The Liberty County commissioners decided Thursday night they needed more information before committing $2,000 toward the hiring of a consulting firm that would market Liberty County and its cities to retailers and restaurateurs.
The commission voted to table the issue for 30-60 days until the consultant’s draft contract and structure of a retail-strategies advisory board could be clarified.
Commission Chairman Donald Lovette and Commissioners Marion Stevens Sr., Justin Frasier, Connie Thrift and Eddie Walden voted to table the funding request. Commissioner Gary Gilliard voted against tabling the issue. Commissioner Pat Bowen was absent.
“I’m 110 percent behind economic development,” Frasier said. “I just need some time to look at this contract.”
Vicki Davis, executive director of the Hinesville Downtown Development Authority, and Anna Chafin, director of marketing and research for the Liberty County Development Authority, requested the funding on behalf of the retail-attraction team. Davis and Chafin serve on the team, along with Liberty County Chamber of Commerce CEO Leah Poole. The team was formed in May following a Liberty Countywide Planning Workshop.
Davis said the team’s recommendation to hire a consultant was guided by input from these annual workshops. Among other issues, community leaders discussed the need to increase sales-tax revenue through development during these workshops, she said. The influx of retail also would improve residents’ quality of life in other ways, Davis explained, such as by shoring up ad valorem taxes and improving infrastructure.
Davis and Chafin asked commissioners to commit funds toward the $32,000 for a year’s contract with Retail Strategies. The Birmingham, Ala.-based firm 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 like Target, they said.
Davis and Chafin said the Hinesville City Council agreed to commit $4,000 toward the consultant’s fee when the council met earlier Thursday evening. They added that $19,000 has already been committed toward hiring the consultant.
Gilliard said he was not convinced “a total stranger” could sell the community better than the local, established economic development entities. Walden, who sat reading an initial draft copy of the contract, said he had concerns with the way it was written.
“I commend you (retail-attraction team) for your work,” he said, “but I’m just not willing to vote on this (contract).”
Davis and Chafin responded that the consultant has the type of relationships with retailers that are necessary for attracting them to a community like Liberty County, as well as access to resources the local economic development entities don’t have.
“We are maxed out for what we can do internally,” Chafin said.
Davis said the retail-attraction team has identified 23 possible funding partners. Most funding partners are governmental organizations, she said, and some are major stakeholders such as large power utilities. The team still is in the process of approaching potential funding partners, according to Davis, and some groups like the county have not yet made firm financial commitments.
“We want them to be comfortable with it,” she said, “but it is a collaborative approach.”
Davis added the development authorities and chamber already have labored to prime the community for attracting retailers and tourism, through updated maps and opportunity-zone designations.
In other county business:
• the commission approved a resolution to amend the Service Delivery Strategy to update water-service delivery areas within the county. The updated plan would have county service slated to expand along Leroy Coffer Highway from Arcadia Drive to Rogers Pasture Road and on Lewis Frasier Road from Screven Fork to the Riceboro service-delivery area.
• the county approved its ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Transition Plan. Liberty County Administrator Joey Brown explained the Georgia Department of Transportation must have on record a copy of every county’s ADA Transition Plan.
• the rural-water system project for the Holmestown-Screven Fork is scheduled to open for construction bids Aug. 13, P.C. Simonton engineering consultant Matthew Barrow informed the commission. A pre-bid meeting will be held July 31, Barrow said. The county received $500,000 in Community Block Development Grants last year for water and sewer improvements, in addition to a $3.2 million grant from U.S. Department of Agriculture and a $1 million low-interest loan.
• the county agreed to provide $300 toward reinstating the Commissioners Cup award, at the request of Ted Harris. The trophy goes to whichever local high school — Bradwell Institute or Liberty County High School — wins the football game against its hometown rival. The trophy will be presented to LCHS head coach Kirk Warner on Aug. 2.
Pat Watkins contributed to this story.