Monday, March 03, 2008

City Of Mountain Park Runs On Residents Volunteer Labor

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a wonderful article about Mountain Park, GA. It is impressive to see what this little city can do on a shoe string budget. One has to wonder if our residents can learn something here to keep our Milton "unique."

- Tim Enloe;

The city of Mountain Park has learned to be creative. It doesn't have much choice.

How else could a city meet the needs of 540-or-so residents with the funds for only one full-time employee?

The novel solution: Get people to work for free.Don't laugh. The tiny town in the northwest corner of Fulton County has managed to keep afloat with the help of one crucial element —volunteers."We couldn't function any other way," 10-year resident Steve Goldsmith said. "We don't have the budget."

Picking up litter. Surveying roads for repairs. Cleaning and maintaining the town pool. Fighting fires. Repairing homes. Building bridges. Working on dams."I didn't realize how unique we were until I visited with [Johns Creek] Mayor Mike Bodker," newly seated Mayor Jim Still said.

With no commercial tax revenue, and only four city employees —a full-time clerk and three part-timers— residents take on many important tasks done by public employees elsewhere.
"It's a sense of accomplishment," said Gladney Cooper. "And it comes back to you."

In her 15 years living in Mountain Park, Cooper has volunteered as an administrative aide in City Hall, with the Mountain Park Volunteer Fire Department and with the Civic Club.
The level of volunteerism in Mountain Park helps set it apart from its Metro Atlanta neighbors.
"You probably see this a lot less frequently in the Metro area, " said Amy Henderson, spokeswoman for the Georgia Municipal Association."A lot of small towns often have more opportunity to contract with the county to provide some services."

City councilman Frank Baia compared the spirit of cooperation in the town to living in a community in the North Georgia Mountains."Helping out when you're needed in most small towns usually comes from isolation," Baia said. "This comes from tradition."

'It's just what you do'

A day after heavy rains pummeled north Fulton County earlier this month, James Dame and Matthew Cox climbed onto the roof of one of the homes in town.The two, both members of the city's all-volunteer fire department, are part of a half dozen emergency responders dispatched that afternoon to patch a resident's leaky roof."Ben, don't walk backwards when you're on a roof," Fire Chief Jon Reeves shouted from the ground below.

The pair gingerly moved around the roof looking for soft spots that could be giving way to water. Then they put down canvas tarps, held down by sand bags, until professional roofers could make permanent repairs.Volunteer firefighters provide all of the emergency services, and then some.
"We get calls for all kind of things most larger departments wouldn't respond to," Reeves said, referring to the make-shift patch job underway. "We're lucky we're able to do this. If somebody needs us, we're going to help, however we can."

Mountain Park has the only all-volunteer fire department in the Metro area.
The tiny enclave is surrounded on three sides by Roswell to the east, and Cobb and Cherokee counties to the west, and has either automatic-aid or mutual-aid agreements with those nearby communities.

Aside from just giving their time, the members also pitched in to renovate the small firehouse. And they ponied up dollars to purchase an ambulance and an ATV.Karla Reeves, fire department lieutenant and Jon Reeves' wife, said no one hesitates to give of themselves.
"It's just what you do when you live here," she said.

Labor begets more labor

According to a report from the U.S. Labor Department., more than 26 percent of people in the nation volunteered in some capacity between September 2006 and September 2007.
Tallying Mountain Park's volunteer efforts isn't as precise, however."None of us keeps track," said Trish Hill, who built the city's Web site,"We just do what we do."

A non-scientific survey of residents found that most commit to at least 10 hours of volunteer work in a month. Many in the core of leadership, about 30 or so, can spend that much time in a week doing city work.

Jeffrey Johnson is with the Mountain Park Improvement Club, a loose collection of handymen and "hammer jockeys" who volunteer to build and refurbish many of the town's recreational structures.

After the core group devises plans —Johnson is an architect who donates work he would normally charge $75 an hour to do— they solicit help for the jobs.
"We try to bite off chunks of the work over a weekend," he said. "And we use that project to get people excited about the next one."

A recent solicitation on the city's Web site called for volunteers to serve as walk-abouts, surveying the streets and terrain in the city."We had about 18 or 19 people show up last spring, and we used GPS devices to map more than half the city," said Rock Heindel, who organized the project. "We had fun doing it, and I expect the call to go out soon to finish the job."
Johnson admits that sometimes volunteers need a bit more of a nudge to get involved.
"You have to just call people and ask them directly for help," he said.

Mayor Still said to ease the process of finding the best workers for a given job, he is building a database of residents' skills, talents and likes."That way we can better direct the interaction between us and the citizens when we need to get a task done," he said.

Gladney Cooper said that ultimately, the close bond residents share with one another in the small community spurs most to lend a hand when the city calls for help.
"We're neighbors and friends," she said. "You get a great sense of satisfaction, because you know the people on the receiving end."

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