Riceboro City Council members urged residents to get ready for hurricane season, and updated them on other events across the city, at a recent state of the city presentation.
Mayor Chris Stacy laid out what the city has in mind, and what its challenges are, to more than two dozen residents at the Riceboro Youth Center.
“There’s a whole lot going on,” he said. “It’s a big undertaking and we thank God for the people doing the work. There’s a whole lot of work to be done.”
Stacy said the trees along E.B. Cooper Highway have become a problem. One of the trees was leaning into the middle of the road, forcing it to be shut down.
Since it is a state highway, Stacy said the Georgia Department of Transportation has agreed to trim some of the trees along the route.
“Some of those oak trees have been there for 200 years,” he said.
Council members also noted that Sandy Run Road has become problem with the wear and tear from logging trucks. Stacy said they are working with the timber company to try to alleviate that situation.
“One mile to recover or repair (a road) costs about $900,000 to $1 million. That means it is going to take us a long time to get our money saved up to do another road,” added Council member Louise Brown.
The city also is working on identifying bad roads and grading them on their condition.
Community development Riceboro is seeking grants to help with unsafe housing. Grants writer Dana Ingram of AAA Plus Consulting is pursuing a Healthy Homes grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which will allow the city to help residents eliminate hazards in their homes.
“It’s a little different from a full rehab,” she said.
The grant money will be used to remedy electrical hazards, mold issues, sanitation and hazards that can lead to a resident falling. The city is looking at applying for additional CHIP funds so no one source of money is funding the work.
The city also has some money left over from this 2017 community development block grant it may use to rehab four other homes, Stacy said.
The city’s summer youth program has started, with about 20 kids involved, and the after school program will start in October. The after school program starts at that date so the counselors will know where students help.
Students in the after school program don’t have to pay for the supplies or snacks provided to them.
Mayor Stacy said the city also is looking at a renovation for the youth center, including a new floor, and other plans for kids in the area are under consideration. Council member Pearl Axson said a youth concert is being explored, along with an annual health fair to promote healthier living.
“A lot of older people have conditions health issues, such as diabetes,” she said. “We want to change their lifestyle so they are healthier.”
Under consideration is a night of reading, where older residents read to the kids.
“A lot of kids can’t read or need help reading,” Axson said. “Reading to the kids is quite enjoyable.”
Utilities and more
The city pumps more than a million gallons of water per day for its customers, both its residents and its largest single user, SNF.
“It is one of our biggest incomes and our biggest expenses,” Mayor Stacy said.
Riceboro’s water rates are among the least expensive in the county, council members said, but there has been a problem with delinquent water bills.
“We don’t want to cut people off,” Council member David Miller said.
Miller added the problem isn’t with elderly residents not paying and that the city will work with customers if they are behind. The problem is, he said, often the customers who have trouble paying their water bill don’t let the city know.
Mayor Stacy said the city hasn’t increased its water and sewer rates in 25 years.
The city is looking at a new contract for trash pickup, and it has been picking up some of the cost for customers over the years, Mayor Stacy said. The cost of trash pickup is $20.05 a month and customers are paying $11.40 a month, he said.
“Eventually, we’ve got to get the trash and the bill even,” the mayor said. “We can’t be in the red and stay in business.”
The city has a partnership with McIntosh County, which is determined to be in the “green zone” by the state Environmental Protection Division. Counties in the “green zone” do not have caps on how much water can be pumped from the upper Floridan aquifer.
The city can pump about 2 million gallons per day with its pumps and with adjustments to those pumps, can increase that output to almost 2.5 million gallons per day. With water from McIntosh, the city can provide nearly 3 million gallons per day, Stacy said.
“Water right now in Liberty County is next to gold,” he added. “The growth is going to come and we’ve got to be prepared.”
Riceboro is working on an $11 million grant to get water Trying to get $11 million grant to get water to Retreat and Ways Temple roads, the mayor said.
The city has a 267-acre wastewater treatment facility off Barrington Ferry Road and is weighing expanding it. “It’s a great treatment plant,” Mayor Stacy said. “You’ll be amazed at what’s going on out there.”
The mayor added he would like to see the city have its full-time fire fighters one day. Right now, it has a volunteer department, and it is shortstaffed.
Riceboro Fire Chief Dennis Fitzgerald also issued a call for more volunteers for the department.
“We need your help,” he said. “We’ve got one of the best fire engineers in the county. Three o’clock in the morning, if you need us, we’re there. But we need your help.”
Chief Fitzgerald said the department will arrange and provide training for interested volunteers.
Hurricane preparedness Liberty County Emergency Management Agency director Robert Dodd urged Riceboro residents to prepare for hurricane season. Colorado State University’s Tropical Weather and Climate Research is predicting a busier than normal Atlantic hurricane season, with 18 names storms and nine hurricanes, four of which the center believes will be major.
Dodd encouraged residents to heed calls to evacuate. Sheriff Will Bowman also urged residents to make a plan for their pets and to have a five-day plan for being out of their homes if they evacuate.
Public safety officials stressed that they cannot endanger their own people, either, and won’t send out personnel during high winds.
Dodd pointed out that Hurricane Matthew left a lot of debris but they can’t go on to private property to clear it. He also he doesn’t live in a flood zone but has flood insurance.
“Hurricane Hugo was an eye-opener on flood insurance,” he said.
The county EMA has an Alert Liberty system, where residents can get automated calls and texts about alerts, if they sign up to receive them. The registration is available on the county’s page at https:// www. l i b e r t y c ount y ga.com/244/Emergency-Management.
Mayor Stacy pointed to the many endeavors underway or planned for Riceboro’s residents.
“Let’s work together to make it a better community,” he said.