mayorspeechtest04212011Listen to Mayor Jim Thomas' State of Hinesville Address. It runs about 40 minutes.
In his annual state-of-the-city address Thursday, Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas said the city is in good, not “great” shape. Thomas offered his take on the city’s status during a Liberty County Chamber of Commerce Progress through People luncheon at the National Guard Armory on Highway 84 in Hinesville.
Thomas said he and other local leaders are not pleased with the 2010 Census count as the city’s 33,000 population figure does not include an estimated 10,000-15,000 soldiers who live off of Fort Stewart in Hinesville and Liberty County. The mayor said the city could lose $168-$200 million over 10 years from an improper census count. He said he and other area officials plan to approach the U.S. Commerce Department about revising the count.
Thomas added sales-tax revenues have risen since most soldiers have returned from a yearlong deployment to Iraq, except for the 4th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, which is due home in July. The downside to troops returning is the increased traffic, the mayor said.
Thomas told those assembled that the city’s annual financial report will be mailed to residents next month. The report shows Hinesville residents where their tax dollars go, he said.
Thomas also urged residents to support HB 277, a bill that would raise revenue for new roads through a 1-cent sales tax.
State Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, who attended the luncheon, said he supports the bill.
“It was passed last year,” Williams said. “It creates a pool of money for the region.”
Thomas said HB 277 would raise funds to widen and improve Frank Cochran Drive, 15th Street, Airport Road and road support for Mid-Coast Regional Airport.
The mayor told chamber members the city has balanced a conservative budget for fiscal year 2011 without having to lay off or furlough employees. Thomas said the city used contingency funds to cover expenses and will be maintaining equipment such as machinery and vehicles longer. He said the only exception was the purchase of a new fire ladder truck to replace an aging fire engine. The mayor said public safety must remain a priority. The new ladder truck can extend to reach two- and three-story buildings, he said.
Thomas also invited residents to offer input on the city’s 2011 annual action plan.
“We want you to come in and tell us what you want to see,” he said. “Give us your ideas, your recommendations.”
The city will submit its action plan with citizens’ comments to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in an application for an estimated $324,000 entitlement grant. The public comment period will end Monday, April 25. To comment, call Hinesville Community Development Department Assistant Director Donita Gaulden at 876-3564 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thomas also listed a number of ongoing projects like the new city hall, which is due to be completed later this year for roughly $6.7 million, and a new public works facility.
He said the Liberty Transit bus system has a ridership of 2,000 people each month, and city officials hope to double ridership to “break even.”
“We plan to make a profit on that system,” Thomas said.
He explained the city currently is studying the bus system’s routes to make improvements, but added the initial routes specifically were set up to adhere to federal grant guidelines. The city received a $1.5 million federal grant to purchase eight buses. Thomas said the city eventually will pay 50 percent of the bus system’s operational expenses.
The mayor also announced a 20,000-square-foot interim VA clinic will be located on Patriots Trail in Hinesville. A date for the temporary clinic’s opening has not yet been set, he said. Thomas said he and other officials are working to get a permanent VA clinic located here.
The mayor said local officials also will lobby the Board of Regents for a four-year college to be located in Hinesville. Armstrong Atlantic State University ended its plans for a satellite campus in Hinesville several years ago due to funding cuts.
“We want to put it (a campus) along Memorial Drive,” Thomas said. “A college would bring 400-500 people to downtown. We want to retain that downtown area — what makes Hinesville Hinesville.”