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Posted on: May 31, 2021

Gainesville: the City departments behind its success

Editor’s Note: To celebrate the City of Gainesville turning 200 years old on Nov. 30, 2021, Gainesville Georgia Government is sharing interesting highlights from its centuries-old history. This is the sixth installment in a series, which will be featured monthly through November 2021 on gainesville.org and social media. For May, we present to you information spotlighting each of Gainesville's hardworking departments and their most recent accomplishments. Some information featured was previously shared in Mayor Danny Dunagan's 2021 State of the City Address.

GAINESVILLE, Ga. (May 31, 2021) – The City of Gainesville has made quite the name for itself since it was established 200 years ago in 1821 as "Mule Camp Springs".

Ten-plus departments, 50 divisions and 800-plus full-time and part-time employees serve on the team for making visions realities in this close-knit community. Their mission: “To enrich the community of Gainesville by practicing good stewardship of resources, and providing innovative and excellent services to all people."

City Manager’s Office

Since the 2010 Census, Gainesville’s population has grown from 35,000 people to well over 43,000. In the daytime, the City's population swells to 150,000-plus – proof Gainesville serves as one of the top destinations in which to live, work, learn and play, thanks in part to City leadership.

Bryan Lackey and Angela Sheppard serve as Gainesville City manager and assistant City manager, respectively. As City manager, it's Lackey's responsibility to implement policies and services adopted by the Gainesville City Council.

In March, it was announced Gainesville again made the Milken Institute’s 2021 Best-Performing Cities index. The City took the No. 9 spot on the Top 13 Small Cities list, joined by municipalities in Alabama, Florida and Oregon, among others. In 2020, Site Selection magazine named Gainesville-Hall County one of the top Small Metros in the nation for job creation and investment. Similarly, Forbes Magazine has rated Gainesville-Hall County one of the “Best Small Places for Business & Careers” for the last six years. It’s titles such as these that confirm forward-thinking efforts to attract growth, but with citizens’ wellbeing in mind, continues to pay off.

The Georgia Municipal Association also determined in January the City of Gainesville met the qualifications to be recertified as a Georgia Certified City of Ethics. Designations such as these are important reminders of the City's commitment to exceptional service and to the people of Gainesville.

Chattahoochee Golf Club

Designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. on the banks of Lake Lanier, Chattahoochee Golf Club has been one of the premier public golf courses in North Georgia since 1960. Built on 183 acres of rolling farmland, the course design allows for easy walking, and is enjoyable for both scratch and high-handicap golfers.

In 2020, even at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the facility saw overwhelming success with 32,000-plus rounds of golf played – up more than 6,000 from 2019 – to include tournaments, club events, charity fundraisers and junior tournaments.

To better accommodate these players, renovations by course architect Bill Berginare are underway, which include the construction of three new golf holes and the restoration of the original Robert Trent Jones Sr. par 3 Signature Hole. Plans also call for the re-contouring of existing greens, which will be converted from Bentgrass to Tifeagle Bermuda. On the horizon, The City hopes to coordinate with the USGA rating team to re-rate the golf course prior to opening; and reverse the nines, changing hole 10 to hole 1.

The course closed in early May for renovations and is scheduled to reopen in early September, depending on weather.

Community & Economic Development

The Gainesville Community & Economic Development Department serves as a liaison between the public and City government, and is comprised of four separate divisions: Code Enforcement, Housing and Neighborhood Development, Building Inspection Services and Planning. There’s no disputing the Gainesville cityscape is changing in ways we’ve never seen before, and each of these divisions play an important role in the overall growth of the community.

Last year, the City realized a dream years in the making. With the September 2020 groundbreaking of Solis Gainesville on the former City View site, what was referred to as the “bridge to nowhere” finally became a bridge to somewhere. Site work began a year after the City announced it was partnering with developer Terwilliger Pappas to create a multi-use project across the pedestrian bridge, a critical piece connecting Midtown to historic downtown. Upon its completion, Solis Gainesville will feature 220 multi-family residential units and 10,000 square feet of retail. Additionally, the project will provide public gathering space and an important connection to the Highlands to Islands Trail.

The City began designing the final Highlands to Islands Trail connection – a 2.5-mile segment – in 2020. Once complete, there will be an 8-mile trail for walking, running and cycling that will take citizens and visitors from Longwood Park all the way to the University of North Georgia Gainesville campus.

Adding to the economic development excitement is Gainesville Renaissance, which also broke ground last September on the fourth side of the square. Like Solis, Gainesville Renaissance will be a feather in the City’s cap. The mixed-use development will feature 15,000 square feet of retail space, 15,000 square feet of office space, eight condominiums and a pocket park. Having replaced a rundown parking lot, Renaissance will not only add beauty to downtown, but function – sure to attract even more visitors to local retailers and restaurants.

As Gainesville's existing industrial parks fill up, a new one is needed. The largest business park in Northeast Georgia will be constructed on 1,300 acres of City property surrounding the Allen Creek Soccer Complex. This massive property, which the City’s owned since the ‘90s, has highway connections to interstates 985 and 85. The development of this property will provide access to a beautiful nature trail along the creek for the public to enjoy.

