City leaders are working months ahead in preparation for required changes to their districts if an annexation referendum is passed by Liberty County residents in isolated areas on the west side of Hinesville.
Most of the second day of the 2013 city planning workshop focused on how the westside areas proposed for annexation would have their 1,200 voters distributed among the five current council districts if the referendum is passed this November.
Assistant City Attorney Rich Braun on Friday suggested they try to allocate the voters to the district closest to them. Even though the Supreme Court struck down former districting requirements, he suggested the city continue to follow the previous guidelines.
Mayor Jim Thomas, Councilman David Anderson and Councilman Keith Jenkins gathered around a GIS map showing the areas that could be annexed, the number of voters in that area and the closest council district to that area. They found 258 voters that would fall into District 5, 103 in District 4, 837 in District 3 and none in Districts 1 and 2.
That would bring district numbers to 6,707 for District 1; 6,321 for District 2; 7,196 for District 3; 7,137 for District 4; and 7,258 for District 5.
Braun and City Manager Billy Edwards said the numbers added to Districts 4 and 5 were OK, except that 350 more voters would have to go into District 2 in order to keep the required 5 percent ratio between districts.
Edwards said he didn’t expect them to finalize a redistricting plan that day but did ask for their guidance on how they want to proceed with the allocation. Thomas suggested they conduct a two-hour work session, so the leaders agreed to meet Aug. 26 to decide how to best allocate the numbers in a balanced way.
Another issue discussed on day two was how the city might raise revenues without raising taxes. A brainstorming session ensued, and Thomas suggested the city consider funding or in some way attracting a water park, similar to Bulloch County’s Splash in the Boro.
“If we could find some way to create a family oriented recreation activity, it would answer those who say there’s nothing for children and families to do here,” Thomas said. “We don’t want to operate something at a loss, but I think a water park would be very, very popular.”
Jenkins noted that a water park only would be popular during the warmer months of the year. He suggested a family entertainment park with a bowling alley, skating rink, miniature golf and batting cages. Edwards said he didn’t want to sound negative but asked if such enterprises make money, why hasn’t someone else already done it? Thomas then suggested the Hinesville Development Authority conduct a feasibility study first.
“We’re in the process right now of doing a feasibility study for a conference center,” said Assistant City Manager Kenneth Howard, who also is head of the HDA. “We could ask the same consultant to look at a family entertainment center.”
Howard noted the county does an excellent job with sports programs for kids but said not all kids play sports. A feasibility study would include a site analysis to determine whether a proposed area is suitable for such a center, he said.
Councilman Jason Floyd suggested the city consider a green-energy project. Edwards noted recent state laws requiring Georgia Power to decrease its use of oil and coal sources for energy and suggested the city consider partnering with Georgia Power to produce solar energy or “micro-grids.”
The last new issue discussed was the Minority and Women Business Enterprises Policy, an issue submitted by Mayor Pro Tem Charles Frasier, who did not attend the workshop due to recent surgery. Jenkins and Howard told the other leaders what they thought were Frasier’s concerns about the policy, and it was determined they should add the words “professional services” to the purpose and objectives of the M/WBE Program statement.
Much of the discussion, however, related to why so few local minority-owned businesses are certified and thus able to bid on city contracts in accordance with the M/WBE Program. Thomas and Floyd said the major problem for all small businesses right now is getting bonding from banks. Floyd said banks now require personal assets equal to the amount of the bond, which limits many small businesses.
The day concluded with a review of 2012 city planning workshop issues. Most of last year’s 39 issues have been completed or are under way, Edwards said, including the widening of Veterans Parkway.