The Feb. 18, County Commission meeting drew a lot of viewers on the County’s Facebook Page as State Representative Al Williams spoke about the proposed casino site in Midway.
Nearly 700 comments were written throughout the meeting primarily opposing the casino, making comments on agenda items and requesting that the County fix the audio that kept cutting in and out.
Williams said he will never gamble but that he has a responsibility to the economic welfare of the district he serves. He said the resort could bring 3,000-5,000 jobs in the industry and additional jobs in construction projects. He said the ripple effect would be that local technical colleges could train the casino workers. He said tax revenue would increase for the County and added that the resort developers are not asking for any abatements, rebates, or freebies from the County. Williams said he spoke with several law enforcement Sheriff’s in areas where a resort was built that reported a decrease in crime not an increase.
He said most of Georgians want to be able to vote on the matter and that vote is what he is fighting for across the state.
Throughout his speech people kept commenting about the negative aspects and environmental impact a casino near the Midway coast could have.
In other business, County Financial Officer Kim McGlothlin presented the end of January report saying many departments are doing well and staying within their budgets.
She said the County received almost a million dollars from sales taxes. SPLOST, T-SPLOST, and E-SPLOST continue to do well she reported. She said SPLOST brought in $999 thousand and T-SPLOT brought in $949 thousand.
As requested by the Commissioners in the past, McGlothlin presented information on certain areas of the current budget that would also impact the following fiscal year’s budget.
McGlothlin reported some additional budget requirements to include $1.09 million for the pension plan, $217,000 to cover the hiring of additional jailers and deputies under newly elected Sheriff Will Bowman. She said the Liberty County Elections Department need roughly $260,000 and that they have exhausted all the funds for their budget for the year.
McGlothlin also reported items that were purchased that had not been budgeted which included $35,000 for the East End HVAC system, $20,000 to replace coils at the Justice Center, $11,000 for work done at the Historical courthouse, $6,000 for HVAC work needed at the Library and $35,000 to replace a fire station vehicle.
McGlothlin also mentioned additional requests that need to be considered such as $230,000 for merits for employees, the purchase of a street sweeper that costs $228,000 and various items requested by Sheriff Bowman, totaling $177,552, to update vehicles and technology.
She said the $2.2 million shortfall can be covered by adjusting some of the current revenues, which she reported were significantly ahead of what the County projected.
Bowman said he needed the additional personnel to ensure the safety of the community. LCSO Chief Max Brown added that many patrol vehicles need to be replaced and police technology upgraded to better serve the community. He reported that additional manpower was needed to reduce response times to calls. He said non-emergencies call average 30–45-minute response times and an emergency call is roughly a 15-minute wait. He said the current average number of deputies assigned to covering 603 square miles each shift is currently four deputies instead of the six they prefer to have. There are seven jailers assigned to each shift at the jail where maximum capacity can reach 300. Brown said Liberty County has 74 sworn officers whereas other counties comparable to Liberty have up to 124.
Bowman added that if the proposed casino is built, they will need even more deputies and that the casino would attract “undesirable,” people to the area. He said the departmental improvements needed and the additional personnel were things that should have already been taken care of due to the consistent growth in the County. He is also working toward getting the department accredited with the state. Bowman said that would open the department up to more grant funding.
Commissioner Gary Gilliard said he understood the Sheriff’s dilemma, but the type of funding Bowman is requesting would likely have to happen over a period of time.