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City’s Finances Are Dismal

During last Monday night’s work session of the Hazlehurst City Council, Mayor Bayne Stone and council members voted unanimously that Ward 1 Councilman Dywane Johnson is this year’s mayor pro tem, which means essentially that he will take over the helm of city business if the mayor is absent or becomes ill.
In other yearly housekeeping measures, which normally are held in January during the first meeting of the year, the council unanimously reinstated Johnson as the liaison between the city and the Public Works and Streets departments. Ward 2 Councilman John Ramay is to oversee the Water and Sewer Department, Ward 3’s Diane Leggett is over Fire-Rescue and Ward 4’s John Bloodworth is the liaison with the Police Department. Stone will remain liaison with Hazlehurst Municipal Airport and the city-owned Twisted Pine Golf Course. And, as has been in the past required by city charter but now is just a formality, all city employees were rehired for the upcoming year.
But one of the lengthier discussions of the workshop focused on the city’s monthly financial statement for the period ending Jan. 31, 2022, which Stone called a “very sad situation.” He said that the General Fund has a deficit of about $672,000, with Twisted Pine Golf Course almost $300,000 in the red. He noted, however, that the Water and Sewer Department is “doing real well.”
“You’re either going to have to cut your budgets or you’re going to have to get some more revenue,” he said to the department heads who attended the meeting. “It’s really, really simple.”
Among the plans floated that will help increase revenue are raising rates on commercial garbage accounts ranging from 13 to 15 percent, having trash containers repaired in-house rather than farming out the work and selling a nonworking trash truck, a 2008 Peterbilt, and using that revenue to purchase additional trash carts.
In addition to financial troubles, another bone of contention for the council is that the work under a contract with L&L Utilities for fire hydrant repair and replacement has not been completed, despite a nearly year-old contract that stated it would be finished by now.
“It’s the messiest contract I’ve ever been involved in,” said Stone, noting that only one-third of 75 fire hydrants have been replaced in work that was supposed to be completed months ago.
“I am not pleased at all with the fact that they have the contract and they’re not doing the work,” said Ramay of L&L. “They were supposed to have been finished.”
Stone said that L&L is willing to work with the city on solving the problem, adding, “We’re going to take care of this problem. We’re not going to let it whip us.”
Later in the week at Thursday night’s regular session, the meeting ended with tempers flaring between Stone and Bloodworth over services the City provides to the Jeff Davis County Tourism-sponsored Peaches to the Beaches yard sale.
Stone said that every year since the inception of the event, the City has provided, at no cost to Tourism, trash cans, trash pickup and police services for traffic and safety issues. He said that although Peaches to the Beaches is a county event, the city provides “all the work, labor, trash cans, police protection … it’s a hell of a mess.”
Stone said that Jim Sewell of the Hazlehurst-Jeff Davis County Board of Tourism has once again asked for those services, but he, as mayor, was reluctant to provide them because his request that the City receive hotel and motel sales taxes rather than the County, who is now getting all of that tax revenue, was voted down in a previous City Council meeting.
“What am I supposed to do?” he asked the council, his frustration apparent.
Bloodworth took the challenge, saying, “That was not solving anything. That was going to make something worse. So, I really wish you would pick some battles a little bit differently.”
Stone then countered to Bloodworth that he was going to refer Sewell to him, with Bloodworth responding, “That will be fine with me. I can handle it. I can take care of it. Send him to me.”
The argument between the two heightened, with Stone saying he was “still mad” that the City wasn’t given the hotel and motel sales tax revenue so it could handle events such as Peaches to the Beaches.
But Bloodworth angrily shot back that Stone was “bitching,” and “throwing everything” back to the county to handle.
That’s when Stone abruptly asked that the meeting be adjourned, but Johnson stated that the council had to go into closed session to discuss personnel. When the council returned from that session, it was announced that no action was taken on the unnamed matter. The meeting then hastily adjourned.
In other action during the workshop and monthly meeting, the council ….
…. selected Turnipseed Engineers as the engineer of record for the 2022 Community Development Block Grant for sewer improvements on Hatton Still Road.
…. agreed for the mayor, all council members and City Clerk Vernice Thompson to attend Georgia Municipal Association’s regional training for Local Option Sales Tax in Vidalia on March 2.
…. designated Juneteenth, now a federal holiday and the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the U.S., as an annual holiday for city employees.
…. heard an update from Ramay and Stone on punch list issues at the Georgia State Patrol station, with both saying those issues — among them problems with firewalls, stove venting and paving — are primarily between the Georgia Department of Public Safety and David Woodburn, the Dublin-based architect who designed the building, and which should be corrected fairly soon, with Stone adding, “The work is in their hands and not ours, and the best thing we can do is stand back and look.
…. received an update from City Attorney Ken W. Smith on title issues with land where the Division of Driver Services building is to be built, with him saying, “It’s moving along.” Stone stated the DDS has assured him the project is progressing even with the title bumps.
…. heard detailed reports from Deputy City Clerk Lorrie Williams on raising cut-in fees to install water services to new customers in efforts to raise revenue. She also briefly discussed the possibility of providing garbage pickup to residents outside of the city limits. The council took no formal action on either matter.
…. discussed purchasing a lift station pump that has been under a rental contract with Goforth Williamson for nine months, with Stone giving the go-ahead to buy it if all of the rent paid so far, some $3,600, can be applied to the purchase price.
…. approved eight first responders with the Hazlehurst-Jeff Davis County Fire-Rescue to travel to New Mexico Tech in Socorro for the Incident Response to Terrorist Bombings class, with all costs for the training to be borne by the federal government and not the City.
…. okayed January’s minutes of City Council meetings, water and sewer adjustments, departmental reports and check register for bills already paid.
…. after a request by the local Lions Club under its Adopt-a-Park program to take over maintenance of the City-owned Weatherly Park, including keeping trash picked up and refurbishing picnic tables, approved a motion to express gratitude to the Lions Club and authorized the program to move forward.
…. briefly discussed in Mayor and Comments section to change meeting times from 6 p.m. to an earlier hour, with the matter to be discussed in more detail on the March agenda.

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