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Athens City Council meets on the Tuesday after Labor Day, Sept. 6, 2022.

Body discusses Outdoor Recreation Council of Appalachia 2023 recreation fee

Athens City Council met on Monday to discuss an ordinance allowing the mayor to pay the 2023 recreation fee to the Outdoor Recreation Council of Appalachia, or ORCA.

The fee of $90,000 comes from Athens' transient guest tax fund and provides ORCA with financial support for the Baileys Trail System and other recreational activities. 

Councilmember Solveig Spjeldnes, D-1st Ward, said that while she favors paying the membership dues, she wants to know if ORCA will begin looking at metrics that will measure economic development and the program's actual impact on the economy. 

Spjeldnes proposed an amendment to the ordinance requiring the team to gather metrics. Those metrics would be the annual overall trail users as well as at least two other metrics, such as local lodging or restaurant tax receipts, to demonstrate the impact of the usage of the trail on the economy. 

Councilmember Sarah Grace, D-At Large, said that although she agrees with the need for reporting, feedback and accountability, the members of Council may not fully understand the cost of that amendment to ORCA. 

Rob Delach, a resident of the city of Athens, said he believes the amendment requiring ORCA to gather metrics is unnecessary at this point in time. 

"My recollection is the original development timeline for the system was that in seven years, there would be a study done because at that point, the system would be in place and you could actually conduct a study to get some kind of results," Delach said. "I'd like to encourage you not to put these requirements in here yet." 

The body voted on the amendment, which failed in a vote of 5-2. The ordinance will be read for a third time and voted on at the next regular session. 

Council also discussed an ordinance amending the Athens Fire Department's 2023 staffing levels. 

Councilmember Sam Crowl, D-3rd Ward, said the fire department received a grant to fund 2 1/2 firefighters for two years. Council must amend its staffing levels to incorporate those new firefighters. The ordinance has a sunset clause, meaning the amended staffing levels would last for two years. 

Low staffing has been a consistent battle for Athens firefighters. According to a previous Post report, on days with maximum staff, there are six people on duty, with three people at each fire station. With minimum staff, there are four people on duty, with two people at each station. 

Councilmember Alan Swank, D-4th Ward, said there had been a tremendous increase in overtime since 2011. 

Swank said in 2022, 24 firefighters logged a total of 9,134 hours of overtime. He said it is obvious there is a need for personnel to serve the city of Athens, and the body should consider making the ordinance permanent rather than only two years long. 


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