County Administrator Mike Underwood said maintaining the present level of service for the citizens of Jones County for the coming year will be a trying task for the Board of Commissioners. He said the economic times of today are not only tough on individuals, corporations and small businesses, but is also difficult for local governments.
“Local governments depend on state and federal government assistance along with fines, fee revenue generators, and taxation to fund the cost necessary to provide a sufficient level of service to the citizens that makes a viable and livable community,” Underwood explained.
The administrator said state funding that helps to supplement cost for projects and programs is on hold at the present time.
“And we anticipate it to only get worse,” he noted. “A typical example is the funding that had normally been received through the Georgia Department of Transportation. Normally, we would receive about four miles of road resurfacing under the LARP Program annually. It is my understanding that this resurfacing assistance has come to a halt, and we will have to look for other ways to continue this upgrade.”
GDOT has also started making cities and counties apply for any assistance on road improvements through a grant process, according to Underwood. Cities and counties must compete with other like cities and counties for funding.
“This is just an example of one state department’s change in funding assistance, and there are many others,” he said.
Underwood also pointed out that, during tough economic times, revenues tend to fall off with some individuals not being able to pay their taxes on time, and with sales tax revenues falling off, the cost of services is going up.
“The Board of Commissioners is committed to finding alternative or additional revenues to help alleviate some of the burden that is placed on present home and property owners. This year will be the first year of impact fees associated with construction, and additionally the commission is looking at implementing a business occupation tax,” he said.
Underwood said the occupation tax, commonly called a business license, would not necessarily be a revenue generator but a means of knowing what types of businesses are within the Jones County area.
“This is an excellent marketing tool when trying to attract other businesses and industry. The Georgia Regional Industrial Park is making headway with the construction of the entrance road onto the site. This is the first step in making the site accessible and able to be shown for development,” he added.
Underwood conceded that the year of 2009 will be a tough year, but as a community, he said Jones County can handle it.
“We have a great place to live and raise children, and I think that those that live here are fortunate,” he stated.
Underwood said Jones County and Gray have almost everything needed, and if not, it is about a 12-mile trip to find it.
“When we come back home, we are in an environment that has a very low crime rate with excellent law enforcement protection, a community with a great school system with eyes toward the future,” he said.
Underwood added Jones County has an infrastructure service system provided by county employees that is superb for the level of funding they receive.
“Life is great in Jones County, and will only get better.”
Preston Hawkins, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, said one of his biggest concerns is the industrial park.
“We want to continue with the road into the park so that it will improve the sale-ability of the site. Industry is an important need of our county, and we need to continue the efforts forward to attract industry at the site as soon as possible,” he said.
Hawkins also said Jones County needs to get new wells online in the southeastern part of the county, which will expand the water system to prepare for future growth. He said the North Gray Bypass seems to have been stalled for the present time, but one of his main efforts for 2009 is to work through the legislative process to ensure that the project continues forward and construction is on target.
“This year we have all intentions to begin construction on the new recreation park on the 65-acre site on Highway 18 East. I will be working with the legislators to look for funding and personnel assistance provided by state departments, such as the Georgia Department of Corrections, to help us with construction,” he said.
Hawkins said the help from the state agencies, along with funding from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), should provide a grand recreation park within close proximity to the City of Gray and surrounding community in the very near future.
He said improvements to the landscaping at the W.E. Knox Civic Center, in addition to correcting drainage problems, should be completed this year. Funds were made available for that project by a transportation grant received a couple of years ago.
“The Board of Commissioners and I will be working alongside the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia to protect the interests of local governments and to try to stop the reduction in funding assistance. This will be a tough year for the legislators, and we will travel to Atlanta during the session in order to influence where able,” Hawkins said.
Jones County Sheriff Butch Reece has been able to fund some needed improvements through alternative sources. He said computers have been ordered for six Jones County Sheriff Department vehicles, and they should arrive and be installed this month. Reece said the wireless computers will have access to the Georgia Crime Information Center (GCIC) database.
“This will take the load off of our dispatchers. The deputies will be able to run license checks themselves. We are starting with six in-car computers, which were paid for with seized money from the drug unit,” Reece said.
The computers will also help keep information off the police radio during investigations. He said the computers will be able to do everything the in-house system does with the exception of making printouts.
The sheriff said the Global Positioning System units installed in patrol cars have worked well. The GPS units help ensure the safety of officers on late-night shifts, and the units keep a record of the movement of the vehicles.
“They help us to monitor the deputies, and we occasionally need to slow them down. The GPS units also cut down on response time because dispatchers can see the closest officer to send to a call,” Reece said.
