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Commission deadlocks on joining growth group
Hinesville temporarily assumes partnership's lead role
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The Liberty County Commission on Tuesday turned down membership in the growth management organization being planned to help local governments cope with the influx of soldiers to Fort Stewart.
The 3-3 vote was a surprise, because Liberty County had taken the lead in working with the Department of Defense's Office of Economic Adjustment on the project, furnishing meeting space, staff assistance and other support as the Fort Stewart Growth Management Partnership got started.
The partnership would give the all-municipal governments in Bryan, Long, Tattnall and Liberty counties access to a $500,000 grant to be dispersed during a 12- to 18-month period and municipalities would need to jointly provide a 10 percent match.
The matching funds do not have to be monetary, but can be in kind, according to Sonny Timmerman, director of the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission.
The partnership's focus would be to "identify the impacts of the military growth is going to have on all of our communities and what actions need to be taken to address mitigating that growth," Timmerman said.
Liberty County Commission Chairman John McIver, who also chairs the temporary steering committee of the growth panel, was out of the room briefly when the 3-3 vote was taken and thus unable to cast a tie-breaking vote.
"We will bring it up again," McIver said, "I will keep it on the agenda as long as it takes." With all seven commissioners voting, the measure likely will pass, probably at the mid-month meeting set for Aug. 21.
However, some commissioners still have questions. Commissioner Eddie Walden said, "We have not gotten the support we needed from the military. I have never seen a general come into this room to tell us what their plans were or what they needed from us.
"I'm not convinced this is going to work. I can't support it.
This is not Mayberry. We came a long way without it (growth management organization."
Commission Pat Bowen said, "If they're going to collect data to tell us we need more help with our hospital and libraries and roads, I can tell them that right now."
Commissioner Marion Stevens cast the other no vote, saying he had just received the documents and needed time to study them.
The yes votes were cast by commissioners Donald Lovette, Connie Thrift and Pat Bowen.
The city of Hinesville, however, was not split when it decided to participate in the partnership to help more than 10,000 soldiers and families scheduled to arrive in less than two years.
In addition to calling for a motion to sign the memo and resolution, Mayor Jim Thomas asked the council to consider becoming the temporary lead entity in the Fort Stewart Growth Management Partnership until the county reassumes that lead.
Thomas acknowledged that the county may vote again on the issue in a future meeting.
"Unless we keep the momentum going in getting our studies done and our requests for funds in to the Office of Economic Adjustment ... I'm afraid we might get behind," Thomas said. "The federal government will use this study to look at us and see what they can provide."
Councilman Charles Frasier said he had no problem having the city become the lead entity but was concerned about why the county has not taken the lead.
"What we don't want to do, as a body, is give the impression to the military that we're not interested in this," Thomas said.
Councilman Bobby Ryon agreed the city should not wait until the county decides if they want to spearhead the effort and asked if there were in drawbacks in the city taking the lead.
City manager Billy Edwards mentioned other municipalities have already agreed and signed the memo with Liberty County as the lead.
"It's a hoop we have to jump through, but it'll be a relatively minor hoop," Timmerman said.
The Hinesville council unanimously voted to sign the memo and resolution and also agreed to take on the roll of lead entity for now.
The Tattnall County and the city of Riceboro also have signed on with the growth management plan resolution.

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