Community Service Center

"Service" is the operative word used to describe this joint department of the City of Gainesville and Hall County Government. Established in 1970, the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center (CSC) was created to assess the need for and coordinate human service programming. CSC programs include: Community Outreach Division, transit services and the Senior Life Center/Meals on Wheels.

Community Outreach Division

The CSC is committed to the overall wellness of the community. By wellness, Gainesville means the physical, mental and spiritual health of our family, friends and neighbors. The project list for the Community Outreach Division varies from year to year depending on the needs of the community.

Transit services

Redefining public transit, WeGo – the City’s new vanpool service – launched in December 2020. By the end of May, WeGo had provided more than 10,000 rides. With WeGo growing in popularity, the City's looking forward to expanding this service into Hall County July 1. Currently, other services also include Dial-A-Ride and Gainesville Connection, though WeGo is expected to replace both services this summer.

Senior Life Center/Meals on Wheels

Activities at the Senior Life Center include health and wellness programs, continuing education, recreation and leisure, and travel events. During the height of the pandemic, the CSC adapted, adjusted its regular methods and – even with limited staff and volunteers – continued regular meal delivery to all 600-plus Meals on Wheels clients. From July 2020 through February 2021, Meals on Wheels and Senior Life Center programs provided nearly 87,000 meals to those in need.

Financial Services

Gainesville has a long-standing commitment to be good stewards of taxpayer money, while providing excellent – and efficient – City services.

Financial Service's mission is to provide a full range of financial services for all City functions in accordance with all legal requirements. The department strives to be responsive to the needs of City government and its constituents while safeguarding and responsibly managing assets and resources.

Thanks to valiant efforts by the Gainesville Financial Services Department, Moody's Investors Service recently upgraded the City of Gainesville's general obligation unlimited tax bond rating from Aa2 to Aa1.

The upgrade to Aa1 reflects the City's strong and stable financial position with sound reserve levels and manageable debt burden. The rating also incorporates the City's large and growing tax base, and resident income and wealth metrics in comparison to similarly rated peers. Gainesville is one of only seven cities in the State of Georgia to achieve this rating from Moody’s Investors Service.

The department continues to win awards for its excellence in financial reporting and budget presentation, and received a clean audit again this year. City taxpayers can rest easy knowing every penny is accounted for and every dollar, well spent.

Fire Department

According to historical documents obtained from library archives, newspaper articles and station logbooks, among other sources, the present Gainesville Fire Department grew out of a volunteer company formed over 130 years ago and was originally known as the Gainesville Hook and Ladder Co. The City of Gainesville apparently had no organized fire suppression service for the first 54 years following its incorporation in 1821. (Find additional history surrounding the fire department here.)

Today, the Gainesville F.D. continues to boast a Class 1 ISO rating, which saves property owners hard-earned money on their insurance bills.

With call volume up 48% since 2009, purchasing new technology, equipment and vehicles remains a top priority to ensure first responders have the tools they need to save lives and protect citizens. Included is “Gainesville Hook and Ladder”, the department’s newest ladder truck. This vehicle, purchased with SPLOST 7 funds, ensures complete aerial coverage for the next 15 years. The new Gainesville Fire Station No. 2 on Cleveland Highway, which the City held a ribbon-cutting for in October 2020, is also up, running and serving citizens.

Though Gainesville is growing, the fire department continues to respond to emergencies in record time. Firefighters and paramedics respond to 70% of calls within 5 minutes. Less than one-fifth of the nation's fire departments meet that benchmark.

Human Resources/Administrative Services

Despite unimaginable challenges brought on by COVID-19, Gainesville staff have remained relentlessly loyal and strong these past 14 months.

The City's 800-plus full-time and part-time employees kept working, whether at home, in remote sites, on modified schedules, etc., all in an effort to keep the community fully functioning through the height of the current health crisis. Even while juggling family illness, kids at home and fear of contracting the virus, Gainesville staff rose to the challenge of enhanced and modified responsibilities – a testament to how much City employees care about the citizens of Gainesville.

Parks & Recreation

In 1924, Gainesvillians couldn't have imagined that in little more than a decade, a multi-funneled tornado would lay waste to their city, and few would have ever believed that one day their friendly old Chattahoochee River would create Lake Sidney Lanier and forever change the community's landscape. What Gainesville citizens did see was the need for a quality recreation program. Two-thirds of the qualified voters approved the move to create what was then and continues to be one of the benchmark parks and recreation programs in Georgia.

Gainesville Parks & Recreation is nationally recognized and for good reason. Locally, the department is known for customer service excellence, quality programming and beautiful facilities.

Despite the effects of the pandemic, Parks & Rec was able to invest $4.1 million in major capital projects, including the Gainesville Skate Park, which opened in June 2020 on High Street; City Park renovations; new park signage; and property acquisition for “The Coop”, a new youth sports complex named for former Director Melvin Cooper.

Last year, Gainesville Parks & Rec was named 2020 Agency of the Year by the Georgia Recreation and Park Association. It was also nationally accredited through CAPRA, a status it has held since 2000. Gainesville Parks & Rec is one of 11 agencies in Georgia to hold that designation, and one of only 183 in the U.S.