Having a record of the patrols and how often neighborhoods are patrolled is also helpful. Reece said camera systems in the patrol vehicles are being updated for clearer pictures and better audio.
“The uniform division can thank the drug unit for the nice equipment,” the sheriff pointed out. “The equipment provides more safety to the officers at no expense to taxpayers.”
More improvements are being made to courthouse security, according to Reece. He said, in addition to the walk-through metal detector currently being used, an X-ray machine is expected to arrive any day. He said the X-ray machine like the metal detector is being provided by the U.S. Marshal Service.
“The general public has accepted the increase in security well. We’ve really only had one complaint,” Reece added.
The state probation office is in the process of moving from the courthouse to a new office on the grounds of the Sheriff’s Department. The move was motivated by a need for more office space at the courthouse.
“Our objective for the upcoming year is to serve the people of Jones County. Their help always makes our job easier,” he said.
Reece said he would like to see a decrease in child molestation cases.
“We just have too many. We need to be more aware that it exists, and we want to help educate families, churches, schools, and civic organizations, so it can be stopped,” he said.
City of Gray
Mayor Jason Briley said the biggest problem in the City of Gray this past year was the water main break that happened in November.
“It was a freak thing and hard to find because of where it was. The problem is we couldn’t isolate the line, and now we’ve put more valves in the 12-inch line,” he said.
Briley said the city is in decent shape financially, and he feels the biggest challenge for local governments in the coming year is lowering taxes.
“When I took office in 1998, people moved here for low taxes. That’s not the case anymore. From that time to now, groups have talked about planning for growth, but no one has done that. Now taxes have gone out of sight,” he said.
The mayor said he believes in the philosophy that the highest political responsibility is that of the voters.
“Until voters require better from local government, they won’t get it. It time to figure out what you want and voice it,” he commented.
Briley said the only time a crowd appears at council meetings is when someone has a ‘bur under their saddle’.
“Unless folks get involved on a regular basis nothing’s going to happen,” he said. “Jones County People Looking Ahead Now (PLAN) made a great attempt, however ineffective it may be.”
Briley reiterated the importance of city and county governments making taxes their number one priority. He said taxes are high and continue to get higher.
“We need the courage to stop spending money on what isn’t necessary. The county voted to give one-half million dollars to the Old Clinton Historical Society. What good is that going to do?” he asked.
The mayor said Gray needs a new wastewater treatment plant, but the money is not there. He pointed out that the Board of Education came to the city wanting water and sewer for the new school on Turnerwoods Road.
“They needed it right then for their schedule to work. The problem is the lack of planning. Water customers for the City of Gray are already facing a huge bill for wastewater treatment. The school is going to require a huge additional expenditure from the city and county,” he said.
Briley explained that the city will provide the water and sewer for the school, and the county will have to repair the roads. He said turning buses down Turnerwoods Road is not going to solve the traffic problem on Morton Road.
“We need to put our new facilities where the infrastructure is. The county is going to end up spending a ton of money on Morton Road. It’s a terrible intersection, and we’re going to be throwing more traffic on it. Adding more traffic on Turnerwoods Road will be felt,” he said.
Briley said he is not picking on the Board of Education, but he feels the new school is another example of the failure to plan.
“City and county officials need to say no when it’s the right answer,” he concluded. “Getting taxes in shape needs to be a priority as does creating jobs and reducing expenditures.”
Gray Police Department Chief Adam Lowe said, during the recent move to the new police department building located on Highway 18 East, he found a stash of neighborhood watch signs. The chief said he would like to get neighborhood groups together and meet regularly with police officers.
“We want people in the subdivisions and neighborhood to let us know what is going on that we don’t know,” he said.
Lowe said an officer will be assigned to each section of the city, and he would like to have the meetings once a quarter.
“When economic times get tough, there is a possibility of more home burglaries. We need people in the neighborhoods to help us watch, and this will be a good opportunity to get to know your neighbors,” he said.
The chief said if subdivisions are already having homeowners’ association meetings, officers will attend those.
“The city has a low home burglary rate, and we want to keep it that way,” he said.
Lowe said city accidents are lower this year and he feels it is because of the visibility of officers. He said Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds will provide two new police cars a year, which will help with the city’s budget.
He said the new police building has a good size meeting room that is available for use by civic groups. For more information about the room or anyone interested in participating in the neighborhood watch program should call Lowe at the Gray Police Department at 986-5554.
The Gray Police Department and Gray Station Better Hometown will be hosting the Feb. 19, Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours as an opportunity to showcase its new building.
“We want to meet the new people in Gray, and we want them to meet us,” Lowe stated.