The April 11 Reidsville City Council meeting was called to order at 5 p.m., and commotion, raised voices, and confusion caused the meeting to last an hour and forty minutes.
In attendance was Mayor Curtis Colwell, City Attorney Duann Cowart-Davis, City Clerk Nivea Jackson, and councilmembers Donald Prestage, Verdie Williams, and Lindsay Bennett. Minutes of last month’s meeting were not made available to the public.
Crume-Blackshear called into the meeting via phone and told those attending that the city is no longer in the red financially. The city has been open about their financial struggles since the end of 2020.
“We are not rich, but we are not poor,” she said.
Crume-Blackshear is going to provide the council with a financial statement at the start of the meetings, beginning in May. It was also reported that the 2020 audit is expected to be completed “any day now,” according to City Clerk Jackson. The auditors are also working on the 2021 audit.
Property at 165 N Main Street
Attendees at the March council meeting became heated due to discussion over three houses on the same piece of land at 165 N Main Street. This topic was also discussed at the March council meeting.
The property owner was issued a permit to move in a mobile home earlier this year by Reidsville Building Inspector Ronnie Willis. It was determined at the previous meeting that this permit should never have been issued.
“The mobile home is not permissible under the current law. The current code only allows one primary residence per lot,” Cowart-Davis said. “I determine that, in my opinion, this mobile home cannot be. The mobile home could be surveyed out separately, and it would not require procedures of a sub-division.”
The mobile home would need to be moved if it was not able to be surveyed out separately.
“But, as it stands right now, it needs to be moved,” Bennett said.
“Yes, as it stands right now, it needs to be moved or surveyed out,” Cowart-Davis said. “It is not the fact that this is a mobile home. It is the fact that there is more than one residence on one piece of land.”
“What is in the code is what needs to be followed,” Bennett said.
“Now, you are allowed an accessory building, such as a shed or a pool house. I do not think that bringing in a separate mobile home satisfies the criteria of an accessory building. I do think this could be easily resolved by having a surveyor to come out and separate the lots,” Cowart-Davis said.
This recommendation was approved by the council, and the owner of the property will be notified.
This property has upset several of the neighbors. The trailer in question has been described by citizens as unattractive.
At the previous meeting, it was determined that these two additional trailers were not legal and should have never been placed on the property since it goes against the city code.
Zoning is not the issue, according to Cowart-Davis; however, there was some confusion over what class the property is. QPublic.net shows the class as R3-residential. Building Inspector Ronnie Willis, who gave the permit to move in the trailer, says it is R2-two-unit residential. Last meeting, it was said the property is zoned R1-single family residential.
“The information when Ronnie took the job identifies definitions for zones. It provides guidance… and this information is not in our code right now,” Cowart-Davis said.
The current code was read at the March meeting by Bennett and states, “Except for group development, only one principal building in its permitted customary accessory buildings may hereafter be erected or located on any one lot.”
‘Accessory structure’ means a detached subordinate building or structure located on the same site as the dwelling for which it serves. This is not the same as a mobile home (‘trailer’).
The ordinance was adopted in 2012, so any additional properties on one piece of land before then were grandfathered in together.
Now that the newest mobile home has been addressed, the older mobile home which faces Lynntown Road, must be addressed. This mobile home has been said to have been there for three years and it has also been said that it has been there for eight years.
Regardless, when a search is made on qPublic.net, the residence shows the brick building and a prebill mobile home. It also shows a shop or machinery building as an accessory building. Cowart-Davis is also going to look into the second mobile home in question.
Municode needs to be updated
“What is on Municode is not what is in our charter in its entirety,” Jackson said.
Municode, the largest codifier of legal documents for local governments in the U.S., is an online application used by the City of Reidsville. It was mentioned at the meeting that the city’s full charter was not uploaded, only a partial amount, according to the city attorney and clerk.
“The current municode does not specify what definitions of R1, R2, commercial, agricultural, etc. We need to revisit our code,” Cowart-Davis said. “The municode should be uploaded in its entirety. If it is in the book but not online, then the book governs. But, it should be in the book and online.”
It is the responsibility of the city clerk and the attorney to correct this code online. A motion was approved to update Municode with the full, complete charter.
Citizen Faith Freeman recommended that the city make a target date for this to be completed. Cowart-Davis set a 60-day target of completion.
$180,030 in back taxes
The issue of back taxes was discussed, despite it not being on the agenda. Prestage was the councilman who brought up this topic, and he stated that he requested for this to be on the meeting agenda at the previous planning session.
Before discussion, Prestage requested that any city personnel who owe taxes or is related to someone who owes not participate in the discussion. Weighing in on this topic would be a conflict of interest.
Mayor Colwell replied with the request that Prestage not specify names of individuals who owe taxes, and Prestage agreed that he would not.
“I am not going to read names, but if your name is on here or you have relatives on this list, then that is a conflict of interest. I can’t force you to leave,” Prestage said.
City Attorney Cowart-Davis admitted she owed last year’s taxes.
He stated that there is over $180,030 in back taxes, as of April 6. Some of these taxes date back to several years ago.
“The city needs that money to operate… It is not fair to the other taxpayers to foot the bill while other citizens are not paying theirs,” Prestage said. “We talk about where money is going to come from, well here it is. There is interest and penalties and fees on all of that.”
Prestage said he understands not all of these taxes can be recovered, but the city needs to try to pursue these.
Prestage made a motion to hire a firm to pursue these back taxes. After a suggestion from Bennett, he later amended his motion to request the city attorney to gather information on running a tax sale in The Journal Sentinel. This was seconded by Bennett.
Issues with open records requests
Prestage also requested for an item concerning open records requests to be placed on the agenda, which was not. It was discussed, nonetheless.
Prestage has made requests, dated back to October 2021, concerning the council’s emails. Former Mayor Sydney Clifton also has two open records requests that are unfulfilled.
“The city has not been fulfilling this obligation,” Prestage said.
City Clerk Jackson described his requests as a nuisance.
“It is a nuisance to take city officials from their jobs,” Jackson said.
“We have the duty to respond,” Attorney Cowart-Davis said.
“Well, yes,” Jackson said.
Cowart-Davis is going to make sure Clifton’s requests are fulfilled within two weeks from April 11. Jackson is going to work on fulfilling Prestage’s requests but admitted that this would take a very long time. There can be a cost of copies and time spent collecting records, however.
The Georgia Open Records Act is a series of laws guaranteeing the public access to public records of government bodies. Any citizen of the state can request public records and requesters do not have to state a purpose. Once they have been obtained, there is no restriction on how records can be used, and agencies have three days to supply a response. (Open Records Act O.C.G.A. §50-18-70 st seq.