MARY ANN ANDERSON
Hazlehurst’s first-ever speed cameras may soon be coming to the school zones, according to Hazlehurst Police Chief Ken Williams.
During last Monday’s workshop of the Hazlehurst City Council, with the full council and City Attorney Ken Smith present, Williams explained that he had spoken with Blue Line Solutions of Chattanooga to place photo speed enforcements in the school zones.
Williams said that Blue Line has already completed a speed study on the roadway between the two roundabouts on Pat Dixon Road, one at Collins Street and the other at Charles Rogers Boulevard. In a five-day period from May 6-10, when school was in session, and only from 7:30-8:30 a.m. and again from 2:30-3:30 p.m., a total of 2,623 vehicles passed through the zone.
Williams noted that the speed limit during those hours is 25 miles per hour, with it rising to 35 miles per hour outside of those hours.
“The way they determine speeding is 11 miles per hour and more,” he said of Blue Line. “In a 25 miles per hour zone, 36 miles per hour or greater is speeding.”
Of those 2,623 vehicles passing through the school zone in those five days for two hours a day, a stunning 1,138 were 11 miles per hour or more.
“That’s 43 percent of cars 11 miles an hour or over,” Williams clarified. “The average speed in that 25 miles per hour zone was 39.9 miles per hour from 7:30 until 8:30, and from 2:30 to 3:30 the average was 40.3.”
The chief then pointed out that Blue Line will install a flashing speed limit sign that will tell motorists how fast they are traveling.
Then Williams explained the consequences of zipping too fast through the school zone.
“When you’re inside of the school zone, the camera will take a picture of the vehicle tag, and the registered vehicle owner gets a citation in the mail, no matter who was driving,” he further said.
The fine for a first offense, he informed the council, is $100.
He then said the ticket is a civil citation, and if the fine isn’t paid, Blue Line will contact the State of Georgia, who will then put a lien against the owner. If that happens, the owner cannot renew his or her tag. He also pointed out that a citation would not affect points on a driver’s license, only the ability to buy a tag.
The City of Hazlehurst would receive 60 percent of the fines, with Blue Line getting 40 percent.
“The goal is not the money part,” Williams imparted. “The goal is to slow vehicles down.”
With Mayor Bayne Stone and Ward Two Councilman John Ramay vocally stating they were in favor of installing the equipment for safety reasons and Ward Three Councilman Eric Griffin saying it is in the “best interests of the children,” Williams then asked the council to vote on the matter in the Thursday night regular meeting.
But Thursday’s meeting brought a hitch. Neither Griffin, Ward Four Councilman John Bloodworth nor Smith was present. But still the speed camera was an agenda item, and Stone then said that the city would be doing more research before voting on it.
With the absence of half the council, he asked the two remaining councilmen, Ward One’s Dywane Johnson and Ramay, for a motion to table the matter, one that passed quickly, but not without Ramay stating that he wanted on record that he “definitely supports it,” adding, “We are very fond of it, particularly where the safety of our kids is involved.”
Also, during the almost 90-minute workshop on Monday, the council discussed at length the upcoming 2019-20 budget, with a distinct direction toward whether to include standard cost of living raises or performance-based raises for city employees.
Stone at first said that no raises of any type were included in the budget but then he had spoken to all the department heads, who all agreed that performance-based raises were better than cost of living raises. He then asked the council for an increase of $20,000 to be added to the budget for performance-based raises.
“Merit-based is the only way to do it fairly,” said Griffin. “Everyone is not an a-player. You can have an a-team, and an a-team is pulled by a lot of a-plus players, but you’ve got a lot of b’s and c’s in there too. Everyone who has been a department head, you know that.”
City Clerk Vernice Thompson, who is over human resources, agreed with Griffin, saying, “It’s the only fair way to do it.”
But the lack of money for those raises was questioned once more, with Fire and Rescue Chief Charles Wasdin adding, “If I’m going to use a performance evaluation, I want to be able to tell my people if they’ve done a good job, and that there’s something there. If we’re not going to give any raises at all, there’s no sense in doing that because you’re not rewarding them for nothing.”
With Stone saying that health insurance costs were “eating us alive” and the primary reason for the hesitation of offering raises of any sort, he still asked the council to approve up to $20,000 for performance-based raises, with the motion passing unanimously.
But when Thursday’s regular meeting rolled around, the budget was on the agenda once again. Stone said that after he had met with department heads in the days between the two meetings, he found that the city needed $25,000 for the raises, not $20,000 that had been voted in on Monday. Ramay and Johnson, the only two councilmen at that meeting, voted the additional $5,000 into the budget.
In other action during Thursday’s regular meeting, the council ….
…. passed a resolution to approve the recently-designed city flag.
…. approved water and sewer adjustments for the period ending April 30, departmental reports to the council for May, and the check register for bills already paid for May.
…. in the Citizens’ Comments section, after hearing Thompson express the need for a called meeting to discuss the city’s insurance, agreed to meet on Thursday, June 27.
And during Monday’s workshop, the council ….
…. voted to pay Satilla Rural Electric $9,523.38 at a rate of $1,000 per month for improvements at the roundabout at Pat Dixon Road and Collins Street. Stone stated that similar improvements at both roundabouts were done by Georgia Power, AT&T, Mediacom, and a gas company, all of whom, he said, “didn’t bill us a dime.” He said he “fought a good fight” to try to get Satilla to forgive the debt but was unsuccessful, with Ramay adding, “It’s a shame that REA, as good as they are, that they wouldn’t work with the city when the others did.”
…. after a long discussion, agreed to run a 12-inch water line to the Beasley Group’s Highway 221 operations, with the approximately $800,000 project to be funded with $350,000 from Beasley, $100,000 from a One Georgia grant, and $460,000 from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority.
…. agreed to provide a drip irrigation system for downtown planters.
…. briefly discussed updating the cemetery ordinances, with plans to move forward in July.
…. heard updates from Stone on current street resurfacing projects funded through a Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant.
…. was assured by Stone that accurate records are being kept for and that work would continue on building the Georgia State Patrol station on Highway 341. The construction company in charge of building the new post was temporarily pulled away for an emergency job at another site.
The next workshop of the Hazlehurst City Council is Monday, July 15, with the regular meeting scheduled for Thursday, July 18. Both meetings will be held in the conference room of City Hall at 6 p.m.