Area politicians sat down with Liberty County and Hinesville officials Monday to listen to concerns before heading to Atlanta for the start of the legislative session next month.
Officials representing the local school system, city and county government, the hospital and development authority hope the legislators will relay the local governmental priority lists to the state capitol, and use their leverage to bring funding to the area
And there’s reason for optimism, according to Sen. Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, who said, “Santa Claus has moved to Washington,” referring to President-elect Barack Obama’s proposed economic stimulus package.
If the plan goes through, it could mean billions of dollars for Georgia, and Hinesville is one of many cities looking for a piece of the pie.
“If the federal government has a stimulus (package), you need to get your name on the list,” said Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons.
“We are asking the new administration to include us in their city stimulus packages,” Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas said during last Thursday’s city council meeting. “I think we stand a pretty good chance of getting those stimulus funds to come down here.”
But city and county officials wanted to know the status of state money that’s already been approved. A local bus system, promised by Dec. 1, screeched to a halt when state funds stopped coming in. The issue came up again at last week’s Hinesville City Council meeting.
“Somehow at (the Georgia Department of Transportation) there is a holdup,” Thomas said. “And what that holdup is … is pure speculation. We don’t know.”
In Monday’s presentation, Hinesville City Manager Billy Edwards showed how the city was relying on the state funds, approved in September, to purchase the buses.The city already signed off on the state agreements for grants, which totaled just under $1 million.
“So they have all the documentation necessary from us, and they still have not released those funds,” Edwards said.
He said the city’s hands are tied; it can’t even work out a contract agreement with Veolia, the bus company selected in July.Edwards said there is a plan the state has to have in place with the federal government before all the funds can be released.
“We can not obligate any of the funds relative to initiating our transit operation until DOT releases this grant to us,” Edwards said.
A top concern for local officials is finishing the Frank Cochran extension into Hero Road on Fort Stewart, a $10.2 million project.“It’s critical to people on and off that post,” county administrator Joey Brown said.
He said the Liberty County/Fort Stewart area expects to get an influx of nearly 13,000 in military personnel and their families by the end of 2013.
Sen. Williams suggested officials contact the state commissioner to find out the status of the funds. “First of all, we need to find out exactly where your projects are and make sure they’re ready to go,” he said.
But the design is done and the project is “shovel-ready,” according to Edwards.They are one addendum short of having all the environmental approvals done. All officials are waiting on is for GDOT to release money for the engineers.
Phase III of the Memorial Drive Realignment Project has also stalled.
The state DOT approved a $500,000 grant in 2006. Other infrastructure work plans include widening of 15th Street near Gate 7 going in to Fort Stewart, a $12.3 million project, and expanding Airport Road into four-lanes, roughly a $19.7 million project.
“We’ve done all the things (we can) to posture ourselves for moving forward into next year,” Thomas said. “The areas I need most help in are roads and housing.”
As of Monday, Thomas said there are 573 homes on the market in Liberty County, but most are in the $200,000 range.Thomas thinks those prices are out of most soldiers’ means, alluding to stricter credit requirements despite falling interest rates.
For the soldiers who are expected to live off post – about 85 percent of those assigned to Fort Stewart - Liberty County could be short about 2,000 homes.
“Unless you start infrastructure now, you can’t achieve that 2,000 by 2010,” said Thomas, former project manager said.
“All we can tell you right now is they’re going to live where housing is available,” Edwards said.