MARY ANN ANDERSON
Last Monday night’s work session and Thursday night’s regular monthly meeting of the Hazlehurst City Council were lengthy by usual standards, but most of both meetings was spent on discussing the problems with an alleyway running behind the old Western Auto building just off Hinson Street.
The two-night marathon of banter that began with the council on Monday and then continued Thursday with a contingent of downtown business owners ran a total of an hour and 15 minutes. The contingent included Matthew Rentz of Mocha on Main, Rory Chaney of Olde Towne Mercantile, Landon Chavis of The Flower Gallery, and Terri and Chris Rush, who own the building that houses Mocha on Main, Allie Lynn’s and the soon-to-be-opened beauty salon Studio M.
At issue are several things, including who actually owns which part of the alley, the size of the alley – it’s 22 feet wide versus the standard alley size in Hazlehurst of 15 feet – easements in the alley owned by Georgia Natural Gas and Georgia Power, and antiquated water and sewer lines.
At one time, the city agreed to deed the alley to the surrounding landowners so it can be used, as Chaney explained in Thursday’s meeting, “for an outdoor entertainment area, tables, and seating, and not anything that can’t be picked up and moved.”
It has been used in the past for Hazlehurst Main Street’s Halloween Boo Bash and Christmas events, with more events planned for the future.
“We’ve gotten into one hell of a mess with this thing,” said Mayor Bayne Stone on Monday in referring to the alley. “I’m so sick of it, I don’t know what to do.”
He said that hiring a surveyor to designate where the alley’s property lines actually are would be the best solution to the problems. And, he added, with all of the revitalization going on in downtown, that putting in a new sewer line in the alley would help with issues of flooding and sewer backup that occurs with heavy rains. The main sewer line, as it stands now, runs down Hinson Street.
Another problem, Stone pointed out, is that the main building, the old Western Auto building, had only one bathroom. Now with Mocha on Main, Allie Lynn’s, and the multi-station Studio M beauty shop, the current water and sewer lines won’t be able to handle flows.
“We just need to run a bigger line, and they need to tie in,” said Water and Sewer Supervisor Chris McEachin of the merchants.
With Ward 1 Councilman John Ramay stating that the problems with the alleyway are a “catastrophe waiting to happen,” and with City Attorney Ken W. Smith saying that the parameters of the alley, including property and ownership lines, need to be established, Stone asked that the council authorize him to put the matter into the hands of engineers to look at the needs of plumbing to, in his words, “come up with a design to get the monkey off our back.”
With no vote taken, the Monday meeting ended.
When Thursday’s meeting rolled around, with the merchants from downtown crowding into the conference room, Stone told them that he didn’t think the city would be in a position to convey the alley to them because the entire matter had gotten “much more complicated” than he originally thought it would.
But Chaney pointed out that she and her husband, Joel, who are developing several buildings downtown, have just spent $6,000 on a roof over the alley with the promise the alley would be abandoned to them. She also suggested the city replacing the “rusted, busted 100-year-old” sewer pipe with PVC would solve the backup issues, with Council member John Bloodworth stating that the city should indeed repair the sewage issue “as a start.”
With the merchants moving to the dais, and the conversations continuing in the huddle with Smith and Stone for another quarter-hour, the city tentatively agreed to run new sewage pipes, but without any formal agreements between the city and merchants.
“We’re going to help you with the durned thing,” Stone finally ended that session of the meeting. “But we’ve got a lot of work to do. It’s very complicated.”
There was plenty of other business to keep the council hopping, too. After a request by Andrea Taylor of the Hazlehurst-Jeff Davis County Chamber of Commerce and Joint Development Authority, the council also approved two resolutions for the upcoming South Georgia Food and Wine Festival to move forward, a complex process that Stone called “a lot of red tape.”
The first resolution for the event, which will be held on Hinson Street in April, states that the success of the event is dependent upon the availability of alcohol and adopted an application for an event permit for off-premises alcohol sales to comply with state laws. The second resolution authorized the granting of licenses for off-premise sales of alcoholic beverages by the drink at properly approved catered events such as the festival. Applications and details on cost are available at City Hall.
Without a formal vote, the council took care of new year housekeeping by determining among themselves of who would be the liaison for each of the city’s departments for the next year. Each council member chose to remain in the post that he or she held last year, including Ward 1’s Dywane Johnson to remain over Public Works, Ramay over the Water and Sewer Department, Diane Leggett of Ward 3 to stay over Fire-Rescue, with Bloodworth to remain overseeing the Police Department. A motion was unanimously passed reappointing Johnson as mayor pro-tem for the upcoming year.
During the workshop, serious problems on Hatton Still Road also took precedence. In order to alleviate recent sewer spills because of what Stone termed a “tremendous error” in the operation of the nearby lift station, the council agreed to consult with Turnipseed Engineers, the city’s engineering firm headquartered in Augusta, for recommendations on resolving the issues and also to hire Sara Davis of Associates in Local Government Assistance of Alma to write a grant to help pay for costs related to those improvements.
And in wake of recent two nighttime pedestrian- and bicycle-related fatal accidents on the darkly-lit and dangerous Hatton Still Road, the council also agreed to hire James Benjamin to pour a new sidewalk on the road at the cost of about $25,000, to be paid from SPLOST and a Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant (LMIG). The council plans additional streetlights in the area to improve safety.
City Clerk Vernice Thompson then led a discussion about office staff having different hours in different departments, an issue that was leaving customers unable to contact the water department. After some discussion, the council voted to make all office hours for all administrative staff from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., with an hour for lunch, standard across the board.
Stone then added that employees were taking too much time for break and end-of-day clocking out, with employees sometimes showing up half an hour early to clock out. He asked that department heads “demand, ask, beg” for their employees to be “honest” with their supervisors and themselves when it comes to managing time.
Without a formal vote, Stone and Thompson also encouraged department heads to make sure employee vacations are taken before the holiday rush of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. They also stated that employees can’t take more than one week of vacation at a time, and that a vacation can’t be waived in lieu of being paid double-time, a practice that had at times been requested.
After hearing Fire-Rescue Chief Charles Wasdin discuss the need for a new computer, as his department’s old one isn’t capable of handling new software, the council agreed for a replacement at the cost of $1,400. Wasdin was also given authorization to apply for a $180,000 grant for new turnout gear and breathing apparatuses, with the city paying a five percent match.
And again, without making any formal motions or votes, the council also discussed the costs for planning assistance for the 2021 Joint Comprehensive Plan with Jeff Davis County and the City of Denton, with its cost of $10,000 to be divided equally among the three governments. The council members also briefly talked about the need for changing the structure for charging for building and construction permits but came to no firm conclusions on the matter.
December’s water and sewer adjustments, departmental reports, and the check register for bills already paid were approved.
For one of the only times in recent memory of council meetings, there were no citizens’ comments or mayor and council members’ comments in either the workshop or the regular meeting.
The next regularly scheduled workshop of the Hazlehurst City Council is Feb. 15, with the monthly meeting set for Feb. 18. Both meetings are at 6 p.m. in the conference room at City Hall.