Implementing a transportation special purpose local option sales tax was one of the main topics of discussions as community leaders exchanged ideas at the annual countywide retreat on St. Simons Island last week.
County Administrator Joey Brown and commission chairman Donald Lovette both said the county needs passage of a TSPLOST to begin construction of the long sought Hinesville bypass.
Liberty County voted for TSPLOST a recent election. However at that time the referendum was broken into regions and not individual counties. The coastal region voted down TSPLOST.
Due to recent changes of the legislation, individual counties can move forward with placing TSPLOST referendums on the ballots for the 2020 elections.
Brown said under the new legislation the rate for the TSPLOST could be up to 1 percent and the duration would be five years.
He added that most eligible projects within the county have already been identified in the State Transportation Plan.
Brown said TSPLOST could bring in a little over $40 million which could move the bypass out of the funding and planning stage and toward the start of construction.
Hinesville City councilman Jason Floyd said having the TSPLOST set at 1 percent would mean that Liberty County would have the highest tax bracket inthe state.
TSPLOST was a topic of discussion in last year’s retreat which the group elected to carry over into this year. During the first day several topics were brought up and posted on the wall. Before adjourning three participants voted on three topics, in addition to TSPLOST, that would be the agenda items for the following day’s discussions and action plans.
The topics selected were: creating a master plan for the Liberty County interchanges off I-95, bridging the education gap and creating a unified healthcare group
Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission Director Jeff Ricketson proposed discussing the creation of a master plan for the gateways entrances to Liberty County along I-95, primarily exits 76 and 67.
“I think we are missing an opportunity to focus on the Eastern end and Fort Stewart. We have this economic engine, I-95, running through our county with thousands of cars per day and we are not taking advantage of it,” he said.
Ricketson said the master plan should be more than just adding signs and should be done to welcome more visitors and entice new industries to Trade Port East.
Liberty County NAACP President Graylan Quarterman said leadership created a unified economic development committee at last year’s retreat to talk about growth at the gateways. He said they focused on the signs, but the committee was tasked to look at all areas of growth.
Ricketson said the committee was tasked to focus on growth at all the gateways. However, he thinks the group should focus on the I-95 gateway.
“We have assets in that area of exit 76,” Ricketson said. “We have the city of Midway. We have infrastructure assets, the development authority has infrastructure assets. We’ve got property that is already assembled by just a hand full of property owners. We can do this very easily if we can decide to commit to doing this and get all the people together.”
Liberty Regional Medical Center Director Mike Hester proposed a unified healthcare group to tie together all the healthcare organizations currently available in Liberty County.
“Would it be effective to have some type of health care collaboration?” he asked.
He said bringing those groups together could resolve issues each group faces working independent of each other.
“I know we have all these pieces but right now not a real focused effort to bring these pieces together,” Hester said.
Participants briefly discussed how it would benefit the community by coordinating transportation efforts to and from appointments for dialysis patients, create a better demographic for the state of healthcare in Liberty County and unify resources of services provided.
Former Hinesville Mayor Tom Ratcliffe said he would like to see more focus placed on mental care.
“That system is broken,” he said. “And we don’t have a solution there.”
He added the group should focus on creating health care solutions within the county because solutions aren’t likely to come from Atlanta.
Assistant County Administrator Bob Sprinkel talked about creating workforce housing.
He also mentioned that the county has to look for ways to attract military families into living in the county and not surrounding communities like Richmond Hill and Long County. He said the key component to that is education. He noted the soldiers are using a website to pick where they want to move their families to.
“I happened to be looking at a website and was looking at Liberty County and I saw the grades of our Liberty County Schools,” he said. “They were less than other areas and that (the website) is where our soldiers are going to in order to see where they want to live. Most of them were B’s and C’s. Teachers were rated at C’s and D’s. How do we raise those scores?
That prompted a conversation that wound up being the education gap component the participants voted to address.
Liberty County School Board Chairwoman Lily Baker said a major hurdle is getting parents involved in the education system.
“As we try and move forward we need the people in our community to help us,” she said.
Baker said several board members have met people from other communities who are more involved in the education system.
“We need that because that is what grows the economic growth in your community,” she said. “It is going to take all of us doings things together.”
She said the county has the resources but will need to start thinking out of the box to pull all the programs together.