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HB 170 – Current Version is MUCH better for our community….


“The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change ” – HeraclitusRoadisopen

― That quote fits really well into the legislative process.   HB 170 – the House version of the transportation bill, as introduced was very UNFRIENDLY to local governments.   (Read my earlier post for full details).   But city’s around the state complained to their respective representatives.  Many cities and counties were passing resolutions asking their representatives to vote NO to House Bill 170.   People were screaming, cussing, and complaining.   But our representatives LISTENED to us, and the current version of this bill shows that.

As it stands now….

The House has made significant efforts to address the concerns expressed by local elected officials about the original bill’s impact on local revenues. HB 170 no longer includes language that would give a county governing sole authority to impose, or not impose, a 6¢ per gallon local excise tax. With the local excise tax option removed, so too is the local distribution formula based on DOT’s Local Maintenance & Improvement Grant (LMIG) program.

HB 170 as it passed the House Transportation Committee would do the following:

  • beginning July 1, 2015, LOST, HOST and Atlanta’s MOST would no longer be collected on the sale of motor fuel;
  • beginning July 1, 2015, the tax rate for LOST, HOST and MOST would be adjusted to 1.25% from the current 1% rate;
  • current and future SPLOSTs and ESPLOSTs would continue to be imposed at a rate of 1%;
  • current and future SPLOSTs and ESPLOSTs would continue to be collected on motor fuel except that diesel would no longer be taxed beginningJuly 1, 2015;
  • for future SPLOSTs and EPLOSTS, any revenue collected from the sale of motor fuel would be required to be spent on transportation needs, which for cities and counties is defined broadly to include transit, rail and airports, and for schools includes the purchase of fuel and buses.

The House Transportation Committee version of HB 170 is a good faith attempt to make cities, counties and schools whole and to use current sales tax agreements for the distribution of revenue. While House leaders are looking for ways to reach the goal of making local governments whole in the aggregate, as with any significant change in what can be taxed as well as tax rates, some jurisdictions would see increases in tax revenue while others would experience a decrease.

In our community, the breakdown is as follows.   (assuming future sales of motor fuels and other taxable products in our community remain somewhat stable with what 2014 saw).

LOST IMPACT:
City of Hawkinsville – Current = $421,455    Under HB170 = $444,800 (Net increase of $23,345)
County – Current =$421,455   Under HB170 = $444,800 (Net Increase of $23,345)

SPLOST IMPACT:
City of Hawkinsville – Current = $421,455    Under HB170 = $411,200 (Net decrease of $23,345)
County – Current =$421,455   Under HB170 = $411,200 (Net decrease of $23,345)

ESPLOST IMPACT
Pulaski County School System – Current = $842,911 Under HB170 = $822,400 (Net decrease of $20,510)

Total Community Impact is a net increase of revenue of a little over $5,600

Another benefit to us locally is that the GDOT is legally mandated to re-distribute at least 10% of its budget allocation for LOCAL improvements (know as LMIG – Local Maintenance and Improvement Grants.   Last year the county received some $200,000 while the city received some $45,000 (to be matched 30%).    Since the GDOT budget will rise SIGNIFICANTLY due to this HB170, our city and county should be receiving somewhere between a 50% and 100% increase in our LMIG allocations.   This should result in many more miles of roads within our city that will be repaved during the 2016 fiscal year!

So, originally, the bill was BAD…..   We complained as did others…..   Our representatives listened and the current version of the bill is palatable.

Now lets wait and see what the Senate version of the bill looks like.

Shelly Berryhill
Hawkinsville City Commission
shelly@hawkinsvillega.net

“I’m from the Government and I am here to help you”


“I’m from the Government and I am here to help you.”   If that does not strike you with fear, then you are different from most of us.   As a general rule, the government adds layers of bureaucracy and rules and regulations and seldom “helps” us achieve much.   Typically we are all better off if we can “help ourselves.”

