MARY ANN ANDERSON
Santa Claus paid an early visit to Hazlehurst’s city employees, as the Hazlehurst City Council agreed in last week’s December work session to pay annual Christmas and safety bonuses.
The council also approved several other motions during the busy Monday night work session and Thursday night regular session, including having the Georgia Department of Transportation assess the two roundabouts in the school district to help alleviate accidents and congestion.
The roundabouts, one at the intersection of Charles Rogers Boulevard and Pat Dixon Road and the other at Collins Street and Pat Dixon, have been the scene of minor accidents and plenty of traffic confusion since they opened in 2019, especially at the Collins Street roundabout, which, says Mayor Bayne Stone, has been hit and broken several times over. Ward 4 Councilman John Bloodworth added that particular roundabout is a “major disaster” for lack of proper lighting.
With Bloodworth and Ward 3 Councilwoman Diane Leggett alluding to a well-built roundabout on St. Simons Island, Bloodworth mused whether the city could have “a St. Simons roundabout on a Hazlehurst budget.”
With the council’s flurry of suggestions, motions, and rescinded motions to add safety measures to the roundabouts that included possibly adding rumble strips, more lighting and extra concrete, the council members, after a lengthy discussion, voted to have Stone get in touch with GDOT to have “professional engineers” make recommendations to improve the roundabouts.
Also filling much of the time slots of the work session and regular meeting were the council’s discussions and decisions to take firm action against water customers who have fallen behind in their bills, primarily because of financial issues relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stone cited figures as high as $75-80,000 in delinquent accounts, but Deputy Clerk Lorrie Williams, who is also over water account billing, said those figures have dropped to $54,000 spread out among 198 residential and business customers.
With Ward 2’s John Ramay saying in the work session that the city had been “overly bleeding heart,” and with Williams and Stone both pronouncing the city had been “very lenient” with those past-due customers, Williams pointed out they have been asked via letters, notices on their water bills, Facebook posts and notices in the Jeff Davis Ledger in attempts to help them catch up on their delinquencies.
Stone noted that no customer’s water has been cut off throughout the pandemic, but now the city is in a “tight spot” of paying its own bills because of the “tremendous, tremendous backlog” of past due accounts. He added the city will need to collect the arrears to run the water department as it should be.
“We can’t operate the city with this type of situation,” said Stone, calling it an “expensive ordeal” to keep current the water department’s bills, including electricity and repairs.
In trying to figure out ways to get past-due account holders to pay up, the council discussed using water restriction devices to severely limit water flow to delinquent customers. But that idea, at least for the time being, was nixed by the council in favor of cutting off the water entirely for those who don’t make arrangements to bring their accounts up to date by Jan. 10.
With Ward 1 Councilman Dywane Johnson imploring those customers “to do what you’re supposed to be doing … please, please, please,” Leggett ended the discussion by sternly warning that if arrangements aren’t made, “You will be cut off.”
In passing a litany of other motions and business, the council ….
…. agreed for Stone to sign the resolution approving the master plan for 2020-30 for the Georgia Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Act.
…. approved training for Dustin Hyers of Hazlehurst-Jeff Davis County Fire-Rescue to attend fire inspector training classes at Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth from Jan. 11-22, 2021, and for Matthew Carr of Hazlehurst Police Department to attend the basic law enforcement training courses at the GPSTC’s Tifton campus from Jan. 7-Mar. 26, 2021.
…. voted on representatives for the zoning board, to include Luke Arnold for Ward 1, Dustin Hutto for Ward 2, Gregory Rainey for Ward 3, Clyde McCall for Ward 4 and Robert Carter for the at-large seat, with each to serve a three-year term.
…. gave the nod for the nomination of Brandy Miller of Fire-Rescue to represent the City of Hazlehurst in the 2021 JD Forward Leadership Academy sponsored by the Jeff Davis County Joint Development Authority.
…. approved the 2021 schedule for city council work sessions and regular meetings.
…. approved last month’s departmental reports, water and sewer adjustments and check register for bills paid in November.
…. okayed qualifying fees of $72 for council seats in Wards 1 and 2, now held respectively by Johnson and Ramay, for the general election in November 2021.
…. in Citizens Comments, Hazlehurst residents Gary and Tina Kemp asked for increased police presence and security in the neighborhood that includes Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Danny and Mildred streets, among others. Bloodworth, who is the liaison between the City Council and Hazlehurst Police Department, assured them the matter would be appropriately handled.
…. also in Citizens Comments, Johnson informed the council that Hazlehurst’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade has been cancelled because of COVID-19 concerns.
The next regularly scheduled work session will take place Jan. 18, with the regular monthly meeting set for Jan. 21. Both meetings are held at 6 p.m. in the conference room at City Hall.