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County wants Chamber, Tourism to work together

At their monthly meeting last Tuesday, the Jeff Davis County Commission made two major decisions toward unifying the efforts of the Hazlehurst-Jeff Davis County Chamber of Commerce and the Jeff Davis County Board of Tourism.
Andrea Taylor, representing the Chamber and the Joint Industrial Development Authority, and Terry Stone, who serves on the boards of the chamber, the development authority and tourism, asked the commissioners for permission to move the chamber and development authority offices into the county owned Big House along with the tourism office.
They also requested that the commission approve splitting the proceeds from the 5% hotel/motel tax, giving 3% to tourism and 2% to the chamber.
Tourism Director Jim Sewell was at Tuesday’s meeting and asked that the commission continue giving the entire 5% to tourism per the commission’s decision when the tax was first implemented 25 years ago. He also argued that if 2% were given to the chamber, it could only be spent on tourism advertising.
After a long discussion, the commissioners appeared in favor of having the chamber, industrial authority and tourism all working together, rather than at odds with each other. With that, they voted 4-1 to allow the move to The Big House with Commissioner Brad Crews opposing because no information was given about the costs of the move.
They also agreed to the suggested 3-2 split of the 5% hotel/motel tax, partially in light of the fact that the board of tourism had accumulated $70,000 in its bank account, far more than the chamber had available to them.
Another item that drew considerable discussion during the meeting was a long-standing request from the Board of Tax Assessors office that its budget be amended to add $18,660. $7,500 of the increase was for office supply expenses with the other $11,000 going for pay raises.
Commissioner Vann Wooten brought the matter up, saying he had been attended assessor board meetings and was in favor of amending the budget. Wooten and Commission Chair Ricky Crosby pointed out that the commissioners had told the tax assessors board that they would do something for their budget and they should approve the request.
Tax Assessor Board member David Desousa asked that three of the commissioners approve the request and bring the monthly bickering to an end.
A vote to approve the budget amendment originally failed on a 2-0 vote with Wooten and James Benjamin casting the two votes for approval. Commissioners Brad Crews and Hank Hobbs both said they were not against amending the budget but, rather, had concerns about the fact that no other county employees have gotten pay increases, except for the road department being given an increase that was promised a year ago. While they were in favor of pay raises, they did not think the raises would be that high.
Crosby kept saying he was in favor of the amendment but he refused to vote on the motion.
Finally, after further discussion, the commissioners approved the amendment in a 4-1 vote with Crews opposing, not the pay raises, but the amount of the pay raises.
Another topic of contention came up when Crosby mentioned that the Baxley Highway recreation facility project needed to be completed. With hundreds of people going to soccer and football games there almost daily, the restroom facility had not been completed and Crosby said the existing restrooms are terrible.
Crosby said the county, in a Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Hazlehurst, allowed the city to build its splash pad on the site and, in return, the city agreed to pay half the cost of upgrading the restroom facility. The city, he said, hasn’t done its part and is experiencing financial difficulties and has no money to do its part, despite the signed agreement.
The commissioners agreed to get quotes on the cost of upgrading the bathrooms and concession area. But made no decision on how to get the city to fulfill its obligation.
In other action, the commissioners ….
…. approved a request from Andrea Taylor that the amount of the already approved tax abatement for the Silicon Ranch solar power expansion be increased as Silicon Ranch had increased the size of its expansion.
…. approved a request from Roger Ogilvie of the Emergency Medical Service to purchase new power stretchers.
…. approved a budget amendment for FY19.
…. adopted a resolution to appoint a safety coordinator.
…. okayed an intergovernmental agreement between the county, the sheriff and the school board to supply a school resource officer.
…. approved Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant projects.
…. agreed to ask Hofstadter and Associates engineering firm to make recommendations on which roads to improve using Transportation Investment Act funds.
…. approved a courthouse security plan presented by Sheriff Preston Bohannon.
…. agreed to look into purchasing a truck for the county fire department.

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