MARY ANN ANDERSON
Overtime pay because of staffing shortages is blowing the Hazlehurst Police Department and Hazlehurst-Jeff Davis Fire-Rescue Department’s budgets to pieces, said Mayor Bayne Stone during last week’s regular monthly meeting of the City Council.
As of last Thursday, said Police Chief Ken Williams, the department is four officers short. While he is actively recruiting for new officers, the department had to spend extra by paying 116.5 hours in overtime just during a two-week period.
“We can’t help it,” said Ward 4 Councilman John Bloodworth, who is the liaison between the city and the police department. “We can’t help it at all. We’re doing what we can do to get by. We just don’t have the manpower.”
An obviously frustrated Williams said that he and others are covering the additional hours needed to properly patrol the city.
“I’m doing the very best that I can on overtime,” he told the council, noting that just about every other law enforcement agency in Georgia is in the same shape that his is in. “It’s the nature of the beast right now.”
Fire-Rescue Chief Charles Wasdin intoned that few want to work in public safety because it’s been “demonized,” adding, “The world has changed, folks, especially when it comes to public safety. Unless things change, it’s not going to get any better.”
Stone suggested that adjustments for overtime should be made at the end of the year, which is halfway through the fiscal year, to better plan for unexpected overtime.
But public safety is still paramount, the council and both chiefs agreed, even with the budget shortfalls.
“We have to be cognizant of the fact of the budget as well as the overtime as it affects the budget,” said Ward 2 Councilman John Ramay. “With all that being said, these calls need to be answered.”
Also during Thursday’s meeting, the council heard a report from Gary Evans, chairman of the city’s golf course advisory committee. The committee was created by the council for purposes of recommendations of how to move forward with the city-owned but money-draining golf course and civic center.
The committee is comprised of Evans on behalf of the Hazlehurst-Jeff Davis County Chamber of Commerce, Stone, County Commissioner Ricky Crosby, Chris Roppe of the Jeff Davis County School System, and Jim Sewell of the Hazlehurst-Jeff Davis County Board of Tourism. The group first met on September 14 and have had several meetings since then.
Joey Lee, a golf course specialist from Waycross, also attended the meeting.
“Whatever is in the best interest of the City of Hazlehurst is what I would like to see happen with the golf course,” he said, adding that he wants to see the golf course back to where it’s generating sufficient revenue to pay for itself.
That’s when Bloodworth interjected, “The city can’t afford it. I don’t care how much money you’re talking about. The city can’t handle it at all, but I’m open to what the committee has to say.”
Ramay also remarked that the complex has been an albatross for the city for a long time, adding, “It does lots of things that are good, but if we can’t afford to maintain it and it’s hurting the city’s economic affairs, we’ve got to do something.”
Evans stated there is a list of potential actions, running the gamut from leasing the property to outright selling it. He also noted the committee is considering the pros and cons of those various options, but that the process will take two to four months of study before its members can make solid recommendations.
In other action during last Monday’s workshop and Thursday’s regular meeting, the council ….
…. approved a resolution to apply for a OneGeorgia grant from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs for additional water capacity and fire protection improvements to Thompson Hardwoods, owned by Beasley Forest Products. The resolution was in response to build a new 12-inch waterline to Baxley Highway operation for fire suppression at a cost of $967,000, with $500,000 of it to be financed with the OneGeorgia grant, with the proposal by Stone that the remainder should be divided among the Hazlehurst-Jeff Davis County Industrial Development Authority, Beasley, Jeff Davis County Commission and the City of Hazlehurst.
…. okayed September’s water and sewer adjustments, departmental reports to the council, bills already paid, and meeting minutes.
…. agreed to meet with the Jeff Davis County commissioners on November 3 with Jennifer Herzog, the approved attorney and mediator for the Georgia Municipal Association and Association County Commissioners of Georgia, to jointly negotiate the local option sales tax.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The Nov 3 meeting is an arbitration because the City and County could not come to a mandated agreement on the distribution of the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) proceeds. The distribution, since the inception of LOST, has been 60% to the County and 40% to the City. During meetings to try to reach an agreement on the distribution formula, Mayor Stone asked for an increase in the City’s share. When the County would not agree, Stone asked that the matter go to arbitration. At last week’s meeting, City Clerk Vernice Thompson pointed out that Ms. Herzog’ fee would be $200 per hour, per entity — $400 per hour total — plus per diem.]
…. after learning of a fatal shooting in Ward 1, heard an impassioned plea from Councilman Dywane Johnson to the citizens of Hazlehurst, “A young man lost his life. To the citizens, your children are gold … Families, take care of your young people. It has to start at home. Once the breath has gone out of your child’s body, you can’t put it back. Make sure that you raise them right. Teach the children at home … It’s utterly tragic that a young boy is dead because of foolishness.”
…. after hearing about the lack of signage and road striping in Ward 4 primarily from Bloodworth, discussed but made no formal motion on finding the means to correct those issues. Stone asked Johnson, the liaison over the Streets Department, to delve more into viable solutions and give a report at November’s monthly meeting.
…. after the second reading by City Attorney Ken W. Smith of the Fire Safety Standards and Enforcement Ordinance, unanimously approved the measure.
…. after hearing from Justin Outzs of Turnipseed Engineering, the city’s engineering firm, outline a request from L&L Utilities of East Dublin to terminate a contract between that business and the city for fire hydrant repair and replacement, agreed to mutually negotiate ending the contract, in Outzs’s words, in an “honorable way.”
…. okayed travel expenses for City Clerk Vernice Thompson to attend the fall conference of Georgia Local Government Personnel Association from Nov. 1-4 in Pine Mountain, and for Linda McNeely of the police department to attend a municipal court clerk’s recertification course from Nov. 3-4 in Savannah.
…. during the Citizen’s Comments section of the meeting, after hearing from a local citizen about the lack of water pressure in a residential area off the Broxton Highway outside of the city limits but on the city water system, agreed to annex the area so that a larger waterline can be installed to the neighborhood. The vote passed 4 yea, 0 no and 1 abstention, with Ramay not voting.