GARRETT — Mayor Todd Fiandt concluded 2019 can safely be considered “a pretty good year” for Garrett.
Fiandt offered his State of the City report to a room full of state, county and city officials, department heads and staff Thursday afternoon.
He began his report with a list of infrastructure improvements by department.
• The water department replaced the downtown water lines in the late winter/early spring of last year in what Fiandt referred to a very important undertaking. They also replaced 19 lead service lines and supplied more than 190 million gallons of safe drinking water for residents.
• The wastewater plant kept everything running very efficiently this year again. Fiandt praised their diligence, noting there weren’t any major problems. The department hauled away 1.3 million gallons of sludge for treatment, equating to 368,244 pounds.
• The electric department built a 69-kilovolt delivery point as a backup to the 136-kilovolt north station. In the event that station would go down, the entire load can be transferred to the 69-kilovolt delivery point. A complete rebuild from the west substation to Quincy Street was completed, providing a more reliable main feeder to the outlying circuits to the west and south portions of the system.
The Garrett Electric Utility will be expanding the fiber-optic network connection with Auburn Essential Services, to include residential fiber to the home pilot plan on the south boundaries of Garrett. Of great importance was the city’s decision to purchase electrical power with Wolverine Power Cooperative. “This will keep our rates competitive and consistent power flow,” Fiandt said.
• Garrett’s Streets and Park Department employees have worked incredibly hard this year, he added, hauling 97 loads of compost away along with 280 dump loads of brush. The department abated 11 locations for tall grass, plowed snow in the winter and mowed the city-owned properties, which include the parks. The also removed 20 problem trees, performed seven miles of crack fill on city streets and graded alleys and other streets. During city cleanups in the spring and fall, 12 40-yard dumpsters of debris totaling 21,000 pounds of scrap and trash were collected.
Workers found time to paint the interior of the bathhouse at the city pool, ground and sealed the floor, replaced all bathroom fixtures, caulked the pool floor, secured a contract to re-roof the bathhouse and set a budget for the pool. The pool hosted several events last year, including two teen swims, the first spearheaded by Councilwoman Amanda Charles. An open swim in honor of the Garrett High School alumni was held in July, and a “dive-in” movie featuring the film “Aquaman” was also held. Fiandt reported all of these events were well-attended and thanked all involved, adding special thanks to Brandi Zmyslony and the pool staff.
Police, fire and code enforcement
“The police department has given us a great set of numbers — this will tell you we live in a pretty safe city,” Fiandt said. “For the year 2019, we have had zero murders, zero arsons, zero armed robberies, a 31% decrease in thefts, a 38% decrease in batteries, only one sexual assault.”
Most cities across the state face a drug problem, he said, noting Garrett is among them. To combat this problem, the Garrett Police Department formed a drug task force last year. He noted several drug arrests were made in 2019; “an astonishing total of 296 arrests for illegal drugs here in this city. Good job,” he added.
The Garrett Fire Department reported 476 total calls; 333 for medical assistance and an average response time of just over six minutes. Department members logged 982 hours of training and a children’s education program.
Fiandt also reported positive growth last year, with reports from City Planner Milton Otero showing an increase in permits at the rate of 3.28% over 2018, an increase of 125.3% for permits in residential dwellings, with a five-year total of $14.7 million in industrial projects, an increase of 177.8% over last year, development plans at an increase of 62.3%, one subdivision last year, but a five-year total of five subdivisions.
Street, sidewalk and downtown improvements
Last year, Garrett applied for, and received, two Community Crossings matching grants totaling $415,608. One of the projects selected — the 1100 block of Peters Street — required total reconstruction in a segment that hadn’t been touched since the late 1970s, Fiandt said.
The city spent $32,755 on the 50/50 Sidewalk Improvement Program in 2019. This includes 13 separate sidewalks measuring 806 feet. The seven-year total for this program resulted in 68 sidewalks and 36 Americans with Disabilities Act ramps. This equates to 4,932 feet and a seven-year total of $138,675, Fiandt said, equivalent to a five-foot wide sidewalk from Quincy Street to the former Ort’s South House location on South Randolph Street.
Fiandt said he is personally proud of improvements made to the downtown area, such as replacement of water lines to all installation of new drinking fountains, new streetlights with highly efficient LED lights, new trash cans and matching flower planters, along with benches added the prior year. Later in the summer, the state highway department laid down new asphalt along S.R. 327 through the entire length of the city.
“What a difference in the appearance,” Fiandt said. “Last year, I reported that a portion of this was done with donations, and one organization I feel needs to be pointed out is the VFW. Thank you for your donation.”
Fiandt also noted a new downtown parking lot in the 100 block of South Cowen Street has been paved and striped. “This has helped immensely with the parking for the businesses downtown and is heavily used,” he added. “Twice recently, I have been downtown and could not find a parking spot in this new lot.”
New businesses, events
Last year, more new businesses opened in Garrett, including a new coffee shop, “The Grind,” and The Garrett Discount Store, both in the South House building. Diederich Storage added another facility, Hosler Realty remodeled a downtown building that had been empty for decades and opened in September. “It is so great to see the interest in our city," Fiandt said. "Thank you to all who have invested in Garrett. You all are important to us, and we are glad you are here.”
The year concluded with the annual holiday festival, a brainchild of the DeKalb County Horsemen’s Association. Over the years, the park authority has added events during the festival day including Santa shopping downtown, a chili cook-off, visiting the mayor at City Hall, the Garrett Museum of Art, listening to the show choir and the community band downtown. Santa also watches the lighting of the boulevard lights and city’s Christmas tree, then anchors the parade. After the parade, a free movie with popcorn and pop donated by private individuals is offered at The Silver Screen Cinema.
“Bruce Babbitt opens his theater for this event to finish off the night and set us up in good shape for the holiday season,” the mayor said. “Thank you, Bruce, and your projectionist and staff for doing this for us all. This is why small communities are great to live in, especially Garrett.”
Hopes and dreams for 2020
Fiandt offered a wish list for the coming year, including adding more business and building owners taking advantage of the matching facade grants to update the fronts of buildings. A matching grant up to $10,000 is available.
Plans include upgrades to the city parks, including some new “toys” for the city pool.
“We have great parks, but some TLC is needed,” he said.
Hopes are to have fiber-optic service underway for the residential part of this service. “This takes time, so I ask you to be patient,” Fiandt said. Plans also include installation of new wayfinding signs for points of interest in Garrett, extension of sidewalks to the north and south edges of town, and continued improvement of infrastructure.
“Without this, you just don’t grow as a city,” Fiandt said. “I will construct new welcome signs to our city. Some of these points you’ve heard before as campaign promises. The plan is to fulfill these promises.”
“The City of Garrett is in good shape,” he concluded, “and this is why Garrett is a place to call home.”