ST. SIMONS ISLAND — Leaders from across Liberty County will reconvene in a few months to see how much progress has been made on what are seen as three critical topics.
Attendees at this year’s countywide planning workshop chose to focus on water and sewer delivery, mental health care and affordable housing as its three most pressing issues.
Increasing water and sewer capacity is seen as necessary to support development and make the county competitive with its neighbors and beyond. How to bring the varied water and sewer partners together for a more unified plan.
The most important element, leaders agreed, however, is time.
“We’re already behind,” said Trent Long, who presented the topic to the final group. “We are behind the 8-ball.”
Partnerships with other neighboring counties are underway to provide water for parts of Liberty County, which is deemed to be in the Environmental Protection Division’s yellow zone. Counties in red or yellow zones have their groundwater withdrawals limited or restricted. But Long and McIntosh counties are in the green zone, where there are no caps on groundwater withdrawal.
Proposals floated were creation of a water and sewer authority, but that could take years to develop and pass through the General Assembly. An existing water council could be restarted. State and federal governments also look more favorably upon regional approaches to solving such problems.
“We’re closer than people think we are,” Long said.
Water conservation also was noted as being priority.
Some of the biggest obstacles to getting mental health treatment and care to those who need it include the stigmas attached to seeking or needing mental health care, attendees agreed. Also seen as hurdles were community apathy and a lack of training to deal with people in crisis in the criminal justice system.
The 988 crisis line also needs to be updated with a complete list of mental health providers. Addressing the mental health crisis also could help curb the homeless situation and lead to safer communities, attendees agreed.
Liberty Regional Medical Center Tammy Mims pointed out that at Jeff Davis Hospital, she put in a 10-bed behavioral health unit that has stayed full since its opening. It also, she said, has cut down on the size of the homeless population.
Tackling affordable housing may be require a bigger focus on educating potential home buyers — especially informing that the loan they qualify for does not mean necessarily that is how much they can afford to take out in a mortgage.
Leaders welcomed the chance to convene in large groups and discuss topics of interest for the first time in more than two years — and also welcomed the spirit of cooperation between the entities.
“I think this has paid dividends, just for being together in this room and allowing us to network,” said Liberty County Commission Chairman Donald Lovette. “I can’t say enough about this group being responsible and being cordial and working to make this a great community, and if we keep doing that, the best is yet to come.”