published Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

Councilman warns of wellness center flop


by Cliff Hightower

BY THE NUMBERS

$3.5 million: Total projected cost of building a city wellness center on 11th Street

$241,000: Total cost, plus contingency fees, for design of the building

19,000: Projected square footage of the building

Source: City of Chattanooga

Audio clip

City Council meeting - 05/31/2011

Councilman Peter Murphy gave a stern warning to fellow council members and city administration Tuesday concerning a proposed health care facility on 11th Street.

It may not be the best value because no one may use it, he said.

“If the rates of utilization go down at a nice facility, I will say, ‘I told you so,’” he said.

The City Council is set to vote next week on allowing TWH Architects Inc. to design a new city wellness center on 11th Street at the former Chattanooga Gas Co. site. The city expects to pay about $241,000 for the design, which includes a contingency fee. The center will target the city’s current employees and retirees, which number a little over 7,000, officials said.

City officials have said the construction of the proposed 19,000-square-foot facility could cost around $3.5 million.

Council members spent an hour Tuesday hearing from the Personnel Department about how more than $10 million in cost savings from the city’s health plan will help pay for the structure.

But Murphy said he felt the city could possibly be best served placing the center in an area away from a former industrial site. More users means more costs savings, he said.

He called for a study to be conducted to show the 11th Street area would be marketable to city employees.

Donna Kelley, the city’s personnel director, said the majority of employees work close to the proposed location. Comparing an employee health care center to a private organization was mixing apples with oranges.

“We’re not marketing to the populace,” she said.

Councilwoman Carol Berz agreed.

“There’s not a doubt in my mind it should happen, and it should happen at the 11th Street location,” she said.

city avoids annexation trial

The City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday night on three separate ordinances granting a deal to be struck that would annex in three commercial parcels along Highway 58.

The city went through annexation procedures on the properties last year, but the property owners challenged the annexation by filing a lawsuit. City Attorney Mike McMahan said Tuesday the properties were to go to trial next week, but that is now not the case.

The properties instead will be annexed into the city on Dec. 31, 2012, and begin paying property taxes on Jan. 1, 2013, he said.

Bill Reesor, spokesman for Hamilton County Residents Against Annexation, said that still does not deter his group from defending the rest of the lawsuits it has against the city. The owners made their own choice, he said.

“They wanted to settle, so that’s what our attorney is doing,” he said.

CARTA wants to take over enforcement

Tom Dugan, executive director for the Chattanooga Area Regional Transit Authority, proposed to the City Council on Tuesday that his organization take over parking enforcement duties in downtown.

Dugan said CARTA proposes to put a storefront office in downtown where parking violators could pay and appeal fines. He also said CARTA wants to establish an ambassador program where those enforcing parking fines could also be representatives for the city and help educate the public.

He said this would free up police service technicians for other business and he said he thinks his group could do the enforcement cheaper than the city.

“What do you need from us?” Murphy asked.

“There will need to be a change in the code,” Dugan replied.

Council members said they would start looking at changing code regulations at a later date.

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