Valdosta Daily Times

February 24, 2013

Commission retreat continues

Commissioners make priority list, talk SPLOST

Jason Schaefer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — The Lowndes County Board of Commissioners met for the second and final day of their 2013 Planning Retreat, this time spending the morning discussing state legislation that could impact the county, the state of each of the county departments and goals for the coming year.

For incoming commissioners John Page and Demarcus Marshall, the morning was a continuation of an introduction into their service on the new five-member board, and for new Chairman Bill Slaughter, it was an opportunity to create a list of priorities.

Issues in legislation included House Bill 176, which “has the potential to be detrimental to Moody Air Force Base, as it may limit their fly zone,” County Manager Joe Pritchard said, along with HB 142, which pertains to the ethics of local governments, and HB 80, which makes adjustments to the way vehicles will be taxed.

House Bill 176 gives independent cellular phone companies the ability to build or modify cell towers without the intervention of governments. If these companies choose to build near Moody, this could mean problems with the base’s fly zone, Pritchard said.

During the report of the Utilities Department, Page expressed concern about the County’s plan to tie all water systems together and have it “run downhill” to a treatment plant in the southern part of the county. He expressed a strong preference for individual systems running off of independent wells, but he was met with unanimous support against his opinion.

“Just because you drill a well doesn’t mean it’s healthy,” Slaughter said, speaking about the difficulty in maintaining quality issues among independent wells.

“Why we’re tied into the same county-wide system when we have individual systems already, it may be a philosophical thing, and we may have a difference of opinion,” Page said. “But we don’t need to gloss over things like this. We need to re-evaluate them.”

Commissioner Crawford Powell spoke for the remaining commissioners, saying, “If we were to take a straw poll, the majority would want to keep it the way it is.”

Pritchard continued the departmental reports with the announcement of the Public Works Department’s anticipation of a heavy mosquito season, which could mean more expenditures on insect-preventative larvacide and “adulticide,” Pritchard said.

In the Planning Division report, Pritchard mentioned the success of Warner Robins in their efforts to preserve Robins Air Force Base from encroachment issues. Houston County purchased land around the base to maintain control of the base’s activity zone and halt development near the base.

The policies of Houston County and Warner Robins could serve as an example for Lowndes County’s approach to the preservation of Moody, Pritchard explained. Slaughter said the preservation of the base is a high priority, as its presence and continued operation injects upwards of $50 million a year into the county economy.

Pritchard mentioned the successes of efforts in the Animal Welfare Division, including the County’s first county-wide pet adoption and health fair last year, but the board expressed concerns about the size and quality of the animal shelter, which was originally built using an experimental composite material, Slaughter said.

Updates to the facility used to house the Emergency 911 call center might also be necessary, Slaughter said.

In summary, Slaughter took the final portion of the meeting to elicit goals from the commission and announce his own list, gathered over both days of the retreat.

Page expressed a desire for the Commission to keep communication open and “be patient” with the new commissioners as they learn new things about the county. Commissioner Demarcus Marshall said he would like to put the argument between the City and County over the division of SPLOST and LOST revenues “behind him.”

“At some point, someone is going to have to be the adult in the room,” Marshall said. “I want peace.”

Commissioner Crawford Powell said he would like to see a six-month report on the new waste management policy. Commissioner Richard Raines expressed concerns about preserving the local health care industry, and Commissioner Joyce Evans said she would like to hire more employees to extend the scope of the pre-trial release program.

Finally, Slaughter shared his list with the commission—upgrades to computer equipment, the expansion of broadband service in the county, bridge repairs, road paving, fleet replacement, the expansion of the 911 center, a direct fiber cable system and efforts to protect Moody. He also mentioned the importance of SPLOST.

“Very little of what we talked about is attainable without revenue,” Slaughter said. “The community needs SPLOST to advance the county and prevent tax increases. We don’t want to wait until a bridge is out to have to raise taxes to repair it. SPLOST is necessary. So we have to be a little concerned about the needs of the city as well because we’re stewards of everyone in the county.”

Before the County can generate an official priority list, an agreement between the City of Valdosta and the County on the division of SPLOST revenues must be reached, Slaughter said.