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Halloween, homelessness, re-drawing districts top City issues
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Halloween, homelessness, the City budget, and re-drawing districts were all topics of discussion at the Oct. 7, City of Hinesville City Council meeting.

Mayor Pro-Tempore, Jason Floyd and Council voted to set Halloween trick-or-treating hours from 6-8 p.m. Saturday Oct. 30, in Hinesville. Mayor Allen Brown was absent from the meeting as he recovers from recent surgery. Councilwoman Vicky Nelson was absent due to a death in the family.

Chief Financial Officer Kimberly Ryon presented a budget hearing to the public for the City’s fiscal year 2022 budget of $48,876948.00. The budget, if approved at the next meeting goes into effect Nov. 1.

The budget as presented includes a level millage rate of 10.50 mills. Ryon said the required rollback millage rate would be 10.225 mills which would reduce the City’s revenue by approximately $190,000. The budget includes the salary survey results as discussed during the Aug. 19, Council meeting for the Fire Department, ESG personnel, water and sewer staff and sanitation staff. Certain funds of capital or one-time funds were identified as America Rescue Plan Act grant eligible and moved to the ARPA fund.

The proposed date for the Millage Rate Public Hearings is Thursday, Oct. 14, at noon and at 6 p.m.

Floyd opened the budget hearing to public comment. Hinesville resident, Judy Shippey stood up and spoke sparking an intense discussion about the homeless in the City.

She relayed a personal experience and what she perceived to be a lack of help. Shippey said she came upon a woman who described herself as a nomad. The woman had a bicycle with a small trailer hooked to the back which contained all her possessions. On this rainy day her bicycle broke down and she told Shippey she needed a place to stay for the night. Shippey told the Council she thought it would be an easy problem to remedy.

“As I began to call (agencies for help), I discovered it was not easy at all, but impossible,” she said. “I called everywhere. Some agencies wouldn’t even answer their phones but just put out a string of useless voicemails. The Homeless Prevention Agency assured me that there was no homeless shelter here in Hinesville and the nearest one was in Savannah. They also told me getting any help with them was a lengthy process, with no guarantee of help at all.”

Shippey said she understands that some programs receive funds which are quickly depleted. She said she and a friend got the woman a room for the night at their own expense. They also helped the woman get her bicycle repaired. She said the City must do better adding the employee she spoke with didn’t seem to care.

“We need to adopt an attitude of caring and compassion, regardless of outward appearances and the dangers of COVID,” she said. “We need to put aside our skepticism and judgmentalism toward homeless persons. They are people just like us.”

Councilman Keith Jenkins asked City Manager Kenneth Howard who was handling the homeless community. Howard said they are now fully staffed and they placed Assistant City Manager Ryan Arnold over the Community Development Department which includes the Hinesville Homeless Prevention Program and the Rapid Re-Housing program. Howard pointed to the agenda noting the next matter on the agenda was to approve new grant funding for those programs.

The Council approved the budget resolution and the ratification of the 2021 Balance of State Continuum of Care Renewal Application. The ratification seeks renewal of funding for the Rapid Re-Housing Project, which aims to assist homeless individuals/ families in rapidly securing housing through a combination of rental and/or utility assistance. Once housing is secured, the Homeless Prevention Program merges multiple interventions such as case management, wrap around services, and links to community resources in order to support clients in maintaining permanent stable housing by achieving self-sufficiency.

Councilmembers Diana Reid and Karl Riles requested copies of the number people who have received assistance, how much has been spent and the remaining balance of those funds.

Another topic heavly discussed came after local Attorney Jimmy McDonald presented to Council his proposed process for re-drawing the City’s districts. McDonald recommended Howard and other necessary staff should meet with each Councilmember individually and review the current status of their district. After meeting with them individually, they would re-draw the maps and then meet with Councilmembers all together to review the maps and make changes as needed.

Jenkins said he wants to meet together and was not interested in meeting individually. Other Councilmembers agreed to proceed with the recommendations. According to the 2010 and 2020 Census reports, District one went from a population of 6,753 to 6,212. District two grew from 5,590 to 7,641. District three grew a bit from 6,359 to 6,824. District four grew from 5,915 to 6,856. District five dropped from 8,796 to 7,332.

Arnold informed the Council that phase II of the Hinesville Small Business grants received 38 applicants of which 13 were awarded $5,000 each. There is still $30,000 available. The Council is looking to move forward with phase III but are looking at tweaking the criteria.

The Council approved to change section 2- 50 of the City of Hinesville, Georgia code of ordinances to provide that the term of office of the Mayor Pro Tempore (pro tem) shall be two (2) years. They approved to place several Hinesville Police vehicles into surplus for sale. They approved new and existing alcohol licenses. The Council approved two rezoning petitions one zoning petition and phase five of Independence Settlement.

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