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Richmond Hill budget set at $13.7 million
Officials also discuss potential new restaurants, including Cracker Barrel
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The approval of the 2008 city budget and the arrival of several new restaurants were among the items on the agenda of the Dec. 4 meeting of the Richmond Hill City Council.

For the first time, the Richmond Hill city budget has surpassed the $10 million mark. The budget for the coming year totals $13,776,859.

"We have a nice reserve balance that would fund six months of operation, which is the tell-tale sign of a very healthy financial status for the city of Richmond Hill," city Finance Director Bob Whitmarsh said. "The city has been growing at an above average rate in comparison to most Georgia cities which has helped get us to this point. With businesses such as the larger Kroger coming soon and the new Publix, the commercial activity has helped tax revenue as well. This solid balance of residential and commercial tax revenue in the city that has helped us avoid raising the millage rate."

Here is a breakdown of the 2008 budget:

- General fund $7,435,000; this includes a wide variety of expenses including salaries of city employees, maintenance and utilities of city facilities and maintenance of city vehicles.

- Water and sewer $3,245,000; includes the OMI contract, expenses of wastewater treatment plant and equipment.

- Conference center fund $1,854,144; funds set aside for the construction and enhancement of the upcoming facility.

- Capital improvements $1,001,500; includes revenue from SPLOST and grants to fund things such as park improvements, the amphitheater in J.F. Gregory Park and the engineering study for a new fire station.

- Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB) $199,215; funds set aside for the group to advertise and market the city as well as $12,000 in expenses for the Welcome Center, also known as the Historical Society Museum.

- Confiscated assets $42,000; based on money seized by the Richmond Hill Police Department, to be spent on RHPD equipment.

Also discussed at the meeting were the fact that two restaurants, a steakhouse and an Asian restaurant, are definitely coming to Richmond Hill while a third restaurant, Cracker Barrel, is negotiating a deal to build a restaurant adjacent to the McDonald’s on Hwy. 17, where a dilapidated gas station currently stands.

Property owner Gary Dodd, who also owns the McDonald’s, was granted approval for site plans for the proposed Cracker Barrel site, which is also slated to include a retail/office/commercial complex a bit further down the tract. Even further down is the proposed future site of a hotel, which local hotel entrepreneur Kenny Patel has shown interest in according to construction contractor Billy Muse.

Muse said negotiations are strong with Cracker Barrel with hopes of the chain signing a contract over the next several months. He said the one on Hwy. 204 is one of the chain’s most popular locations and the one off the Pooler I-95 exit does almost as well. He said the upcoming hotels that are slated to pop up around the tract have created a dynamic that is attractive to the chain: 1,000 available hotel rooms.

"Cracker Barrel is one of my favorite places to eat," said Richmond Hill Mayor Richard Davis. "Each location is consistent in high quality and that would certainly be an asset to Richmond Hill. Having more restaurants gives residents more options and, especially around the interchange, draws tourists to stop here which brings more tax money into the city."

Motions for the other restaurants included approvals of a liquor licenses for Asia, an Asian cuisine restaurant in the Publix shopping center, and Black Angus Steakhouse, also near McDonald’s on 17 – where the old 3Js restaurant was. Black Angus owner Christopher Chauvenne said his restaurant is slated to have a fine selection of porterhouses, rib eyes, filet mignons and seafood.

In other business:

- During his invocation, Davis thanked outgoing councilman Billy Albritton while wishing the best for newly elected council person Marilyn Hodges.

-Davis officially welcomed back city manager Mike Melton, who had been hospitalized recently after suffering a heart attack. He said he is forcing Melton to work half days since his return and is grateful for his hard work and dedication.

- Council person JoAnn Bickley’s name was added to a panel that is to meet to review potential contractors in consideration of building the Richmond Hill Conference Center at the rear of J.F. Gregory Park. Also on the panel is Melton and members of both the consulting group that was hired to look into the project and the architectural firm Dawson-Wissmach. The result will be presentation of the final contractor to council on Jan. 8, to be voted on for the go-ahead to start work.

- The first reading of a revised version of the list of approved streets for the motorized carts ordinance took place. The revision included the allowance of carts in J.F. Gregory Park and on Harris Trail Road and Timber Trail Road. Another reading will be held at the next meeting.

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