The Liberty County Development Authority unanimously adopted a $4.3 million general-fund budget for fiscal-year 2016-17 Friday.
That represents a $372,384 increase from the current year’s spending plan.
Meanwhile, revenue is projected to fall to $4.6 million, which is $175,221 less than 2015-16.
There will not be new, visible initiatives to show for the added expense. However, Carmen Cole, the authority’s director of administration and finance, said in an interview Monday that the LCDA is setting itself up for the future.
Debt was restructured to avoid a large balloon payment in fiscal-year 2018, while lowering interest payments and spreading them out evenly. And what had been a reserve to pay that 2018 payment has been converted to an infrastructure reserve.
LCDA CEO Ron Tolley said after the meeting that the infrastructure reserve, which will be slightly more than $2 million in fiscal 2017, will allow the authority to respond quickly to meet the infrastructure needs of businesses considering locating in Liberty County.
During the meeting, board member Graylan Quarterman asked about $75,000 budgeted for marketing expenses. Cole said the cost covers the hosting of the LCDA’s website, movie production and marketing materials both online and in print.
Tolley added that the fiscal 2017 budget includes the construction of a new trade-show booth. He said the LCDA had expected to attend trade shows as part of a regional economic development alliance, but that has not worked out.
So, Tolley said, the LCDA needs to attend trade shows on its own. And an older booth is outdated.
Chamber moving out?
Quarterman also asked about the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce’s plan to leave the authority’s West Oglethorpe Highway building. The authority’s budget assumes the Chamber will leave in February, when its lease expires, resulting in about a $7,600 revenue loss.
Cole said the Chamber has indicated that it plans to leave by no later than next summer and is in the process of looking for a larger space for its growing staff and storage needs.
“They’re pretty well stacked on top of each other as far as office space and what little storage work space they have,” Tolley said. “In addition to that, one of the main things they pointed out is that they had storage all over the place. That was difficult for them. And every time they had an event, they had to be sending people out of the office, off to storage locations, work from that. And when the events were over, go back to those storage areas.”
Tolley said the building can be expanded to include more office space, but that providing more storage space might not be so easy.
Quarterman said the authority should encourage the Chamber to stay.
Tolley said the Chamber had indicated in the past that it felt dominated by the authority, but he thinks that has largely been solved.
“As we look at other reasons development authority boards have working relationships with the chamber, the ones who are producing a lot of business have got the chamber working side by side with them,” Quarterman said. “I would be willing to have that discussion with (the Liberty County Chamber’s) board, find out what are the needs, and let us help them see if they can resolve their needs.”
OPS building repairs
The board also unanimously approved allowing the staff to proceed with repairs to the OPS building at a cost of no more than $20,000.
The vacant building, on Sunbury Road in Tradeport East, has fallen into disrepair over the last several years, Cole said. Two large air-conditioning units were stolen, and the LCDA opted at the time not to replace them because of security concerns. With no air-conditioning, the inside of the building has deteriorated, including corrosion of pipes and growth of mold around windows caused by a leak in the roof. The road leading to the building is cracked, and lightning-rod connectors have come loose, a recent inspection found.
Board member Al Williams suggested that from here forward, the authority conduct at least quarterly inspections on its vacant properties so problems can be caught earlier.
A discussion ensued on security cameras. Cole said that previously, the authority opted not to install cameras because of the expense of connecting them to the Internet. That has become cheaper, however, with the growth of Wi-Fi, and is something the LCDA can reconsider, she said.
Sunbury tree removal
As discussed earlier this year, the authority is ready to move forward with removing trees on Sunbury Road near Tradeport East, especially in Sunbury Cemetery.
Arborist Jerry Holcomb suggested that 44 trees be removed. The low bid was $8,800 from Bland’s Tree and Landscaping.
Cole said the authority wants the trees removed as soon as possible because a storm might damage a tree, causing a limb to fall and injure someone or damage property. A tree that fell last summer destroyed the cemetery’s cast-iron fence, Barbara Martin, the president of the St. John’s Parish Chapter of the Georgia State Society of the Daughters of the American Colonists, told the board in January.
The LCDA is responsible for care of the trees near the cemetery under an agreement between the U.S. Economic Development Administration and the state Historic Preservation Division when the LCDA received grants for the Target project at the Tradeport East.
The board unanimously awarded the tree-removal contract to Bland’s.