Public Works

The Gainesville Public Works Department continues to study methods to improve transportation and traffic conditions within the City. There are three major projects underway to help ease challenges: the Dawsonville Highway corridor improvement project, Green Street improvements and the Jesse Jewell-John W. Morrow Jr. parkway intersection. These projects are all on state highways, and the City and Georgia Department of Transportation are working together toward solutions, with all projects moving forward as we speak.

Several local roadway projects are also moving forward to improve and enhance community streets. The Downtown Streetscape Improvements Project remains underway in the area of the historic square, which will improve the downtown vehicle and pedestrian experience through sidewalk, landscape and infrastructure upgrades. Also in the works is a roundabout at City Park, intended to improve traffic flow and safety, as well as improve the stormwater and utility infrastructure in the area.

In April, ground was broken on the new Gainesville North Parking Deck where the former Turner, Wood & Smith building used to be. This is a SPLOST 8 project that the City's partnered with Hall County Government on to provide better parking for the library and downtown businesses.

Police Department

The mission of the Gainesville Police Department is to provide the highest quality of police services by being a PILLAR (Professionalism, Integrity, Loyalty, Leadership, Accountability, Respect) of the community.

Police Chief Jay Parrish states the No. 1 priority of Gainesville P.D. personnel is service to the citizens of the community. Service is the department's greatest product offered and the City strives daily to make that product the best available anywhere.

Parrish has collaborated with community stakeholders – North Georgia Community Foundation and Northeast Georgia Health System – to place employee mental-health clinicians within the department. Since the first clinician came aboard, the program has been delivering resources to the field to best meet the community’s needs. This new initiative, combined with the police department’s community outreach activities, will serve to reduce crime overall in the City.

Also helping to better serve the Gainesville community will be a new North Precinct on Cleveland Highway. The City expects having more locations will help officers with equipment needs and more efficiently respond to calls.

Speaking of calls, in 2020, Gainesville saw a decline in the number of major crimes reported within City limits. Gainesville P.D. continues to conduct concentrated patrol efforts throughout the City to reduce distracted driving and speeding, and increase officer visibility.

Tourism

The Gainesville Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) was created in 2014 to encourage tourism, attract conventions, support the growth and development of downtown and midtown, and to foster activity resulting in economic impact to the City. It was the Gainesville City Council that expressed a desire to create the CVB, whose purpose is to promote the City of Gainesville as a whole ... as a destination for business and leisure travel, the creation of which was authorized by the Georgia General Assembly during the 2014 session.

Despite being one of the harder-hit departments due to COVID-19, the Gainesville Tourism Department has continued to accomplish great things, beyond expectations for 2020 and 2021.

While many 2020 events were canceled, City staff found new, inventive ways to engage the community, and lift residents and visitors up during a difficult time. Efforts have included Food Truck Fridays, Mutts on Main and modified holiday events, like the Virtual Lighting of the Chicken and Light Up the Town Parade.

Last summer, the park’s new Olympic Ring Plaza was unveiled, as was the news Lake Lanier Olympic Park won the bid to host the 2026 NCAA Women's Rowing Championships. Officials also learned in 2020 Gainesville was chosen to host the 2021 and 2022 Georgia Police & Fire Games, slated for June 20-26 at various locations in Gainesville-Hall County.

Also in the works at Lake Lanier Olympic Park is a new boathouse, so Gainesville can continue providing a lakeside space for the public to gather safely and comfortably. New restroom facilities in the adjacent park are also underway, which will be a major improvement for the tens of thousands of community members who use the beach and picnic facilities each year.

Last but certainly not least, formed in 2020 was the new Greater Gainesville Sports Alliance, a team of sports, hospitality, civic and industry leaders from the community eager and ready to make local sporting events a success – for athletes, teams and spectators. The alliance will market Gainesville as a premier sports and outdoor recreation destination.

Water Resources

The City of Gainesville began supplying water in 1890 from Castleberry Springs on the property known today as the Linwood Nature Preserve. The initial infrastructure included two cisterns and a ground storage standpipe.

The Gainesville Department of Water Resources is the perfect example of not only excellence, but commitment. In 2006, the City's peak year for water usage, we had 43,000 water customers and used 19.8 million gallons of water per day. In 2020, the Gainesville had about 57,000 customers and used less water – 19 million gallons per day. Water use has decreased thanks to the City’s water conservation mindset and water-efficient fixtures.

The department is executing a $400 million capital projects program over the next 10 years, which will maintain existing assets and meet the growing needs of the water and wastewater utility. Projects include adding new and replacement pumping and pipeline infrastructure for the wastewater system. In addition, improvements will be made at all of the water and wastewater treatment facilities.

Gainesville Water Resources also remains focused on protecting the quality of Lake Lanier, the community’s top asset.

In addition to downtown utilities replacement, other recently completed projects include safety improvements to Knickerbocker dam, a new pond adjacent to the Midtown Greenway that will improve water quality in Flat Creek upstream of Lanier, and instrumentation upgrades improving reliability throughout the City’s water and wastewater systems.

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