The Liberty County Board of Commissioners discussed project proposals for the East End Community Complex and a request for a county marijuana ordinance during its Tuesday meeting.
Officials received six proposals for the overhaul of the former Midway Elementary School site, but each came in over the county’s budget for the project, according to David Holton, vice president of James W. Buckley & Associates architectural firm.
Of the proposals submitted, Pope Construction had both the highest score and the lowest estimated price at $5,955,000, County Administrator Joey Brown said. Factors such as experience, certification, prior projects and pricing determined the scores.
“What we want to do is get permission to move forward and enter into negotiations with this contractor because this is over our established budget and we need to value engineer it to get it back into budget,” Holton said.
The board authorized Holton, Brown and Chairman John McIver to assess modifications that would reduce the price and to negotiate the changes with Pope Construction.
The project includes renovations to the former school site, which the county acquired in a land swap with the Liberty County Board of Education, Brown said. The county gave the former airport site on Airport Road for construction of the Liberty College and Career Academy in exchange for the Midway site, currently known as the Midway Civic Center.
Once complete, the project will include walking trails, a pool, a pavilion, an area for small outdoor events and a community meeting room. It will continue to house Keep Liberty Beautiful, and the county hopes to add some services, such as vehicle registrations and building permits for coastal residents, Brown said.
Officials had planned to award a bid during the Nov. 17 mid-month meeting and for construction to begin in December, but now there may be a minor delay.
The board also discussed a request from State Court Solicitor General Jeffery Osteen to adopt a marijuana ordinance. The request originated with some sheriff’s deputies, who feel it would help them better manage their time on patrol.
Under state statute, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor offense that calls for the deputies to make an arrest. But arrests require deputies to transport suspects to the county jail and book them — a process that may take up to four hours and is not time or gas efficient for those working in eastern parts of the county, Osteen said.
But the proposed ordinance that would allow deputies to write a citation instead and seize the drugs as evidence, Osteen said.
“Therefore, you don’t take a deputy off the road for three to four hours,” he said. “It’s like somebody got a speeding ticket. You just write them a citation and they go to court.”
The commissioners asked how the citation would affect search and seizures and how probable cause would apply.
The suspect still would be required to make a court appearance, and the ordinance would not nullify any state laws, Osteen said. Felony amounts, which are greater than one ounce, still would be treated the same.
“If they seize a pound of cocaine or meth or something like that, they’re going to jail,” Osteen said, adding that Hinesville has a similar ordinance in place. “You’re not changing the law. You’re just giving the deputy another avenue.”
After the meeting, Brown said that the ordinance would not affect sentencing for the offense, adding that “a misdemeanor is still a misdemeanor.”
County Attorney Kelly Davis will review the Hinesville ordinance and draft one for the county for a future vote, Davis said.
David Duke, Georgia Forestry Commission chief ranger for Liberty and Long counties, gave the board an annual fire update.
He said that last year was the second-to-worst year on record for the number of acres burned in the state, and he blamed the blazes on an ongoing drought that began in 2007.
Duke talked about local fires, such as the Terrell Mill Pond fire that burned an estimated 700 acres during the summer. The fire began June 28 with a lightning strike, and Duke had personnel on the scene as recently as Sept. 27.
“I couldn’t swear to you this evening that that fire is 100 percent out,” he said, adding that someone recently alerted him to smoking foliage in the area. He also thanked community members, including Paul Krebs, for their support in helping his four-member crew fight the fire.
In other news:
• The board approved three conditional-use permits for residential lands, allowing one to be used as a day care, one to become a personal care home and another to construct a cell phone tower pending Federal Aviation Administration approval.
• The board also approved a rezoning petition for a parcel adjacent to Revolutions Night Club on Highway 196 that converts the land, less than a quarter acre, from agricultural residential to general commercial district for installation of a billboard.
• The board also approved an agreement with the Georgia Department of Transportation to construct an all-way flashing beacon at the intersection of State Road 119 and Barrington Ferry Road in Riceboro. The city will pay the utility costs for the light, according to correspondence between McIver and Brown.