Members of the Hazlehurst City Council attended last Tuesday’s meeting of the Jeff Davis County Commission where Mayor Bayne Stone gave a presentation on his plans to build a facility to house this area’s Georgia State Patrol station.
While Stone asked the commissioners to authorize him and Commission Chairman Jerry Wooten to open a $500,000 line of credit at a local bank and appoint City Code Enforcement Officer Charles Harrell as head of a building committee appointed to proceed with the project, his presentation contained too many “ifs” to make the commissioners comfortable with his request.
Stone opened his presentation by saying the council was “thrilled to death” that most of the commissioners had told them the new Patrol post was “a done deal.” But by the end of his presentation it was clear the deal was far from done.
Stone said moving the post from McRae-Helena would increase local law enforcement by 30% and there was nothing to lose on the project, adding that if the city and county committed the net receipts from traffic enforcement each year to the bank, the $500,000 note could be paid off in five years. But the commissioners remained unconvinced.
Commissioner Brad Crews questioned the fact that the land on which to build the post was not yet secured, and Wooten questioned if Stone could back up his estimate that the cost of building the facility would be $400,000.
Crews also expressed concern that the building cost did not include landscaping or parking.
While Harrell explained that the city was hoping to get prisoners to build the facility and the Department of Transportation to help with the parking lot, there were no guarantees that the help was forthcoming.
Crews asked if $500,000 would cover the cost of everything if the expected help didn’t come through and Stone assured him they could get in the building for less than $500,000. But, he added, he may have to eat his words.
SFC Eric Wilkes of the Helena State Patrol Post said his troopers are an assistive agency and assists counties and cities when requested. He said there would be an officer at the post at all times, adding that he had nine troopers who were all well trained and well armed.
Wilkes said, the Helena Post covers Jeff Davis, Dodge, Telfair, Wheeler and Montgomery counties and the percentages of traffic citations are always higher in the county where the post is located.
But when Commissioner Hank Hobbs asked if there would be any issues with the post being on the end of the area — in Jeff Davis County — rather than the center as it is now — Telfair County — Wilkes said he would make sure there were no issues as the post would still have a responsibility to all five counties it covers.
Both Hobbs and Crews questioned the financing of excel/decel lanes for the post and Stone said that was included in the price.
Finally, Hobbs said he’d rather see the numbers before the commission voted on Stone’s request and expressed concerns there was no Memorandum of Agreement on the project.
Industrial Development Authority Chairman Grant Gainer was present at the meeting and cautioned the commissioner to look at the expected revenue figures for the next five years and make sure they take as much time looking at that as they do the costs.
School Superintendent Dr. Stan Rentz was also at the meeting and expressed his support for having increased law enforcement protection for the children in the school system.
In the end, Stone, Wooten and County Administrator Keith Carter agreed to meet and discuss the projected costs before the commissioners made any commitment.
In other action, the commissioners ….
…. approved a request from Sheriff Preston Bohannon that the county pay officers time and a half for working during their vacations.
…. approved conducting the City of Hazlehurst election.
…. accepted the low bid from Tifton Turf to install fence at the Baxley highway recreation complex.
…. accepted a bid from a Waycross company to replace two cooling tower pumps at the courthouse.
…. discussed but took no action on the county’s dog pound.
…. agreed to advertise to sell the used light poles taken down at the Baxley highway recreation complex and agreed to give the City the poles needed for its new dog park.
…. discussed the need for striping Kirkland Still Road and agreed to discuss the issue at a planned work session to decide where to spend money from the annual State Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant.
…. appointed Kim Smith as deputy county clerk.
…. and approved a request from Industrial Development Authority Executive Director Andrea Taylor to re-approve a tax abatement plan for EP American Footwear.