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Only one person sounds off during city budget hearing
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Only one citizen spoke about the city of Hinesville’s proposed budget for the 2012 fiscal year during Thursday’s public hearing.

John Spradley, one of three candidates for the District 5 seat, asked about several items on the budget, but he did not introduce himself as a candidate or mention his campaign.

The hearing is one of the final steps before the city council votes on the budget during its Thursday, Oct. 20, meeting. The 2012 fiscal year begins Nov. 1.

Spradley began by asking about a $33,352 increase in projected administrative expenditures and whether it was associated with salary raises.

"There are no pay increases, period," City Manager Billy Edwards responded. He explained the items were due to increases in anticipated travel and consulting services.

He mentioned a projected $40,000 in expenditures labeled "travel/miscellaneous."

"Is part of that another trip to St. Simons for a workshop next year?" Spradley asked.

Edwards explained that the figure is an all-encompassing number for combined city travel expenses.

"I see we’re giving China another $20,000 for their consulting firm — I mean, why are we doing that?" Spradley asked, referring to the city’s partnership with Chinese sister-city consultants.

Mayor Jim Thomas, who also is a member of the Liberty County Development Authority board, said the partnership is beneficial for fostering industrial development because many of the companies in the county, including Target, Firth Rixson and Chemtall, also have branches in China.

Spradley also inquired about allotments to the MidCoast Regional Airport, which is funded and governed by the city, the county and the development authority.

Again, Thomas defended the expense and explained that it is another way to entice industry. Before the airport opened in 2007, some prospective businesses chose other counties because of the absence of the airport, he said.

"I don’t own an airplane, the other 30-something-thousand people in Hinesville don’t own airplanes," Spradley said. "We’re not bringing in that much business that it should be costing taxpayers this amount of money."

Spradley also asked about the Bryant Commons project, increased tax-revenue projects, a $66,520 expenditure for Team Hinesville weight lifters and road maintenance.

"Our budget this year is less than it was last year," Edwards said after the meeting. "And last year was less than it was the previous year, so we’re doing lots of things to tighten our belt, and we’re doing more with less."

But Spradley and Edwards agree on one point: Too few citizens are involved in the decision-making process.

"I think more citizens need to get involved, to actually come out and talk at these things," Spradley said. "Basically, what happens is city hall basically (angers) people so much that they don’t want to come here because when you ask questions, you get a kind of ‘blah-blah’ answer.

"If you don’t put your foot forward and attend these things, then don’t sit in the corner and moan and groan about it," he said.

Low attendance at public hearings — whether for budgets or for potential taxes — is nothing new, Edwards said.

"We would like for the public to be more engaged," the city manager said after the meeting. "Without having input from them, we think that we’re doing what they want us to do. And if we’re not, we need to hear it."

Spradley suggested that the timing of the city council meetings, usually 3 p.m. the first and third Thursday of each month, is not accommodating to citizens who have day jobs and that attendance might increase if the meetings were held outside of normal business hours.

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