MARY ANN ANDERSON
While Hazlehurst is steadily moving closer to leasing Sarah’s in the City, a buffet-style restaurant, in the city-owned civic center, it’s going to cost the City of Hazlehurst no less than $78,000.
During last week’s Monday work session of the Hazlehurst City Council, Mayor Bayne Stone said that Sarah Boatright, who owns two other buffet restaurants in Baxley and Alma and is planning another in Vidalia, is “eager to rent the restaurant,” but her requirements to open the Hazlehurst location include a walk-in cooler, walk-in freezer, commercial dishwasher, ice machine and other upgrades, all to the tune of $78,000.
With Ward 1 Councilman Dywane Johnson saying he was “much for it” and Ward 4 Councilman John Bloodworth adding that he doesn’t “see how we cannot not do this,” Stone said that the city doesn’t have the funds for the improvements.
“The people want Sarah’s in the City at the civic center,” Bloodworth added. “They’re excited about it.”
Stone gave a quick overview of the city’s finances, saying that he had tried his best for several years to raise ad valorem taxes, to no avail. He said, too, that while the water and sewer funds are adequate, the general fund, from where the money for the restaurant upgrades would come, is in debt to water and sewer. He also added that he thought it would take more than the estimated $78,000 for the improvements, possibly as much as $80-100,000.
Boatright has agreed to $2,000 a month in rent, and Stone said that if she signs a lease for five years, he will take that lease to a local bank and borrow the money for the new equipment and renovations.
Bloodworth then made the motion for City Attorney Ken W. Smith to prepare the lease, which the mayor and council unanimously approved.
During the Thursday afternoon meeting, Smith went over a base agreement that he had prepared detailing items the city or Boatright would be responsible for, including insurance, major appliances, renegotiation of rent and approval of signage.
Smith stated that the lease could be modified if something becomes untenable. He also asked Bloodworth to have Boatright’s attorney get in touch with him so the final specifics of the agreement could be worked out, and that afterward he should have it ready next week.
In another move, Ward 3 Councilwoman Diane Leggett also asked the council to consider installing speed bumps on Douglas Street, where she said “four-wheelers are running around town at 30, 40 and 50 miles an hour,” where children are playing in the street.
But Stone said he thought speed bumps would be an annoyance to other considerate drivers and said the drivers of the four-wheelers should be fined instead, adding, “If we look real hard for them, and give them a ticket, we might keep from inconveniencing everybody with speed bumps.”
Johnson pointed out that Girtman and Miller streets and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard are like “the Indianapolis 500 at some times.” While he also noted that he doesn’t like to “sic the police on anyone,” that if the police patrolled the areas more, it would help, with his stating, “The only way I think you’re going to stop them is to get in their pocketbooks.”
After Bloodworth suggested adding more “children at play” signs, Interim Police Chief James Mock said that he didn’t mind placing more officers around those areas but added, “Keep in mind that I don’t have an army, and there’re problems all over the city.”
Mock also said that he’s already grasping to put officers out when calls come in, but that he would “step up to the plate” and do what he could do.
“You can write a hundred tickets, but it’s not going to stop,” Mock said. “But it shows you’re doing your due diligence by putting the signs out there.”
The council agreed with Bloodworth to get more signs advising drivers that children are at play in the Douglas Street neighborhood.
In other action, the council made no formal motion but acknowledged the request of Rory Chaney of Hazlehurst Main Street to hold the fifth annual Boo Bash on Oct. 28 from 6-8 p.m., with the police department providing for streets to be blocked off and the fire department providing generator lights for the parking lot. The council also approved a request from Good Shepherd Catholic Church to hold its annual Christmas parade, with the route running from Jeff Davis County Courthouse to the church on U.S. Highway 341 South.
In usual housekeeping duties, the council approved the previous month’s water and sewer adjustments, departmental reports and check register and the May and June minutes of the workshop and regular meeting.
Stone also asked Hazlehurst Municipal Airport Manager Cody White for a called meeting in November with the airport’s board of directors to discuss hangar lease rates, with White agreeing to arrange it. The council also approved a weather system upgrade for the airport at a cost of $2,694, to be paid for with SPLOST funds.
Because City Clerk Vernice Thompson will be attending training at Jekyll Island in November, the council agreed to have a combined work session and regular monthly meeting Nov. 13, with no meeting scheduled for Nov. 16.
During Citizens’ Comments of the regular session, Thompson also acknowledged the passing of longtime city employee Bobby Floyd. She noted, too, that she has just completed eight years as city clerk and said to the council, “Thank you for the opportunity to serve in this position and I’m honored and humbled that you feel like I can handle it.”