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City approves budget, OKs annexation
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The Richmond Hill City Council passed its 2018 budget Tuesday night and gave final approval to the annexation of 5,000 acres that will see the city nearly double in size.

The city’s 2018 general fund budget will be nearly $8.6 million, a 6.5 percent increase over 2017. All of the city’s budgets combined total about $20.5 million, including a $7.6 million water and sewer budget.

“We think that is a reasonable scenario considering our growth,” Finance Director Bob Whitmarsh said.

The water and sewer budget increases from $7 million, primarily due to an expected increase of $500,000 in payments and an additional $60,000 in application fees.

The council unanimously approved the annexation, a process that began in October when Raydient Places + Properties, the real estate arm of Rayonier, filed a request. The city is currently about 6,400 acres.

The land abuts the city’s current boundaries along Belfast Keller Road east of I-95 near the Belfast Commerce Centre and also off of Harris Trail near Port Royal Road, extending along Harris Trail to Belfast River Road and down to Belfast Keller Road.

The land will be split into three categories: residential construction, mixed use, and retail and multi-family housing. Plans call for about 9,600 units to be built on just over half of the acreage. About 2,100 acres have been identified as wetlands.

The city also has in place a master development agreement with Raydient Places that covers the financing and costs of water, sewer and road construction within the property. Chief among the road construction will be a connector between Harris Trail and Belfast Keller Road.

“This is in the spirit of infrastructure before development,” City Manager Chris Lovell said. “That is a promise we’ve made to the constituents.”

Lovell also said the agreement calls for Rayonier to donate property in the future if a decision is made to build a new police and/or fire station in the area.

The next city council meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 2 at the Richmond Hill City Center. The move was precipitated due to an expected large turnout as Russ Carpenter will be sworn in as mayor and Johnny Murphy and Tara Baraniak will be sworn in as council members.

Carpenter said Congressman Buddy Carter will be on hand for the ceremony.

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