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Workshop by the sea sets priorities
The workshop is held annually and encourages officials to think about the future of the county. - photo by File photo

More than 100 Liberty countians met Thursday and Friday to review the county’s progress during the last year and to plan for the future. Some discussions were general but specific projects were included too at the annual St. Simons Island event.

Former Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas reported on plans to make Internet service available all over the county.

The group was considering equipping city buses with hotspot technology because their routes run throughout the area.

Discussion during the planning session led to a slightly changed focus for internet access plans. The Liberty County Board of Education is already equipping school buses with Internet access points and parking them strategically to give students better Internet service.

The large number of school buses and their routes ranging throughout the county make them a primary way of expanding access to the Internet. Other efforts include offering free wifi at public buildings like the county annex and at some public parks. The Live Oak Public Library’s branches in Hinesville and Midway-Riceboro have free wifi as does MidCoast Regional Airport at Wright Army Airfield.

Although it is three years until the decade’s next census officials emphasized the importance of the count and the need to be prepared for it. The Census determines representation in Congress and is used in allocating many government resources.

Liberty County Commission Chairman Donald Lovette said there should be a public report on preparations for the Census in a month. "You cannot educate the public too much . . . you cannot be too transparent."

In line with governments’ increasing reliance on voter-approved sales tax levies for funding, officials discussed the possibility of asking citizens for another sales tax to be spent on transportation. Liberty countians voted in favor of such a TSPLOST in 2012 but that election was statewide and required approval by voters in all the counties of a region to implement the tax, so TSPLOST failed in the area including Liberty as it did in eight other regions out of 12 statewide.

The TSPLOST was opposed by the Sierra Club because of effects of roads on the environment and by the state NAACP which said sales taxes are regressive.

New laws appear to offer the opportunity for a single county, or two or more counties who choose to group themselves together to hold their own referendum on an additional sales tax for transportation.

No formal commitments have been made but city and county officials seem to look favorably at trying a TSPLOST again for Liberty. Some of Liberty’s many dirt roads could be paved with SPLOST funds, as one example. Hinesville City Manager Billy Edwards said no SPLOST vote should be scheduled in November; municipalities including Hinesville will be holding city elections at that time.

A summer work program for young people drew favorable comments and conferees will look for ways to expand and improve it. Riceboro started a limited program employing a few students for a short time during the summer and the program expanded to Midway and then to the county commission.

County Commissioner Justin Frasier is now looking to set up a more inclusive program and working to recruit both students and employers.

The Coastal Regional Commission facilitated the workshop; its executive director Allen Burns and staffers attended.

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