Government officials, educators, Fort Stewart representatives, business leaders and others met Friday at the Liberty County Community Complex in Midway for a mid-year review, to contemplate how far the community has come since a community-wide planning workshop was held last May.
Several priorities were discussed, including SPLOST 2014, quality of life issues, and the base realignment and closure process.
SPLOST, or special-purpose local-option sales tax, is a 1 percent sales tax collected by local city and county governments to help fund capital projects such as buildings, recreational facilities, roads and water and sewer systems. The next SPLOST referendum is expected to go before voters in November.
Liberty County Administrator Joey Brown said collections for a renewed SPLOST, should voters approve it, would begin in May 2015. The next SPLOST could be eligible for six years, should it list countywide projects with intergovernmental agreements in place, Brown said.
He told workshop participants the county will meet with cities’ officials to identify new SPLOST projects sometime in March. Local governments would meet again later to formalize a SPLOST list, he said.
The current SPLOST expires in April, the county administrator said.
Brown added there was discussion at last year’s workshop to conduct numerous “listening sessions” around the county, to hear what the public wants on the list.
Leah Poole, CEO of the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce & Convention and Visitors Bureau, talked about the chamber promoting the SPLOST with surveys, brochures, ads and forums. Brown said tax dollars cannot be used to promote SPLOST.
County Commissioner Justin Frasier proposed placing a recreation project on the next SPLOST list. Frasier discussed revenue-producing proposals that would draw tourists to the area and provide family entertainment.
“The common citizen wants something they feel they can be part of,” he said.
He said a water park was previously discussed, but since Pooler is building one community leaders should explore other options. One idea an amusement park with bumper cars, batting cages and mini-golf, he said.
Other participants proposed sporting events, such as BMX racing, a baseball tournament or campsites.
Poole and Vicki Davis, Hinesville Downtown Development Authority director, briefed participants on the retail attraction team consultant’s efforts.
Poole said a survey, completed by a retail advisory board, showed the county needs full service and high-end dining, more grocery stores, fast food restaurants in outlying areas, big box stores along with electronics, shoe and sporting goods stores, and family entertainment.
The consultant would not recruit such retailers as adult novelty, title pawn shops or package liquor stores, Davis added.
The survey also identified possible areas of growth, including Midway, Riceboro, Holmestown and Airport Road, Veterans Parkway, downtown Hinesville and Memorial Drive, according to Poole.
Davis said the data reports from the consultant are useful to share when prospective businesses seek information about the area.
Poole said at least two retailers have expressed interest in the former Food Lion building in Hinesville.
County Commission Chairman Donald Lovette addressed a workshop goal to clean up declining neighborhoods and improve community appearance. He said the county, and the cities, will have to collaborate on resolving this issue. Lovette added each government must be consistent when enforcing code ordinances.
“Blighted communities are not limited to one area of the community, but instead are seen as an economic drain to an entire community,” Lovette wrote in a memo to workshop participants. He cited a University of Texas study that found blighted properties lower property values, and require repeated code inspections, trash clean-up and demolitions.
Workshop participants discussed applying for state and federal grants to help clean up blighted areas across the county.
“Those dilapidated properties are owned by someone,” said Hinesville Assistant City Manager Ken Howard, who also heads up the Hinesville Development Authority. Some of these property owners may not have the funds to clean up their properties, Howard said. He said as there are seven municipalities, each could apply for a grant to fund projects.
Liberty County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Jon Long and Hinesville Police Department Chief George Stagmeier touched on their departments’ numerous programs. Maj. J.W. Hodges, Hinesville assistant police chief, showed recent crime trend statistics, pointing out that crime here and across the state and nation have trended down over the past five years. Hodges said statistical spikes will be seen in certain crimes over time.
Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas and Paul Andreshak with the Southeast Georgia Friends of Fort Stewart and Hunter, spoke about the $5.6 billion economic impact the region would experience should Fort Stewart ever close in a BRAC cycle. Thomas said he thinks it unlikely, but encourages leaders to continue to advocate for Fort Stewart and other military installations across Coastal Georgia and South Carolina.