MARY ANN ANDERSON
If the overall tone of the Sept. 13 called meeting of the Hazlehurst City Council was gloomy about the financial picture of the city, then last week’s regular monthly meeting spun 180 degrees and was rosier and more upbeat.
Tammy Metts Dyal, the city’s accountant, first took the floor. She said that after she paid all the bills, not including a payment that was due for a sinking fund, just over $2,300 remained in the city coffers.
But, she added, money would be coming in to the tune of $150,000 from a Federal Aviation Administration grant for the airport upgrades project. Additionally, Mayor Bayne Stone told the council that another $300,000 in insurance fees would be paid to the city in October.
“We’re going to make it,” Stone said. “The ship’s going to sail. It’s just a little tough.”
Stone said the city had been borrowing from a line of credit to pay for the airport upgrades, and from the $150,000 from the FAA, the sum of $100,000 would go back to the line of credit, with the remaining $50,000 to be paid to Trinity Lighting for work on the project.
Ward Three Councilman Eric Griffin said that additional money is owed to other vendors on the project, including Croy Engineering and Georgia Asphalt Producers, and he asked Dyal if it wouldn’t be better to borrow the money to pay them. That’s when Stone said both Croy and Georgia Asphalt agreed to wait for their final payments and that borrowing the money to pay them off would be unnecessary.
“The City won’t have to borrow a dime,” Stone said. “We’ve got the taxiway built, and the money will be coming in from state and federal sources to pay it all off.”
But the improving finances weren’t the only good news for the city. The council also unanimously approved the construction of a new Georgia State Patrol station for Hazlehurst.
Griffin led off the discussion, lauding Stone for working diligently to get the post here. He also said the council had met and spoken with the Jeff Davis County Commissioners in attempts to get them to work with the city on the project, to no avail.
But that didn’t stop the city from going forward without the county, with Griffin adding, “We cannot afford to allow something else to be snatched up and moved to another county or city because we failed to act.”
Calling the project “a shot in the arm for Hazlehurst,” he continued, “At this point, the city is going to go at it alone. I hate that we have to, but we can’t continue to run businesses out of town because we don’t agree to do something together with the county commissioners.”
With revenue from citations, fines and forfeitures, Griffin also stated that the building would pay for itself over time.
Ironically enough, Stone pointed out that even though the county is not helping to fund the project, it will receive about two-thirds of all revenue generated, with the city receiving only a third of that income.
“We can’t wait,” Griffin went on. “We have to act now, or we will lose this and it will be going down the road. We didn’t just make a whim of a decision that this is something that we think is a fly-by-night thing. This is something that is good for the city, and it’s something that’s good for the county as a whole.”
Stone then indicated that taxes will not go up to fund the project.
“We’re not going to have to designate any SPLOST for it,” he said. “We’re not going to have to raise water fees. We’re not going to have to do anything with the general or water and sewer fund to pay for this building.”
Stone lamented the fact that the county wouldn’t “play ball,” but added, “Our citizens are going to pay for it because those who violate the law or misbehave are going to get tickets and pay court fees and pay for this thing.”
Stone also added that local law enforcement agencies, in addition to the Hazlehurst Police Department and Jeff Davis County Sheriff’s Office, would increase by 30 to 40 percent simply by the presence of the Georgia State Patrol.
“It would have been so foolish to let this go,” Stone concluded to the council. “And it’s a catalyst, the beginnings for other things as well. Thank you for putting it together.”
Ward Two Councilman John Ramay called it a “win-win situation,” and that he was glad the city “bit the bullet,” but, like Stone, was “disappointed” with the county commissioners.
In the end, the council approved a $600,000 construction loan through the Georgia Municipal Association to get the post built and also sanctioned a resolution authorizing Stone to enter final negotiations with the GSP so that construction can begin as soon as possible.
In another agenda item, the council was praised by Jeff Davis County Veterans Association member Jack Floyd for in-kind work and improvements the city had helped with at Veterans Square Park.
“We would like to express our appreciation to you for all that the city has done to help make our beautification successful,” said Floyd, who serves as chairman of the Beautification Committee for the Veterans Association.
Floyd, who was accompanied by fellow veterans Roy Anderson, Dale Bradley, Duke Campbell, and Ted Yaun, pointed out that the city donated bricks for the planters on the Tallahassee Street side of the park and removed at no cost the old asphalt within the park to make way for a more solid concrete foundation.
The concrete, Floyd pointed out, was paid for by donations to the Veterans Association and not by the city.
“I want to say to the City Council that I can’t begin to tell you how helpful our mayor has been,” Floyd went on before he and the other veterans saluted the mayor and council. “I want you to know that anytime I called the mayor, he immediately said yes, we’re happy to assist you.”
Stone called the park “an asset and credit to the town,” telling Floyd that the city is “delighted” to be a part of it.
Next up, Zoning Board Chairman Bobby Googe addressed the council and asked that three zoning revisions be made to the ordinances, all of which he said would be “beneficial to the city.”
The first of the revisions allows that apartments can be constructed in the C-1 Central Business District of downtown Hazlehurst, provided they are approved by the board, the city building inspector, the city fire inspector, and the Downtown Development Board. The other changes allow a mixed use of homes and businesses in the C-2 Commercial, Office, and Residence District and C-3 Highway-Oriented Commercial District, all of which are also contingent upon approval of the board.
The council unanimously approved Googe’s recommendations.
In other business, after hearing from Fire Chief Charles Wasdin, the council gave him authority to apply for an Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) for $183,000 for firefighting apparatuses, with a match of 5 percent from the city.
All August water and sewer adjustments, departmental reports, and check register were also approved.
The council agreed for travel to Columbus for the mayor, council, and city clerk to attend the fall conference and awards dinner of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. At the Oct. 10-11 event, Stone said the city will accept a $500,000 grant from the DCA.
In last week’s workshop on Monday night, the council approved a permit for the homecoming parade that will take place on Sept. 27, okayed training for two police officers to attend the Basic Law Enforcement Training Course from Sept. 27 through Dec. 14 at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Tifton, and after hearing from Code Enforcement Director Charles Harrell, discussed at length but took no formal action on the matter of past due business licenses.
Of note, Ward Four John Bloodworth was out for both the workshop and regular meeting for medical reasons but should return in time for October’s meetings. The next workshop is scheduled for Oct. 15 at 6 p.m. at City Hall, and the regular meeting will be Oct. 18, also at 6 p.m. at City Hall.