. The 21-member police department hit the streets on May 1, and the 38-member fire department followed on May 18.
Johns Creek has set Dec. 1 as a target date for starting a police department and February for launching a fire department. In the meantime, it is paying the county to provide fire and police protection.

CODE ENFORCEMENT

Milton code enforcement officers began looking for violations Dec. 22. Since then, they have issued 20 citations and many warnings.
Johns Creek code enforcement officers started cracking down on offenders on Jan. 2. Thus far they have handed out 480 warnings, but no tickets.

MUNICIPAL COURT

Milton started up its municipal court on April 16.
Johns Creek will convene its court for the first time on June 19.

PLANNING COMMISSION

Milton's Planning Commission met for the first time on March 22. Its first case, a small mixed-use project near Crabapple, was heard last week, but it deferred a decision for 30 days.
Johns Creek just swore in its planning commissioners. Their first public hearing will be July 31.
Both cities are preparing to revisit the comprehensive plans inherited from Fulton County. Milton considers itself a pastoral refuge and must balance protecting the rural flavor of the city with development. Johns Creek is about 85 percent developed and must decide what to do with the remaining 15 percent and where to pursue redevelopment.

PARKS AND RECREATION

Both cities suffer from a shortage of parks, with only three apiece, but Milton has one that's off limits until Fulton County resolves lingering pollution issues.
The cities maintain the park facilities but allow private nonprofit organizations to run the various programs at the facilities.

Johns Creek officials are negotiating with some property owners to gain access to raw land for green space. They are mum about where and how much land is involved. Rogers Bridge Trail, a two-mile bike path from the Chattahoochee River to McGinnis Ferry Road, recently opened in the city.

Milton has a citizen committee working on a plan for connecting various parts of the city with bike paths and walking trails. A report should be presented to the City Council this month.

ADULT ENTERTAINMENT AND SIGN ORDINANCES

Johns Creek has the dubious distinction of being in the sights of the two most litigious industries in the country: adult entertainment and billboard companies. The city is in an ongoing legal dispute with the Love Shack, located in the heart of the city. Within two weeks of cityhood, Covenant Media, which owns one billboard there, sued to get the city sign ordinance thrown out.
Covenant Media also sued Milton. Milton also had a long, contentious debate about whether to impose restrictive regulations countywide, including in the commercial district. In the end, the more draconian measures were watered down.

TRANSPORTATION

Johns Creek had its roads surveyed and found it may face up to $14 million in resurfacing needs alone.

Milton is trying to find ways to handle the traffic expected to pour in from new subdivisions in neighboring counties. Many residents also are urging the council to protect their gravel roads. City officials will ask the Sizemore Group, which is developing in Crabapple, to come up with ways to alleviate congestion in the southern part of the city.

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