The Liberty County Commission Thursday unanimously approved drafting a letter of support for the city of Hinesville to annex Fort Stewart’s cantonment area.
Five of the six commissioners and Commission Chairman Donald Lovette were present. District 4 Commissioner Pat Bowen was absent.
Hinesville City Manager Billy Edwards told the commission there were two purposes for the proposed annexation. One reason was to ensure Hinesville continues to receive entitlement funds from the federal government to help provide low-income housing for poor residents. The other is a matter of economic development. When companies are looking for potential locations “the first thing they look at is population numbers,” he said.
Edwards said Hinesville could not count deployed soldiers in its population at the 2010 census. At that time, most of the 3rd Infantry Division was deployed to Iraq.
Edwards said the city last proposed annexing the post’s cantonment area in 1999. Due to security and taxation concerns at the time, the city backed off its annexation bid, the city manager said.
“We’re trying to pick back up and start over,” he said.
Edwards told commissioners the city will receive a similar letter of support from Flemington, and has informally discussed the annexation with Fort Stewart officials. He said the city will soon formally notify the Army of its annexation efforts. In addition, the annexation must be brought before the Georgia General Assembly for approval.
“The city of Hinesville will ask Rep. (Al) Williams to introduce the local legislation necessary for the annexation,” Edwards said.
He said the 4,900 military members who were living on Fort Stewart when the 2010 census was taken would be counted into the city’s population, should the annexation be realized. Hinesville had a population of 33,600 at the time of the census three years ago, according to Edwards.
Commissioners commented that, in actuality, the city is impacted by nearly three times that many soldiers and their families.
Edwards said the proposed annexation would not decrease the county’s population, and Fort Stewart would continue to provide its own fire and police protection. The one exception might be a small area on Gen. Stewart Way, near Button Gwinnett Elementary School, which has concurrent jurisdiction with Fort Stewart and the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office. If annexation goes through, the city could work traffic incidents there, Edwards said.
In other county business Thursday:
• Liberty County Sheriff Steve Sikes raised concerns over parking-lot safety at the Liberty County Justice Center to commissioners. Sikes wants to place security cameras in the Justice Center parking lot so he and his deputies can monitor incidents ranging from fender benders to fights that might erupt after a trial. Security cameras in the parking area were not installed when the building was constructed due to finances, the sheriff said. “We know we have a problem over there,” Sikes said. “We’re going to ask for your help on this.” Sikes said a closed-circuit camera system could be installed at an estimated total cost of $62,456.The cost to install cabling and equipment would be about $30,763, directional boring and conduit installation would be about $24,480 and camera support poles would be $7,890, he said. County officials said they would examine the situation and work on ways to fund such a project.
• County building and licensing department director Paul Zechman offered commissioners a comparison of permits and inspections, from last year to this year. “We’re not gaining any ground, but we’re not losing any, either,” Zechman said. Last year the county performed 422 inspections; this year, there were 444, he said. Last year, 325 business licenses were issued in the county; this year, there were 347, he said. Residential growth in the county was fairly steady, but there was significant growth in the industrial sector, Zechman said. This is primarily due to Firth Rixson’s expansion, according to Zechman. The county also is working with the tax commissioner and tax assessor to collect back taxes on mobile homes, he told commissioners. So far, they’ve collected $150,000, Zechman said.
Members of the Blazing Angels Remote Control Squadron informed commissioners of their plans to hold a Veterans and Angels Fly-in to benefit MWR on Oct. 18-20 at the old airfield off Airport Road. The commission approved drafting a right-of-use agreement for the model-airplane club, contingent on the county attorney’s liability review. Lovette added the group must arrange to have EMS on site during the event. The club must also approach the city of Walthourville for approval, as part of the old airfield is within those city limits.