Lula gained two new members on its city council last week, giving the city a full six-person governing board for the first time since March.
New council members Tony Cornett and Chip Horst took their oaths of office Nov. 21.
Prior to Cornett and Horst, Lula City Council consisted of Denise Shockley, Gene Bramlett, Garrett Smith, and Mayor Joe Thomas.
The low numbers on the city council had required any item to receive unanimous approval to pass for lack of quorum in the city of nearly 3,000 people.
Cornett, representing District 1, is a cyber security professional. He defeated Gainesville attorney Mike Hinton in the Nov. 8 election with 59% of the vote to Hinton’s 41%.
Horst, a field service mechanic, ran unopposed for Lula’s District 5 seat and was sworn-in alongside Cornett earlier this month.
Cornett said he will work to “strengthen Lula’s commitment to small business” through more direct lines of communication with the public, to identify needs like infrastructure and utility improvements, promote development, address pedestrian traffic concerns and provide guidance for regulatory and compliance matters.
Horst identified two priorities after taking the District 5 council seat, one of which involves the city’s code enforcement and building codes – a recent subject of controversy in Lula after Mayor Joe Thomas and Councilman Gene Bramlett were accused in a 45-page investigation of targeting residents through Code Enforcement Officer Doug Forrester.
Horst said he’ll likely oppose an item the city’s looking to adopt in the coming weeks. The item, if approved, would impose higher (up to $500) fines on residents cited for code violations. Horst said he’d instead look to reform the building code ordinance as a whole.
“I want to make sure those building codes represent the area we live in,” Horst said. “That they didn’t get those codes from some larger city that doesn’t apply to us or shouldn’t apply to us…they’re wanting to have people get a permit to build a detached shed that has no power or water – I don’t think that’s necessary.”
Horst said he believes $500 for a single code violation would be an unreasonable amount for residents to pay.
“They seem a little bit too steep for a resident,” he said. “It’s something I want to make sure we give some thought to.”
Cornett, who motioned to table the proposed hike in code enforcement fines, also identified an overhaul of Lula’s building codes and requirements as a core element of his platform.
“On day one…I began drafting an amendment to the proposed adoption of residential building requirements and ordinance. Without delving too deeply into the details, my proposal would remove permit requirements for common structures and be more in line with our local county ordinances that have served the homeowners well,” Cornett said. “This change, if adopted, would reduce what many believe to be an undue financial burden to those wishing to improve their residence. In a time of significant cost inflation, the last thing we need to be doing is discouraging homeowners from spending their own money to better their lives.”
Outlining his second priority, Horst said he’s eying the city’s “outdated billing system” for water and sewer utilities.
Horst said the only methods for paying water/sewer bills is either by delivering a payment to city hall or through an outsourced website, which he described as an inconvenience to residents.
“When you go to the website, you have to put all your information in every single time,” Horst said. “It doesn’t save your account number. It doesn’t save your personal information. It doesn’t save your banking information…we’re coming up on 2023, it’s a bit cumbersome considering we have better technology out there.”
Horst said he believes the city should create a payment site that can be “accessed through the City of Lula webpage” or through an application on a phone.
“Just make it a lot easier, a lot quicker and possibly, in the long run, save us some money doing so,” Horst said.