Our little community of Hawkinsville is celebrating.   Madison Conner, a 15 year old runaway, has been found and is safe.   While I write this, her parents are on their way to pick up their daughter.   And this celebrating has many in our community talking about “What can we do for our young people?”  It a discussion that is held often by all segments of our population.

Although I indicated that the government seldom helps, I did want to take a moment to reflect on some ways / ideas / thoughts that are both government and private that involve this concept of “What can we do for our young people?”

GOVERNMENT:  The City/County together contribute over $150,000 / year toward our local Recreation program.   We have an awesome rec program serving over 300 children in our community.   We have great facilities enhanced in recent years through SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) and more facilities being planned and built now.   I realize that this program does not and can not serve everyone and the location of the facilities is less than optimum, but it is a resource and it DOES serve hundreds of children in a very positive way.

We also have James Colson Park located off of 6th street.   You can drive by most any time and see hundreds of children, youth and adults “hanging out” at Colson Park.   The city has recently been awarded a grant that will allow us to add some playground equipment at this park.

We are in the process of applying for state grant funds that will allow us to build a skateboard park in Hawkinsville.  We plan on adding this park to some donated land right next to the PHP building on Highway 341 North.    Our Youth have recently signed petitions with over 700 names in support of this park.   If all goes as planned, 2014 might see this facility built with little or no local tax dollars involved.

The City and County both have recently enhanced their river walk areas.   Again, while not devoted to “Youth”, these river walk areas will serve all people while catering to FAMILIES.

Our local 4H club is bustling with activity.

The city is a major supporter of our local Arts Council.    While some will argue that the concerts provided are more focused on adults and out of the price range of our youth, I have to mention that efforts ARE made through the Arts Council to bring in events that are youth focused.  The Arts Council hosts yearly events that are field trips from the schools dealing with the performing arts.   The local Talent Show is held yearly showcasing local and mostly young musical artists.    Recently, a country singer (Gannon Adams) was brought in and performed for Free at the school system and then offered a relatively inexpensive concert at the Opera House.

The City helps sponsor local festivals such as the Harness Festival and the Harvest Festival.   While only a few times a year, they do add to the mix of “What is there to do in Hawkinsville?”

We have a locally run “Family Connections” office in Hawkinsville.  This state grant funded office provides many functions to our families in Pulaski County.  From a mentoring program to yearly events such as the upcoming “Reality Check” (a budget and planning real life scenario that all area High School students will attend March 27th.) and “Teen Maze” which helps our youth understand that their decisions will have consequences.   Last years Teen Maze  was a huge success with over 700 teens going through the maze that was run by over 200 community volunteers.   Family Connections also helps with Parenting Seminars and other events all with our TEENS in mind.

Our Police Department for years has sponsored an annual Fishing Rodeo.

The Archway Partnership (a public/private funded entity) that has helped with the local “Hoops League”.  This is a basketball league for our youth that focuses on so much more than basketball. Life skills are a priority and this has been extremely well received in our community.  Archway is also helping us to investigate the option of having a “Boys and Girls Club” started in our community.

Our local school system allows many clubs and groups to meet and promote within the school.   There are enough extra-curricular activities to please most of our youth if they would only choose to participate.

I know there is more.   The “Government” is actually trying to help this situation.   But it of course takes more than government….

PRIVATE EFFORTS:

PHP (People Helping People) is a private group that is also focusing on our Youth.  They have recently purchased a large building out on Highway 341 and have been sponsoring Youth concerts and other youth focused events.  This group also purchased the old Hospital and brought us the Haunted Hospital last October.   Pool Tables, Foos Ball Tables, Table Tennis and other activities are readily available.  An indoor batting cage is even being built there.   (and our new skateboard park land is being donated by this group).      Instead of trying to re-invent the wheel, our community needs to get behind this group and help promote, push, and enhance these efforts.

CHURCHES in our area provide LOTS of activities for our Youth.  From local gatherings to annual mission trips, our churches are a fundamental (and under utilized) source for GOOD for our youth.   Our churches also sponsor “5th Quarters” which are gathering events staged after home football games.

