ST. SIMONS ISLAND — Weekend alcohol sales and building a conference center were among the topics discussed Friday during Hinesville City Council’s retreat.
The council held a two-day planning workshop Thursday and Friday at the Sea Palms Resort and Conference Center.
“I think it went excellent,” Mayor Jim Thomas said of the workshop. “I think the reception by City Council and the answers to the issues that we brought up were excellent. This is our eighth time doing this … and each time we come down here, it’s an opportunity for City Council and the staff to discuss issues we’ve seen over the year and that we need to address and find out a comprehensive way to address it.
“We don’t do anything official here, we do that in City Council meetings,” he added. “But this allows us to look at an issue, research it and then come up with a plan to handle that.”
Getting out of Hinesville for the workshop isn’t about having fun, Thomas said, but allowing City Council members to focus on the issues.
“Focused attention over a compressed period of time without distractions or with limited distractions,” City Manager Billy Edwards said of holding the workshop on St. Simons. “And then the ability to get together in a less-formal environment is part of a relationship-building deal. So I think the relationships that we forge over time are just reinforced and even better when you come away like this and spend some time together.”
On Friday, council members discussed the last 10 items on their 30-item agenda, along with four additional items. Here are a few of the items discussed on the last day:
Weekend alcohol sales
Council members discussed whether it was possible to extend the hours of alcohol sales on Saturday nights from midnight to 2 a.m. Sunday to match the same sale hours from Monday to Friday. The initial concern was more for safety reasons, as residents travel to and from other cities, such as Savannah, in pursuit of alcohol purchases. Expanding the hours also would increase revenue for local businesses. City officials will look into possible changes to the ordinance and present them in 60 days.
Councilman Jason Floyd of District 2 asked Assistant City Manager Kenneth Howard to give an update on the status of building a conference center and family entertainment center in Hinesville. A feasibility study and economic-impact analysis by Georgia Southern University had been conducted in the past for building the centers, and it concluded that the center could be supported by the community. The centers were part of proposed Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax projects, but after SPLOST failed in 2014, the city had to reconsider the funding sources. The continued need to expand meeting spaces and facilities for youth activities was discussed. Howard and others continue to research funding to accomplish the building projects without the use of SPLOST funds.
On Thursday, council members discussed the following topics:
Annexing Fort Stewart’s cantonment area
The council discussed the possibility of annexing Fort Stewart’s cantonment area into the city of Hinesville. The benefits of this include possibly increasing some of the services provided by the city to the post, increasing the tax base and recruitment of retail stores because of the increase to the population of the city. Mayor Jim Thomas said that in general, cities that annex parts of nearby installations see an increase in revenue. The city plans to look into this in the future.
The council also discussed the possibility of having staggered terms for council members because of a concern of continuity. Staggered terms wouldn’t happen for a few years, and elections for part of the council would have to take place every two years. Thomas said it should be up to the voters to decide whether they want to change out everyone in city government at once. Currently, all City Council members hold four-year terms and are up for election at the same time. This is an election year, and it is scheduled to take place Nov. 3.
Half of the $1 million Community Development Block Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that the city is pursuing would go toward a business incubator being proposed for the downtown area, according to Howard. The incubator would be a place for entrepreneurs to jump-start their business dreams with the support of the city. Business owners can rent space in the proposed building, the old Hinesville Bank, at South Main Street and M.L. King Jr. Drive. Statesboro and Georgia Southern University have partnered to develop a business incubator in that city’s downtown area, and Hinesville officials brought it up as a good model to follow. Hinesville officials plan to move forward with a feasibility study to determine whether this is something needed in the city.