There were many lessons learned during and after Hurricane Matthew last year, Richmond Hill Fire Chief Ralph Catlett told the city council at its meeting March 7.
One of the most important, arguably, was the inability to keep city residents completely up-to-date on weather developments and when it was safe to return to the area and how clean-up efforts were progressing.
The fire chief wants the city council to consider spending $4,400 yearly for a communication system that would go a long way toward addressing those concerns.
The council heard a presentation from Catlett about the notification system, termed Code Red, that could be used to make emergency communication with people who have signed up to participate.
The notification system would give the city the ability to notify residents of any emergencies, including hurricanes, fires, automobile accidents, broken water pipes, etc.
Catlett said the notification would be made via text message, email, etc. and said the system would work similar to the way Amber Alert works. City residents, he said, would sign up to participate in the program. He said during Hurricane Matthew, the only mass notification system available to the city was Facebook and that proved to be useful, but insufficient to reach as many people as necessary.
"The staff and city manager have been working the last few months to put together an after action on the hurricane that we will be briefing you on before hurricane season. One of the areas that keeps stand ing out every time we meet is emergency notification to the citizens of Richmond Hill.
"All they have to do is sign-up for Code Red. They could be at work and say we have a major water line break out here. We could send a mass notification out and they would know about it ahead of time."
The exact details are still being worked out but Catlett said, at the present time, the system would be made available to residents in incorporated Richmond Hill with the possibility of expanding the system to include residents in unincorporated Bryan County in the future. It is possible, Catlett said, to approach the Bryan County government to see if they would agree to participate financially if the program were expanded to non-city residents. No action was taken at the council meeting as the presentation was for information only but Catlett said he would like to move forward as soon as possible.
Residents in the Rushing Street and Ford Avenue area could soon see an upgraded traffic light that will look similar to the recently installed mast arm traffic light at Ford Avenue and Highway 17, and will cost more than $200,000.
The council agreed to take a donation of $28,000 from the company developing the southwest corner of the intersection. The balance of the funds would come from re-allocated special local option sales tax revenues. The funds would include $50,000 originally designated to the city planning and zoning department, $25,000 originally allocated to the fire department and $100,000 originally to be spent by the roads department.
"That’s part of our long term plan to get all our traffic lights on mast arms," Lovell said.
Several council members said that since all South Bryan residents will benefit from the heightened appearance and smoother traffic flow, the county should be approached to see if they would share the project cost.
"There’s no doubt that we have to do the mast arms and beautification programs. It looks great. everybody loves it. Also, the traffic circles at I-95 and Ford Avenue.
"The citizens and businesses of Richmond Hill are funding these programs but yet the unincorporated Richmond Hill, they are getting tremendous benefits from it as well. Yet we have to fund it 100 percent. It’s taken us years to get the money to do these projects...We are all sharing this highway. It’s not like this is our highway," Councilman Johnny Murphy said.
In somewhat related street projects, the council voted to spend almost $350,000 this year to resurface and repair certain streets in the city.
• Repairs to the paved shoulders on Timber Trail Road.
• Resurfacing all of Wildwood, Linwood and Parkwood streets.
• Resurfacing portions of Mimosa, Piercefield Drive and Flint Creek Drive
• In other city money matters, finance director Bob Whitmarsh told the council that he had applied for a $640,055 state sales tax refund on taxes paid on equipment purchased for the recently constructed wastewater treatment plant.
"Over the past several years we have paid taxes on equipment for the wastewater plant. We are eligible for a refund of the sales tax on some of the equipment. We have complied the information and sent it off. Hopefully we will get the refund in 6 to 12 months,"he said.
The council also voted to spend $4,250 on a machine that will be used to destroy illegal drugs seized by the city’s police department.
The drug incinerator will be paid for with SPLOST funds.
The drugs that are being destroyed are fed into the incinerator on a special cartridge. A wood fire is used to burn the drugs.
City Manager Chris Lovell told the council that the police department used to haul seized drugs to a facility to be destroyed but that is no longer possible and the reason the police department was seeking permission to make the purchase.
"So now we will have one in-house to destroy any drugs seized by the department," Lovell said.
The exact location where the drugs would be destroyed was not disclosed during the meeting.
The incinerator is able to destroy methamphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, opiates, heroin paraphernalia and ecstasy, among others.
The incinerator is being purchased from a firm in Illinois. The council voted unanimously to approve the purchase. No timeline was given for the delivery and installation of the new incinerator.
In planning and zoning action, the council:
• Approved of the final plat for Fairway Links at Richmond Hill, a 60-unit townhome project. After an extended discussion, the approval was tied to the developers, Corde Wilson and Robert Flanders, erecting a visual barrier, with appropriate landscaping, to alert drivers to the end of the road and a sudden drop off into a lagoon once they turn into the development. Mayor Harold Fowler said he will not sign the final plat until the visual barrier is installed.
• Approved a building sign for Chatham Orthopaedic at 1203 Gandy Dancer.
• Approved the project entrance sign for Fairways at Ways Station on Sterling Links Way. John Bender, representing the developer, agreed to size and appearance modifications to ensure continuity of subdivision signs in the area.
• Took under consideration a signage program and master plan for the new Richmond Hill Town Center initiative.
• Approved the Downtown Development Authority signage and master plan program. This includes entrance, way finding, decorative, street signs, etc.