A majority of the Liberty County Commission changed its collective mind Tuesday and voted to commit $2,000 toward the hiring of a consulting firm that would market the county and its cities to retailers and restaurateurs.
The measure passed with a 4-1 vote, with District 1 Commissioner Marion Stevens Sr. opposed and District 6 Commissioner Eddie Walden abstaining. Commission Chairman Donald Lovette, District 2 Commissioner Justin Frasier, District 3 Commissioner Connie Thrift and District 4 Commissioner Pat Bowen voted to commit the funds. District 5 Commissioner Gary Gilliard was absent.
Board members had tabled a vote on the funding request at their July 18 meeting, stating they needed clarification on the consultant’s draft contract and structure of a retail-strategies advisory board.
Thrift told her fellow commissioners that she had met with the retail-attraction team, on behalf of the commission, to gather more information about the consultant and proposed services. Vicki Davis, executive director of the Hinesville Downtown Development Authority; Anna Chafin, director of marketing and research for the Liberty County Development Authority; and Liberty County Chamber of Commerce CEO Leah Poole make up the retail-attraction team. The team was formed in May, following a countywide planning workshop.
Poole and Chafin made a presentation to the commission to clarify the consultant’s services and the structure of the retail strategies advisory board before the vote was taken.
Poole told commissioners prior to the vote that $21,750 had so far been committed to pay for the one-year $32,000 contract by governmental and business shareholders. The consulting firm, Retail Strategies, based in Birmingham, Ala., would analyze local demographics and markets and estimate residents’ and businesses’ buying patterns to see how much is spent outside the county that could be spent locally. Then, the consultants would use the information to help recruit businesses to Liberty County.
In other county business, commissioners approved two budget amendments to the fiscal year 2013 budget. The first amendment to the sheriff’s department budget would have a “zero net effect,” county finance director Kim McGlothlin told the commission. McGlothlin said the amendment was necessary to accurately reflect several organizational changes and promotions that took place within the sheriff’s department during the year.
“The original 2013 budget was prepared by Keith Moran, former chief deputy, and the changes were implemented just prior to and subsequent of his departure,” she said in an email.
Moran retired from the sheriff’s department on Dec. 31, 2012, after nearly 40 years in law enforcement.
“This was the overall plan implemented by the sheriff to better allocate his personnel resources where they could be most efficient,” McGlothlin explained. “Basically, we needed to move the budgeted amounts for the salary and benefits to where the employees were actually being charged, and not where they were originally budgeted.”
The second amendment was made so the county would “strictly conform” to governmental accounting standards for fund accounting, according to McGlothlin.
“This amendment was to recognize the funding for two capital leases— one for a piece of heavy equipment in the road department, and one for the new voice-over internet phone system,” she said. “In governmental accounting, capital leases are recognized as funding sources and not long-term liabilities. So, this amendment was to gross up revenues and expenditures for the full amount of the lease.”
The total amount for the leases was $295,799.
Commissioners also discussed adopting a minority/woman business-enterprise policy for construction contractors similar to one adopted by the Liberty County Development Authority. The authority’s policy set a 10-percent participation goal for minority-owned businesses and 3 percent for women-owned.
In other business:
• The county approved a special-exception request to allow a massage-therapy business to relocate closer than the required 1,500 foot distance to residentially zoned properties, and allowed two conditional use requests. Commissioners will permit licensed massage therapist Kathrin May to move her business within 200 feet of the First Korean Baptist Church, on the condition that the property owner erect a privacy fence between the business and the church. Church members had opposed the request. The building May leases is off E.G. Miles Parkway. Applicant Marilyn Creech-Harris asked that she be allowed to operate a “fresh-off-the-farm” farmers market on South Coastal Highway 17. That property is zoned general commercial. The second conditional-use request was granted to Varita Kindley, who plans to open a take-out food service business in a mobile unit on East Oglethorpe Highway. That property is zoned agricultural/residential.
• Commissioners presented Liberty County High School’s football team and head coach Kirk Warner the reinstated Commissioners Cup trophy. The county agreed to provide $300 toward reinstating the award, at the request of Ted Harris, on July 18. The trophy goes to whichever local high school — Bradwell Institute or Liberty County High School — wins three consecutive football games against its hometown rival. The next game between the two schools is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30, at LCHS.