The stagnant economy along with federal and state budget cuts have had a negative impact on cities throughout Georgia and the country, but Hinesville is in good financial shape, according to Mayor Jim Thomas.
“We live in a very blessed community,” Thomas told members of the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce Thursday during his State of the City Address. “How many of you know that?”
Applauds from throughout the conference room at Bethesda Church indicated many agreed with his assessment of the city.
Thomas began his address by noting that permits for new businesses are issued by the city every week, that during every city council meeting for the last two years new business permits are mentioned.
He reiterated reports that Hinesville is fourth in the country for fastest-growing personal income and, according to the Bureau of Statistics, Hinesville was the fourth fastest-growing city in the country for job creation from 2007 to 2011.
He said the 2010 U.S. Census left off the 14,000 soldiers who were deployed at the time of the count, so the city’s current population estimate is lower than its count. Noting too that a large number of people working in the city live outside the city, he said on any given day during the working hours, the city’s population is close to 72,000.
On city expenditures, the mayor said 39 percent of expenditures are for the Hinesville Police Department. Noting the importance of public safety, he said the city has bought a new fire truck for the Hinesville Fire Department with the future in mind.
As the city grows, Thomas said he anticipates buildings will reach five stories or more in height. The fire truck recently purchased has a ladder long enough to reach those upper floors.
“And mosquito control,” he said to a laughing crowd. “I have had some, uh, really nice phone calls, and I appreciate those phone calls.
“When it comes to mosquito control, it’s a year-round program; we actually do it year round,” he added.
While the city has increased its spraying for mosquitoes, Thomas reminded everyone that unless the mosquito flies into the mist from the trucks as they spray neighborhoods, they will not die. He asked residents to help reduce breeding areas for mosquitoes in their own yards.
Thomas pointed proudly to a list of completed construction projects or improvement already in the developing stages, including the new city hall and Bryant Commons. Future projects include an annex for Armstrong Atlantic State University, renovation of Bradwell Park and widening of several main arteries linking Hinesville to Fort Stewart.
The mayor said the road projects hinge on approval of the Transportation Improvement Act, which will be voted on in July. The TIA would fund local transportation projects and improvements. Road projects planned for Hinesville include widening Frank Cochran (soon-to-be called Veterans Parkway) from Fort Stewart to Highway 196 and Airport Road from Fort Stewart to Highway 84, and a new road to Midcoast Regional Airport.
He also spoke about the Liberty Transit system, which some critics call “ghost buses.”
“We have a population in the city of Hinesville that desperately need those buses,” Thomas said when the next slide in his presentation mentioned the transit system. “The ridership is about 2,000 a month right now and needs to be around 4,000. But I don’t think there’s a bus system in the country that pays for itself. It’s a service the city provides to those who need it.”
Accomodating an aging population is one of the city’s emerging priorities, he added.
In May, the Coastal Regional Commission will lead a Community for all Ages Charrette to examine issues related to safety, transportation, housing and recreation for those at retirement age. The event is an opportunity for stakeholders to weigh in on how the community plans for coming years. It will be held May 22-24.