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Gainesville again talking annexation
Plan to take in all islands was dropped last year after public outcry
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Talk of annexing the unincorporated county islands in the Gainesville city limits returns to the City Council’s table today — albeit not as expansive as before when the council considered annexing all of its islands.

Gainesville’s Planning Director Rusty Ligon will present a list of unincorporated county islands that lie on major entrances to the city — Browns Bridge Road, Thompson Bridge Road, Dawsonville Highway and U.S. 129 North — to the Gainesville City Council at its work session at 9 this morning.

If annexed, the owners of approximately 60 mostly commercial properties could be incorporated into Gainesville’s city limits and its tax base.

City Council members said Wednesday they did not know whether they would move forward with the annexation of those "gateway" islands until hearing the facts from Ligon this morning, but Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Bruner said there are benefits to annexing islands on key entry points into the community.

"One benefit would be a more uniform look as you come into the city on major entrances," Bruner said.

If all the islands on roads entering the city were annexed, the city could regulate the use of those properties and the signs, Bruner said.

Talk of the possible annexation was precipitated by a rezoning request to allow a car dealership on Thompson Bridge Road. Since the property was in the county, city officials had no input on the fate of the request, even though the property was surrounded by the city limits.

"If we don’t have that land in the city, we don’t have any control over it," Bruner said.

Mayor Myrtle Figueras said the benefit of annexing unincorporated county islands always is to clarify boundaries, but said council members would wait to decide how to move forward until hearing from Ligon.

"When you look at the map (Gainesville) does look kind of fingery," Figueras said.

The City Council proposed annexing all unincorporated islands in November, but dropped the idea after hearing from angry property owners who did not want to pay higher taxes in exchange for city services.

The city later came forward with an incentive program for owners of property in the unincorporated islands, offering a waiver of approximately $850 in sewer connection and administrative fees if property owners annex by June 2010. A $500 annexation fee always is waived for unincorporated islands.

Paying just for the trash you toss?

This morning, council members also will hear from a representative of WasteZero, a company that implements a pay-as-you-throw solid waste collection program.

While Bruner said the council is not yet considering moving the city’s trash collection customers to a pay-as-you-throw program, the council is researching opportunities to reduce the operating costs of the city’s Solid Waste division.

"We are going to take a serious look at it to see if it would be a good fit for the city," Bruner said.

Bruner said the pay-as-you-throw program, which charges residents by the amount they throw away each month, would encourage recycling and reduce the amount of waste taken to the landfill.

Local governments in Decatur and Duluth have similar programs and the federal Environmental Protection Agency encouraged similar programs in its spring newsletter as a way to increase recycling and reduce solid waste.

Whether the city moves to a pay-as-you-throw program, Figueras said the city will study multiple ways to make the city’s solid waste fund pay for itself without relying on the city’s tax-fed general fund.

The solid waste fund will be independent of the general fund in fiscal year 2010 if the council gives final approval to a $1.25 monthly increase in residents’ solid waste collection fees.