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Budget hearing gets loud, unruly
Mayor and council with Sergeants Michael Richardson and Brandon Ziegler.
Sergeant Michael Richardson and Brandon Ziegler were recognized by Mayor Jim Thomas and city council as 'Hinesville Heroes' for their actions during a house fire. Also recognized was Sgt. Jose Lopez for his actions when a man drove his car through the Kroger grocery store.

Thursday’s Hinesville City Council meeting got a little loud and unruly when the floor was turned over to public comments about the 2015 fiscal-year budget.

Hinesville resident Joseph Stewart began with a loud statement about what he claimed he’d read in the Coastal Courier about this year’s proposed budget, and then drifted from one subject to another.

“This budget shortfall has got me bedazzled,” Stewart said, waving his arms in the air. “Someone asked me, ‘Why does the mayor have to take all those trips to Washington?’ But what I want to know is why the mayor and everyone on this council gets $1,100 each for travel expenses.”

He immediately was corrected by Mayor Jim Thomas and several council members that they do not get $1,100 each for travel. He said that’s what he read in the paper. What the Courier article said about the budget was that during the last budget workshop, when general funds revenues and expenditures showed a wide difference, city leaders agreed to cut $1,100 in travel expenses from the budget.

Stewart insisted, though, that that was what he read and asked Thomas how many trips he made to Washington last year.

“Two,” Thomas said. “If you or anyone in this city wants to keep the number oftroops at Fort Stewart where they are now, somebody has to go to Washington to fight for it.”

Stewart mumbled that he was a retired soldier and wasn’t “quite there yet” to say he didn’t care if “Camp” Stewart just went away. Councilman Keith Jenkins told him the majority of sales tax revenues that come into the city come from the military, and it is the mayor’s job to protect the city’s revenues by defending Fort Stewart.

Stewart disagreed and said the money would be better spent fixing up what he called dilapidated neighborhoods. He ranted about what he said were run-down areas in the city, saying the city does not have any appeal to visitors or potential residents because of blighted neighborhoods. He berated city leaders, charging one complaint to another until he was called down by Councilman David Anderson.

“Sir, this is a city council,” Anderson told him. “We have work to do. If you have something to say, you can’t ramble. Make your statement.”

Stewart implied that he understood, then continued venting about whatever subject came to mind. Thomas told him he had to focus on the budget as that was what the public hearing was about. Again, Stewart implied he understood, but went back to ranting on another subject.

At this point, Thomas dropped his gavel and told Stewart his time was up. Stewart said “Thank you” and left chambers.

In other business, the council agreed with the recommendations by the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission to disapprove a request by Derek G. Head for a variance to the required 15-foot setback from a shed to the property line. LCPC planner Gabriele Hartage said the man’s property line to the edge of the shed he wanted to buy was just over 6 inches. She said he had more room for the shed on the other side of his property, but that’s not where he wanted the shed.

Councilman Jason Floyd asked if there were other properties in the neighborhood that did not meet the requirement and if the requirement was added to the city code for public-safety purposes. Hartage said she didn’t know if there were older homes in the neighborhood that failed to meet the requirement, but the requirement ensures emergency personnel have access through a yard in case of emergency.

Council members agreed to a rezoning petition by Aaron Duncan, agent for Afolarin Banjoko, to rezone 1.76 acres at 508 N. Main St. from office institutional to downtown development district. They also approved a renewal of off-premise alcoholic-beverage license for Walmart Superstore and on-premise license for Ruby Tuesday, as well as a special one-day permit to the Hinesville Military Affairs Committee to sell beer and wine during the second annual Veterans Salute on Nov. 1.

The council heard an information item about a memorandum of agreement between the city and the Coastal Regional Commission regarding sharing of GIS database information. The also heard from former Hinesville Downtown Development Authority director Vickie Davis about a feature-length movie that will begin filming in Hinesville next week.

In his remarks, Thomas noted that he, City Manager Billy Edwards and LCPC Executive Director Jeff Ricketson attended a transportation meeting last week in Richmond Hill. He said local leaders are considering another attempt to pass a transportation-special local-option sales tax. This time, even Chatham County leaders support the T-SPLOST, he said.

The last item on the agenda was approval of a resolution authorizing the city to enter into a loan with Georgia Environmental Finance Authority for $10 million to pay for upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant on Fort Stewart. The 20-year loan will be at an interest rate of 1.4 percent.

Council members also agreed to Edwards’ suggestion to delay a vote on the budget until after the Oct. 16 meeting because they still do not have the tax digest to determine total revenues.

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