East-end complex progressing
The Liberty County Community Complex at the site most recently known as the Midway Civic Center now is slated for a mid-July opening, according to County Administrator Joey Brown.
The project is a little more than $5 million and is under budget so far, Brown said. This phase of work will include a swimming pool, playground, library, museum dedicated to the old Liberty County High School, and a cafeteria for meeting space with a serving kitchen. It also will house offices for Keep Liberty Beautiful and some auxiliary services, such as business licenses, building permits and vehicle tags.
District 1 Commissioner Marion Stevens said many people ask him about gym renovations, which have been postponed to a later phase of work due to budget constraints. Also cut during value-engineering were walking trails and a pavilion, but Stevens said the county hopes to find funding in the future.
Liberty County’s fire-protection plan is a hot topic for east-end residents who offered differing views on the matter during a Monday town-hall forum.
District 1 Commissioner Marion Stevens Sr. coordinated the event, which drew more than 50 residents to Dorchester Academy to hear about ongoing county matters.
Under the initial fire plan, the county sought a buy-in from Midway City Council to charge Midway residents with a fire-protection fee to contribute toward operating costs of a paid-force fire station that would serve all residents.
The Midway council, however, has not agreed to the plan, citing a desire to maintain local control and its own volunteer firefighter team.
Liberty County fire coordinator James Ashdown again on Monday made his case.
“Our call volume is so high in this county, our volunteers are not able to cover to every call,” Ashdown said. “We’re running out of volunteers. We don’t have as many people as we did years ago, so we need to move into a paid department.”
Resident Charlie Holm said Colonel’s Island residents already have come together to solve the issue, increasing their ISO rating, which leads to lower home-insurance premiums.
“We have realized that they have saved us more insurance money ...” Holm said. “I know a lot of people down there who tried to figure out what the insurance difference amounted to and try to give them a check for half, so we built that up down there ourselves.”
Holm added that the area has been promised an ambulance but has not received one.
Longtime volunteer firefighter Joe Cannon asked if the county can add a monthly fire-protection assessment that operates like the current solid waste assessment.
“That way, we can start getting some revenue to help man the stations,” Cannon said. “We’ve got to do something.”
County Administrator Joey Brown said that is one of the avenues the county is considering, but there was talk during the 2013 General Assembly about legislation that would prohibit assessments other than property taxes from being added to property-tax collection bills.
“Bryan County has a countywide fire plan,” Commission Chairman Donald Lovette said. “Everybody pays a little piece to have that countywide fire protection — the next county over, everybody shares. What’s that mean? If you live outside one of the cities [now] and you call 911, and you call a volunteer station, guess what — somebody may be there, somebody may not.”
Bryan County started in a manner similar to what Liberty is trying to coordinate, Brown said. “Pretty important to keep in mind is 86 percent of the calls that come into a fire department are not fire related. They’re EMS, they’re first-responder and paramedic-related.”