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Chairman Lovette on coming growth: ‘The challenge is ours’
County Administrator Joey Brown
County Administrator Joey Brown discusses the projects the county has underway during the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce’s Progress Through People luncheon showcasing the state of Liberty County last week. Photo by Pat Donahue

Liberty County and its residents are about to experience growth like it hasn’t seen in decades, if ever, county commission Chairman Donald Lovette said.

Lovette, speaking to the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce’s Progress Through People luncheon Thursday, said developers have told him the county is on the verge of unprecedented growth in the next five years. “The challenge is ours,” he said. “We have work to do, but oh, what a wonderful problem to have.”

Local leaders have been knocking on the doors of state and federal legislators, along with reviewing projections for such things as the special purpose local option sales tax, to look at what funding may be available for immediate and long-term infrastructure needs.

“While we pursue those evasive dollars, the growth still continues,” Lovette said.

Commissioners have yet to approve a fiscal year 2024 budget. The proposed budget is a 16% increase over the FY23 plan.

The county, though, has several projects in the works and close to completion in an effort to be better positioned for the growth that is happening — and what is expected.

“We’ve got a lot going on,” County Administrator

Joey Brown said.

County’s projects underway

The new fire station on Highway 84, which will become the county’s fire services headquarters, likely will be ready early this fall. It is also the last station to be built in countywide fire coverage and is being funded through special local option sales taxes.

The county brought the EMS under its umbrella and a new EMS station on Highway 17 just south of Midway is close to completion.

At the current EMS station, ambulances are not protected from the elements. They will have covered parking at the new station.

“There’s something about leaving a $235,000 unit out in the weather that bothers me,” Brown said.

The current EMS headquarters on South Main Street will be getting more space. Brown said it will have more room for training and administration, which the current building lacks.

Also to open in the next few months will be the Sam Harris Gym at the east end complex.

“I can’t wait for y’all to see that facility to see the blending of the new architecture with its history,” Brown said.

The walking trail at the east end complex also is finished, and the Miller Park renovation also is close to being finished. The pavilion at Miller Park will be done with proceeds from SPLOST 7.

A new health department building, to be built close to the National Guard armory, is in design mode, Brown said. The WIC facility on Fort Stewart will close and move to the new health department once it is built.

Brown said they hope to have the health department building construction out for bid before year’s end.

The road department also is getting a new home, and it also will house mosquito control. Upgrades for the county emergency management agency and 911 centers are in the works as well.

The Highway 38 bypass also is scheduled to put out to bid later this year, Brown added.

“The bypass has been called a lot of things,” he said. “One of the things it has not been called is complete.”

The county has contracted with a firm to conduct traffic studies at the interchange of I-95 and Highway 84. A new overpass is a long-range project, Brown said, and will not happen overnight but the traffic study is the first step.

On the eastern side of the overpass, the county will make Islands Highway a four-lane road for a stretch of around a mile.

The county’s recreation department has grown and serves nearly 3,400 people a year, aside from its summer camps and instructional camps.

“We’ve got one of the most progressive recreation programs for a county our size,” Brown said.

Animal control has become animal services, Brown said, because it also extends information on how to control the animal population.

“Those folks have been a godsend to us,” he said.

Challenges ahead

The county also is working on water lines down Lewis Frasier Road and in the McIntosh area.

But the county as a whole is capped on how much water it can withdraw from the Floridan aquifer “We have got to find a way to serve water, stormwater and wastewater countywide,” Brown said.

The Georgia Forestry Commission also is moving its operations from its site in Midway and in Long County to a new site near the Liberty College and Career Academy.

State funding will be used to build the new forestry location.

“I expect construction at that site to start in the next 60 to 90 days,” Brown said.

One of the biggest challenges the public and private sectors face is workforce, Brown said. Finding personnel for public safety has been an issue, he added, and that is before the expected and planned development begins.

“It’s fixing to get serious,” he said.

Brown said the sales tax collections, the SPLOST and the transportation SPLOST, have been a bright spot.

“Construction costs have gone up, too,” he said.

The chairman also wanted to put to rest a notion he said he runs into frequently around the community.

“The city and the county do not build franchise chicken joints,” Lovette said. “We are happy for the commercial building — so the more chicken joints, the better.”

Chairman Lovette said that tax assessments have gone out, but those are not the final tax bills for property owners. That, he said, will depend on the millage rate to be set, based upon the county’s overall digest.

The county also has several exemptions, including a freeport exemption and another for disabled veterans, for breaks on property values.

“The value does not necessarily mean the bill is going to go up proportionately,” Brown said.

The county’s tax digest will be affected by a jump in the disabled veterans exemption, from $26.7 million to $38.6 million. The freeport exemption total also will be about $89.6 million.

“Freeport only happens if you have business,” Brown said. “So whatever you’re collecting from those businesses is good.”

More and more people also are taking advantage the Kemp-Deloach-Williams Act exemption, will caps property value increases at 3% under reevaluation.

Lovette, who is fond of saying “Liberty County proud,” said the community must define its culture before outside developers, with the anticipated growth, do it themselves.

“Because they’re coming,” Lovette said. “The clock is ticking. The challenge and opportunity are ours.”

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