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City Council talks trail system, Athens beautification, new guns for city police

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Athens City Council. Photo by Zachary Richards

Athens City Council held a committee meeting Monday to discuss funding for the Bailey Trail System, a project designed to create ecotourism and revenue for Athens and surrounding cities.

The trail system would be 88 miles long and cost $12.3 million to build, connecting the Hocking Adena Bikeway, Strouds Run State Park and Sells park.

The city is partnering with Quantified Ventures, an impact investing firm. Seth Brown, a representative from Quantified Ventures, broke down the funding plan for the trail system.

The U.S. Forest Service and local businesses already funded $800,000 toward the project, Brown said. A federal subsidy would pay $2 million, and the city would support $1.2 million,  committing, at minimum, $90,000 a year for 20 years through a tax on tourism.  

To help finance the project, the city of Athens would issue a bond valued at $3.6 million. This financing is designed to mitigate risk to the city if the trail is not as successful as anticipated.

Bailey’s trail success directly correlates to the amount of money the city pays in funding under financing through a tax paid by visitors staying in hotels. The tax would be evaluated for the first seven years of payment. For the next 13 years, the city would pay the amount evaluated at year seven.

“Hypothetically, in year four, if it’s proven that $10,000 is being generated in transient guest tax from visitors that are coming and using the trail system, the city would contribute $100,000 a year not $90,000,” Brown explained. 

To assess the usage of the trail system, the trail would be monitored by trail counters and biannual surveys. Surveyors would interview people on the trail to assess amount of visitors and to build a demographic profile.

Mayor Steve Patterson voiced support for the trail system. 

“I view that for our county, and for our city, another way in which we’re diversifying our economy, and we have to,” Patterson said. “I view this as one way in which we can draw 180 to 300,000 tourists (and) visitors coming here.” 

Councilmember Chris Fahl expressed concerns with the program because she thinks it could create risk for the city and draw money away from other programs in Athens.

“The risk is quite high for the city because they’re going to have a minimum payment, no matter what,” Fahl said. 

City Council also discussed the Uptown Special Improvement District project, financed by property owners for beautification within the area. 

The project is a self imposed fee paid by property owners. To pass the resolution for this project, the city achieved the goal of 60% of property owners signing the resolution, Patterson said. 

The improvement district would stretch from Carpenter to President Street and College to Congress street, excluding the addresses along College and Congress, according to Patterson. 

Examples of beautification projects include decorative benches along Court Street, sidewalk improvements and larger infrastructure improvements, Patterson said. 

The Finance & Personnel Committee briefly heard a request by Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle to change city police’s firearms. 

Pyle wants to switch from .40-caliber Glock pistols to 9 mm pistols because the latter rounds are cheaper. The change would cost the city $10,000, but the councilmembers did not state how much the city will save from the transition.

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