Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas told Liberty County Chamber of Commerce members and special guests that Hinesville’s future is promising during his State of the City Address given Thursday at Connection Church in Flemington.
Thomas began and ended his address with words of encouragement at the monthly Progress Through People Luncheon that included city-council members, county commissioners and members of the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission and Liberty County Development Authority.
“Our city has weathered the fiscal storm that we had,” Thomas said. “From about 2009 until last year, the city struggled to stay afloat. However, we didn’t delay any hiring. We didn’t use operational reserves. We maintained the millage rate at 10.5, and we kept the rates for water, sewer, garbage, business licenses and inspections the same.”
He then focused his address on community development, which he said got a shot in the arm with $2 million in grant funding for public-safety equipment, enhancement of Irene B. Thomas Park, Azalea Street redevelopment, assistance to public-service agencies and homeless-prevention services. Turning his discussion to downtown development, he talked about a new public library, Armstrong Atlantic State University’s Liberty Center, the Central Avenue realignment and continued preservation of the Old Liberty County Jail along with efforts to recruit more retail, mixed-use and residential development.
The mayor also talked about the Renaissance Park senior-housing development, explaining the project would consist of 50 housing units for seniors ages 55 and older. He said the housing complex would be located across from First Baptist Church on Memorial Drive.
Other economic developments include the new VA primary-care clinic set to open June 13 and an economic-impact analysis and feasibility study for a family entertainment center and a conference center. Thomas said the VA clinic will be the largest in this area of Georgia, which is necessary because of the large number of veterans in Liberty County.
He paused a moment to emphasize the need to continue support for the Liberty Transit system, noting the system still is operating with new routes and extended service. Soon, there will be opportunities for businesses to advertise their products and services on the sides of the buses and provide audio commercials inside the buses. Sales of these ads will help the city support the transit system, he said.
“Those buses are needed by a significant part of our population,” he said. “We have to keep those buses running.”
The first current and future project noted by the mayor is a planned upgrade to the Hinesville/Fort Stewart wastewater-treatment plant. He said the old wastewater plant is nearly 27 years old. Thomas also talked about the AASU Liberty Center, which is expected to be completed in summer 2015. He said construction on the new library should begin soon.
Two road construction projects he discussed included the widening of Veterans Parkway from E.G. Miles Parkway onto Fort Stewart and Airport Road, which also is slated to be widened to four lanes from Highway 84 to Fort Stewart. He said a contract with a company that rebuilds airplanes required the runway extension at Wright Army Airfield/MidCoast Regional Airport. Thomas said the state is assisting by kicking in $1 million to lengthen the 1,500-foot runway. This money would be enough to begin construction on that project, he said.
Thomas said city and county leaders soon will discuss how to prioritize funding projects that would be paid for with a passed referendum this November for a renewed Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
He said community events scheduled for downtown or at Bryant Commons this year include Georgia Cities week (April 20-26); Fall Farmers Market (May 1); Small World Festival (May 10); Project Homeless Connect (June 7); Scarecrow Stroll and Beggars Night (Oct. 24); Veterans Salute (Nov. 1); Veterans Day Parade (Nov. 7) and a Savannah Winds concert (Nov. 15).
The mayor concluded his remarks by noting that Hinesville is the 13th-largest city in Georgia. He said Hinesville is growing at a rate other cities are not.
Thomas was elected mayor in 2007 and re-elected in 2011. He is a retired Army officer, who also is retired from the Department of Defense civil service. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business management and an additional graduate degree in public administration.