Annexing Streets Allows GSP To Write More Tickets

During last week’s Monday night workshop of the Hazlehurst City Council, more motions were passed than in Thursday night’s regular session.
Since Ward Four Councilman John Bloodworth is recovering from surgery, he attended the workshop by telephone, but he and the full council were present at Thursday night’s meeting.
During the workshop, Mayor Bayne Stone and City Attorney Ken W. Smith outlined annexation of several city streets, a move that would generate revenue by traffic tickets issued by the Georgia State Patrol. Smith said that he was “still researching” to determine whether the Georgia Department of Transportation or the State Legislature has the authority to annex those roads and no action was taken on the matter. Stone, however, pointed out that in any case no residential property would be affected by the annexation.
The council then got into a lengthy discussion, including input by former Ward Three Councilman Eric Griffin, about paying an almost $14,000 repair bill to Interstate Nation Lease on the city’s streetsweeper. Griffin said that the equipment, purchased when he was on the council, was a “good sweeper” and a “good deal” when it was acquired but that it was not maintained as it should have been. Stone also said that parts of the sweeper had to be “rebuilt,” which made the bill so high. The council unanimously passed the motion to pay the invoice.
During both the workshop and regular meeting, the council took quite a while to discuss the city’s failing water meters.
Deputy City Clerk Lorrie Williams, who is the water billing administrator, said that the city’s approximately 2,500 meters are failing at a rate of about 40 percent, with only 4 to 5 percent of the total number of meters still under warranty. She also pointed out that she has had to bill some customers on averaged past use because the city doesn’t have the manpower to read all the meters by hand when the electronics of the meters fail.
Stone called the problem “unbearable,” but stated that while it’s fair, it’s also “poor business” for the city to average the bills.
Williams then explained to the council that she has a quote of $267,400 from Lanier Municipal Supply in Lakeland for 1,400 three-quarter inch new water meters, but that the software it requires would be coming at no cost from a Community Development Block Grant.
The Water Department’s Chris McEachin and Williams said that the cost of meters doesn’t include their installation, something that McEachin said would take time to complete.
Stone then pointed out that the battery life for the Master Meters, the meters now in place, is good for only ten years. Williams said the battery life of meters from Lanier would be 25 years. She also explained that batteries for either Master Meter or new ones from Lanier Supply cannot be replaced, which means the meters themselves must be replaced.
While it’s an expensive project, Stone and Williams both said that estimating the city’s water bills must, in Stone’s word, “cease,” and that the city take a “sensible approach” to solve the problem.
Despite the lengthy discussion in the workshop and another nearly 40-minute discussion among Stone, the entire council, Williams and Justin Smothers and Chris Corbett of Lanier during Thursday’s regular meeting, Stone said the city had “finances to work out” before making a decision on if and when the meters could be purchased.
Also during the workshop, the council adopted a resolution approving the low bid by Thrift Brothers LLC of Waycross for $765,863 for water system improvements. And also in the workshop, the council approved the March’s departmental reports, water and sewer adjustments, minutes and check register for bills already paid. In the Citizens Comments section of the meeting, after hearing from Fire and Rescue Chief Charles Wasdin, the council agreed for his department to purchase surveillance cameras for $893.
Councilwoman Diane Leggett, in the Mayor and Councilmembers Comments of the workshop, stated that she had been contacted by several local businesses that are closed because of coronavirus hazards and who asked her if they could open under special conditions. Stone said that the state mandates for sheltering in place and business closures superseded any local government mandates and that the businesses must stay closed.
(Note the meeting was before Governor Kemp’s announced the “reopening” of the state last Friday.)
During the regular session on Thursday night, the council agreed for Ryan and Mariah Herndon of The Theatre of Hazlehurst to sell curbside concessions, just as restaurants are offering curbside service.
After hearing the need to replace rusting, almost dilapidated city dumpsters explained primarily by Public Works Supervisor Conrad Swain and Ward One Councilman Dywane Johnson, the council voted to purchase 10 new dumpsters at the cost of $8,500, plus a $200 total delivery fee.
The council also approved the accounting firm of Henderson and Godbee of Valdosta to conduct the city’s annual audit at the cost of $26-$28,000.
City Clerk Vernice Thompson reported that the annual conference for Georgia Municipal Association, which the mayor and council attend each year, as well as the required classes for the council members, will be handled virtually.
In Mayor and Councilmen’s Comments, Johnson asked the Council to consider canceling water bills for a month, but Stone pointed out that the monthly revenue from those bills is about $200,000. But, he added, the city would need to “study” the request, with Ward Two Councilman John Ramay adding that city wanted to help small businesses “maintain” and “be able to be functional in the future.” Thompson then suggested not adding penalties or late fees to those who are struggling to pay their water bills, with Stone adding that the city isn’t cutting off services for anyone during the coronavirus crisis.
Leggett closed out that section of the meeting by giving a shout-out to city employees who work on trash trucks for the good job they are doing, and then ended with Stone asking for suggestions from the council for ideas on how to help local citizens and small businesses.
The next monthly workshop is May 18, with the next regular meeting set for May 21. Both meetings are at 6 p.m. in the conference room at City Hall.

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