I spent six or seven hours on the road over the weekend following Jeff Davis High’s baseball team during its foray into west Georgia for a couple of games against a pair of good teams.
Traveling the back roads for most of the trip, we went through a lot of small towns and noted how many of those towns — make that most of those towns — display the fact that their communities’ leadership cares deeply about the appearance of their downtown areas.
In community after community, there were tastefully arranged parks, manicured walking trails, islands of shrubbery dotting the landscapes, well cared for sidewalks, decorative lighting, welcoming signage, all showing the efforts of the city leaders in each of these pretty towns, displaying the fact that the towns are populated by proud citizens and caring leaders.
Of particular note were the decorative streetlights which added such a warmness to the downtowns.
When the late Wayne Fountain was Mayor of Hazlehurst, he and others recognized the need to improve the appearance of the downtown areas of Hazlehurst and much was done during his tenure.
Decorative lighting was installed, mini-parks were set up with grassed areas, flowers and benches and numerous small but effective improvements were made.
That was 12 years ago and little of substance has been done since.
Many of the mini-parks became overgrown and weed-infested. The benches fell into disrepair.
Most recently, city workers went through the downtown streets, replaced the decorative lighting with drab, lifeless lighting fixtures .
Were it not for the work of volunteers led by Rory and Joel Chaney our downtown would be much more of an eyesore than it is today.
If any effort has been made by the city to seek out grants or low interest loans for downtown improvements, I don’t know about it.
I know that the subject of beautifying our downtown area has been of little interest at city council meetings.
Years ago, the city voters approved a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax that included hundreds of thousands of dollars for downtown improvement. But the money was spent elsewhere despite the mandate from the citizens when they approved the SPLOST referendum.
I hold out hope that the next time a SPLOST referendum comes around — in five or six years — maybe, just maybe, we’ll have leadership that will take action and ask for voter approval for a portion of the SPLOST proceeds go to downtown improvements.
Of course, I don’t know why the citizens would approve such a referendum seeing that they were lied to by the city using the money almost exclusively for parks instead of downtown development.
When the city decided to spend well over $300,000 for the splash pad and other improvements off the Baxley Highway instead of spending that money downtown as was originally intended, I was angry.
And every time I pass through towns that show pride in their community, that anger renews itself.