Fulton mayor says the city will focus on budgeting, beautification in 2014
Mayor Lynette Weatherford said she had some New Year’s resolutions for the City of Fulton.
Last year proved a good one for the county seat, with a slew of new businesses opening and a number of beautification projects being completed or getting within spitting distance of it. It’s a trend the mayor said she hopes to see continue in 2014.
What follows are some of the mayor’s “resolutions” for Fulton, which she believes will help 2014 be among the best in the city’s long history:
* Cut costs; pay bills:
To an extent, this one’s already underway. Weatherford said she hopes to continue finding ways in which the city can save money.
Last year, the board voted in favor of creating a new position for longtime city employee Stacy Smith: City manager. With this new position, Smith helps oversee each of the subset utilities departments’ spending, theoretically helping cut costs by keeping a closer eye on expenditures. Think of Smith as the funnel through which department expenditures must pass, filtering the purchases that might not be immediately essential.
The mayor said the change seems to be paying off, and the city’s various departments have been doing a good job of keeping their budgets in check. Expenses are being cut; people are working together; citywide, processes are being streamlined.
“Everyone is doing their best to conserve,” Weatherford said. “Overall, the employees have really stepped up to contribute to cutting costs.”
Along those same lines, Weatherford said the city will spend at least part of the year whittling down existing expenses before committing to new ones.
“The first of the year will mostly be tying up loose ends,” Weatherford said. “We’ve had so many expenses crop up from the past that we really need to take care of them before moving forward with any future projects.”
Financially, Fulton isn’t in any dire straits. But Weatherford said it’s important to keep a tight rein on the city’s expenses, and there have been some big ones in the past few years. She said she’d like to start paying off some of these before pressing forward with any new major projects.
* Complete the meter reading project:
Speaking of expenses, most notable among Fulton’s heftiest bills comes from the soon-to-be-completed citywide replacement of residential and commercial water meters. While the process of installing these meters is complete, the city is holding back on making final payments to Siemens, who has handled the project, until all the kinks have been worked out.
Since the installation of the meters began in January of last year, those kinks have been somewhat numerous and occasionally sizable. But people have been understanding, Weatherford said.
“We knew there would be errors and adjustments to be made,” she said. So far, that’s a prediction that has proved true. People have been understanding, however, as the city and Siemens engineers work out the kinks in the system.
“This project’s been a monster, but people have been very patient with us,” she said.
Moving into 2014, however, Weatherford said she’d like to see everything up and running smoothly. Once it is, she believes the somewhat painful transition will be worth it. While the project was expensive— a hefty $3.2 million to replace the meters — she believes it will eventually pay off in fewer adjustments and less water lost.
“Every drop of water that runs through these meters is registered,” she said, speaking of the accuracy of the new digital meters. She said city officials can even break down a home’s water usage by the hour, should they so choose.
* Attract new businesses; nurture the existing ones:
Businesses, large and small, are the foundation of any city, and Fulton is on stable ground in that regard.
But despite being happy with the myriad small businesses that opened in 2013 — Weatherford counted six off the top of her head — the mayor said she’d like to see some new large businesses crop up in Fulton, a manufacturing plant or something similar that would help residents searching for employment.
With that in mind, she said it’s important for the city to work together with both Itawamba County supervisors and the staff of the Itawamba County Development Council to bring those kinds of businesses to the area, plus make sure the ones that are already here are doing well.
“All three of us need to work together closely,” she said. “We’re so thrilled with all these new businesses opening up; we want to do everything we can to support them.”
* Make a more beautiful Fulton:
One of the best ways to attract new businesses to the area is to make the area attractive.
“First impressions make a big difference,” she said. “When someone new comes to Fulton and sees how clean our city is and how friendly our people are, they’re much more likely to want to stay here … We want to make that great first impression.”
Thanks to a close working relationship with the non-profit beautification group, The Fulton Community Volunteers, Weatherford believes 2013 was extremely successful in creating a more beautiful Fulton.
“The work of the Fulton Community Volunteers has been tremendous,” the mayor said, adding that she’d like to continue to develop that relationship, which she believes is wholly symbiotic.
While much of the beautification efforts have been focused on the city’s downtown area (for example, the recent creation and soon-to-be-completion of the clock park at the corner of Clifton and Main), she’d like to see those efforts radiate outward in 2014. In particular, she said she’d like to include the entrance into town off Highway 78, creating what she referred to as “a gateway into Fulton.”
Planting several rows of plants, more trees and adding a decorative “welcome to Fulton” sign are very real possibilities, she said.
“I think if we had something unique coming off the highway, it would pull people into Fulton to eat and fill up on gas,” she said.
Although nothing has been finalized, the oft mentioned downtown boulevard project, which will help tie the Tenn-Tom Trails walking track, ICC campus and downtown Fulton together, is still being planned.
“It means so much to have those students from ICC walking up town to eat,” Weatherford said.
* Build better local events:
Finally, for both newcomers and longtime residents alike, Weatherford believes it’s important to continue making Fulton a nicer, more enjoyable place to live not just through aesthetics, but also community-focused events.
This year, the city will be taking over the downtown portion of the Stand By Your Grill BBQ Championship, held in August. This portion of the Kansas City Barbeque Society sanctioned event includes the amateur barbecue competition, the kid-focused Chicken Little competition, the annual charity bike ride hosted by the Itawamba Cruisers, vendors, rides and more. For the past three years, this portion of the event — held in conjunction with the professional competition — has been organized by the ICDC.
The change of hands will allow city officials more control over the event, opening it to more local businesses and vendors.
Similarly, the mayor said city officials are hoping the return of March’s Crappie USA fishing tourney, which almost didn’t make a return after a lackluster first year, will be a big draw for people both inside and outside the city.
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About Adam ArmourAdam Armour has been writing and taking photographs for "The Itawamba County Times" since 2005. His words and pictures have earned 14 Mississippi Press Association Awards, including several "Best of" category recognitions. He has written and independently published one novel and is currently working on a second.
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