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Howard: City eyes continued growth
Kenny Howard
Hinesville City Manager Kenny Howard discusses the city’s growth during a state of the city address at a Chamber luncheon. Photo by Pat Donahue

Hinesville’s growth is continuing, and the city is taking steps to prepare for more people and more commerce, its city manager said.

Speaking to the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce’s Progress Through People luncheon, City Manager Kenny Howard delivered a state of the city address, noting growth isn’t just on the horizon.

The city is averaging 120 new businesses a year for the last five years, he said. Just this year, the city has issued 341 commercial and residential construction permits at a total value of $81.6 million, a 79% increase.

“That is phenomenal growth we are seeing for the city of Hinesville,” he said. “We have to manage that growth. So do we manage that?”

Howard said one of the first things he did upon taking the position was to look at the city’s water capacity and its future needs.

“It seemed like every council meeting they were coming in wanting water and sewer service,” he said. “We conducted an assessment and I did not like the results. The assessment indicated we would reach our limit in five years. That is something that is very frightening to think about with a progressive community.”

With Hinesville and Liberty County in what is called a “yellow zone” for groundwater withdrawal permits, that meant Hinesville had to find a partner in the “green zone,” where withdrawals are not restricted. The city began talks with Long County and after a year and a half of discussions, the two governments have reached an agreement on a well to be built in Long County that will pipe water into Hinesville.

Howard said he hopes work on the new well will begin this coming spring and be finished in fall or winter of next year.

Work on the city’s small business incubator is expected to wrap up soon. The project, with support from the Chamber, the Hinesville Downtown Development Authority, Georgia Southern University and a $750,000 grant from the EDA, will give entrepreneurs a place to find help to grow their business.

“We realized we have a lot of small businesses that need technical assistance,” Howard said. “People retire from the military and they have a craft they are skilled at.”

Another city project, Krebs Park off Airport Road, is close to finishing its first phase.

“This is going to be a wonderful addition to the western side of the city,” Howard said.

Phase one, which has a $1.17 million price tag, is expected to finish next month. The first phase includes basketball courts, tennis courts, and pickleball courts, the last of which were not in the original plans.

“I’ve gotten so many calls,” Howard said. “These guys are serious about pickleball.”

The second phase, which is estimated to cost $950,000 and will start in February, will have a dog park, batting cages, a skate park, exercise stations and playground with special needs equipment, courtesy of the Kiwanis Club.

Howard said the park would not be possible without the generosity of Paul Krebs, who donated five acres for the project.

The city’s new fire station is expected to be ready in April. The 17,000 square foot facility will have five bays for trucks.

Howard said they anticipate demolishing the city’s current station and headquarters along Liberty Street and replacing it with a 5,000 square foot administration building. The city also has been donated land, from the Liberty County Development Authority, for a burn building training facility.

Howard praised the passing of the special local option sales tax extension for helping make those projects reality.

“We realized quickly we cannot do these projects without SPLOST,” he said. “It would be very difficult to build these facilities without SPLOST.”

The city, Liberty County and the other municipalities also reached a deal on how to divide the local option sales tax, or LOST, proceeds. The discussions were amiable between the entities and an agreement was reached without animosity.

“We brought everybody to the table,” Howard said, adding he and county administrator Joey Brown work well together. “We gave up some, the county gave us a rollback on taxes. We have a great group of leaders in this community.”

Howard also pointed out the city has lowered its millage rate from 11.51 to 10.3 over the last eight years. The city also has bolstered its fund balance, a 348% increase since 2016.

The city’s redevelopment of Azalea Street, named the state’s best problem-solving project, has entered its phase 3A, and the city is looking at improvements along South Main Street from General Screven Way to Ralph Quarterman Drive, a $10 million project.

“With all the growth, we have challenges,” Howard said.

Another big ticket item is the expansion of the wastewater facility from 2 million gallons per day to 4 million gallons per day, a projected cost of $26 million. Bids are expected to go out next month, with construction pegged to start in spring and the newly-expanded facility becoming operational in summer 2024.

Howard is especially proud of the work done to make downtown Hinesville more of a destination. He cited the large crowds that turned out for the Chamber’s Food Truck Festival and for the Hinesville for the Holidays, held in and around the newly- renovated Bradwell Park.

“We are excited about what’s going on in downtown,” he said. “We feel we have one of the best, so we want to highlight it. This park deserves to be seen. We are very intentional in what we do with our downtown area.”

The city is bringing back its Small World Festival but is moving it to Bryant Commons, with a March 4 date.

“This will be another major event for our downtown area,” he said. “Fort Stewart is a melting pot. Hinesville will be known for the Small World Festival.”

The credit for the downtown success, Howard said, rests with his staff and the HDDA.

“We do have a great team,” he said. “We are really excited about what’s going on in the city of Hinesville.”

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