The state of the county was the focus of Thursday’s Progress Through People Luncheon.
Liberty County Commissioners Chairman Donald Lovette started the address by discussing what makes a community poised for growth. He cited an article that listed three ingredients for growth: an available and prepared workforce, quality education and family-oriented events.
Lovette said the county is doing well in each of these areas. He gave some examples of Liberty’s progress, such as the Liberty College and Career Academy, manufacturing collaboration and different entities that sponsor family events. He added two more criteria to the list of requirements for growth—financial stability and planning for construction of infrastructure.
“You will see that the county has been a good steward of the taxpayers’ dollars,” he said. “I assure you that there’s no fluff in our budget. But what we lack now is the ability to stretch those lean dollars without our SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) dollars.”
Lovette shared testimonies form residents to emphasize that Liberty is on course for growth.
A recent Liberty County High School graduate said he is attending Savannah Technical College to continue his classes in aviation repair that he started at the career academy. The student, Lovette said, has been assured a job with Gulfstream after his coursework completion.
A father shared with Lovette that because “the locals take our progress and potential for granted,” he thought it necessary to share an experience. The man took his children to his hometown in Oklahoma. The purpose was to show the children the contrast between his hometown, which he described as “dead,” versus the “vibrant” Liberty County.
Lovette added that he had a conversation with a successful developer and asked, “What is it that we can do to position ourselves for growth?” The developer replied, “You’re already doing it, just don’t stop.”
“So when asked the question, ‘What is the state of the Liberty County?’ my reply is, ‘We’re on course. We just can’t stop,” Lovette said. “We can’t stop promoting and attracting retailers and industrial clients. We can’t stop promoting tourism. We can’t stop planning for future infrastructure, especially in the unincorporated areas of Liberty County. We can’t stop planning for our countywide fire system. We can’t stop planning for quality health care. We are proud of our progress, but we just can’t stop.”
County Administrator Joey Brown reviewed the budget for fiscal year 2015, talked about the new budget and ongoing construction projects.
The fiscal-year 2016 budget of $27.8 million is expected to be adopted at the next commissioners meeting. It is an increase of slightly more than 3 percent from last year’s spending plan, which was $27 million.
The county will receive proceeds from the state Department of Revenue related to the property tax for new cars. Because of the elimination of the ad valorem tax, the county will be reimbursed for the loss. Brown said that money can help with the lack of SPLOST funding.
Land has been cleared for the new library on Memorial Drive. Brown said the new library will accommodate the community, students from Armstrong Liberty Center and Fort Stewart, which is closing its library facility.
The plans for an animal-control facility, on Pate Rogers Road, are in the final design phase. Funds from SPLOST were set aside for its construction.
Construction bids for a detectives’ office by the jail are scheduled to open in July. Brown said the separate office will create space in the jail facility.
The widening of Highway 119 (Airport Road) is expected to be completed by next year.
“Liberty County sponsored that project, primarily funded with (Georgia Department of Transportation) funds,” Brown said. “It was a great infusion of over $1 million that went in with SPLOST dollars to help this project.”
Brown said there were some concepts proposed for the 119 Freight Connector, also known as the “bypass project.” One alternative route would connect to Highway 84 near Coastal Auto Parts, tie into E.B. Cooper Highway and continue to Barrington Ferry Road.
Construction on the runway extension at the MidCoast Regional Airport will begin in the next few months. It will cost $13 million and take about a year to complete. The extension is through a partnership with Fort Stewart.
“By a local government entity getting involved, it allowed federal dollars from the (Federal Aviation Administration) and state to help fund the project,” Brown said.
Other projects include a revamped county website and Facebook town-hall meetings. Brown said the county’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/libertycounty, will be open at a designated time, to be announced, for questions and department heads will be available to answer.
The event was hosted by the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce at the Performing Arts Center and sponsored by Coldwell Banker Holtzman Realtors. Sybil’s Family Restaurant in Jesup catered the luncheon.