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Once Divided, Now United, McRae-Helena Focused on Future, Downtown

April 10, 2015  |  Liz McLean
The McRae-Helena city council and mayor (from left) Joe Thomas, Janeen Tokar, Ronnie Gay,
Mayor Mike Young, City Clerk Greta Davidson, Martha Ann Mullis, Fred Crawford, Mildred Jones.

Only three months into its existence, the recently merged city of McRae-Helena has already overcome numerous obstacles, encountered new challenges and planned for the future. The new city was the product of a potentially devastating problem and a solution created through the cooperation of numerous city officials and employees.

The former city of Helena could no longer manage the city’s wastewater capacity. An agreement with the former city of McRae to take on Helena’s water services would have left Helena with less revenue and providing only two services. After many task force meetings to discuss the seemingly radical idea of a merger, local officials worked with their legislators to introduce House Bill 967, creating the city of McRae-Helena. Gov. Nathan Deal signed the legislation and the new officials were sworn in at a meeting held January 1 at 12:01 a.m. to establish and incorporate the new municipality.

Mayor Mike Young and council members have first worked with engineers to update and improve the wastewater system, the impetus of the merger. A construction project to connect the two systems is currently underway. The wastewater system will be connected and looped to more efficiently utilize both the Land Application System and a nearby creek. A new water tower is also being constructed with a Community Development Block Grant to supplement the current municipal water system.

While the merger has solved the water infrastructure issues, others have arisen. Combining two nearly identical cities has left the administration with the issue of reconciling two software programs into one. Various departments such as Public Works and Police are also restructuring themselves to accommodate a larger employee pool and a more widespread jurisdiction.

The opportunities as a result of this merger, however, outweigh the initial stumbling blocks.

The former cities of McRae and Helena were separate, yet contiguous entities since 1902, only distinguished by a line on a map. “Once divided, now united”—a motto the McRae-Helena Police Department has adopted—aptly summarizes McRae-Helena’s focus on new, present opportunities with emphasis on uniting not only two governments but also the community as a whole.

“When you have two similar governments side by side, they are competing against one another to foster development. Merging the cities together allows the government to be more cohesive and efficient in bringing industry to the area,” said Young.

A single increased population coupled with better access to more resources allows McRae-Helena to better showcase the opportunities industries and businesses could have in the city. Transportation infrastructure, including five major state highways and two intersecting railway systems, provides excellent support for current and future businesses while a unique mix of urban and rural elements can help establish a more diversified economy.

The mayor and council plan to capitalize on these new opportunities to provide more diverse employment and recreational and entertainment options for their community. Young also wants to explore development in the downtown area.

“I think bringing the downtown district of your town alive is really important in terms of economic development because it’s the face of your city,” said Young. “It’s the first thing people see. I have a vision in my three-year term of starting a uniformed trend in the architecture and face of downtown McRae-Helena.”

The first step of accomplishing this goal will be continuing with the second phase of a downtown revitalization project, which will improve lighting and sidewalks to create a more accessible downtown area. At the intersection of highways 341 and 441, downtown McRae-Helena is the central hub of the new city. An improved, vibrant downtown area would suitably reflect the young and promising personality of the new city.