COMMERCIAL ENTITIES:  Recently Ga WebServices and ComSouth partnered to bring Willie Raines to our community.   Willie puts on “Bullying Seminars” and did a live event at the local High School.  Our local Businesses are willing to help for worthwhile causes.

PEOPLE:  I often hear of a family that “invites everyone in”.  They welcome their children and their friends into their homes, thus providing a safe environment in which to “Hang Out.”

 

CONCLUSION:

I applaud these recent discussions about “What can we do for our youth?”.  This post is simply meant to encourage us to not overlook what we already are striving to do.   Let’s build on our positives and correct our negatives.   Let’s make the focus on the YOUTH and not our individual difference of opinions.   It’s not about MY idea winning or YOUR idea winning.  It’s about developing locals and activities that will help reach ALL of our community’s youth and keep them safe and entertained.    We’ll never have all the answers.  We’ll never reach all the youth.   But those are never good reasons not to do the best that we can!

What are YOUR thoughts?

 

Shelly

 

 

 

A Step in the right direction…


Hawkinville just received ANOTHER grant.   It is for $100,000 to help develop the first part of the river walk located at our city boat landing.   Eventually, we hope to have a pathway that extends from the city boat landing (located north of the incoming 341 Bridge) to the county boat landing.  That’s about a mile stretch.  Needless to say, this will take many many year to accomplish but all journey’s begin with a step.   And this grant is certainly a “step” in the right direction.   The Ocmulgee River is one of our greatest assests and we have been negligent in not exploiting its potential.

If I am counting right, the city of Hawkinsville can now boast of receiving almost 2 million dollars (that $2,000,000) in grants over the last few years.   These grants are helping us improve our quality of life (enhancing our river area, improving the lighting at the Opera House), and improving our aging infrastructure (water and sewage grants along sixth street and Orchard Subdivision), to helping develop affordable workforce housing (which will help us attract industry – which means JOBS)!!!.

A portion of these grants is helping to develop the Cotton Mill Lofts (the old Leshner/PillowTex Mill by the River) into affordable housing as well as a community farmer’s market to help our AG community.    A group of us are going to Fitzgerald on Tuesday to see how they have managed and marketed their very successful community market there!

A portion of these grants is helping to finish the infrastructure at our industrial park (and at our Spec Building).    While this land/building has certainly cost the city money, I applaud the forward thinking commissioners that decided to invest in our future.    Ask any realtor, It’s hard to sell a house without a FOR SALE sign out front.   Well, it’s tough to sell a community with out a SPEC BUILDING and LAND available also.

With this economy, our steps are often baby steps, but I honestly believe that we are making steps in the right direction…..

Shelly

How do you balance a budget?


In these tough economic times, the City of Hawkinsville is trying to do all that it can to generate revenue and cut expenses.    However, we are attempting to generate revenue WITHOUT raising taxes.   Our millage rate has not changed (other than rollback rates) since 1987.     One would have to travel over 150 miles to find a municipality with a lower millage rate than Hawkinsville (with the exception of Rhine, Ga.).     However, costs keep rising.   Everyone is aware of the huge increases that everyone has seen in Health Care Insurance Costs.    In fact, all types of insurance continue to increase.    Other costs are also rising.   Plus there are things that really need to be done (Infrastructure, housing issues, etc.).   The city’s infrastructure is really getting old.   The pipes carrying water to your house are in need of upgrading.    We continue to have issues with stormwater pipes not being big enough when there is a big rain.

So what is your city doing?   Well, we have cut cut cut cut cut.    In fact, we have probably cut our manpower to levels that are not sustainable.    I fussed in a previous post about the grass not being maintained at the city owned cemetery, but if we (the city commission) do not give our departments enough manpower to do their jobs, then really, the blame belongs on us.   (However, it is up to the city administration to let us know the results of too much cutting so that we can make informed cuts).

We are utilizing prison labor whenever possible.   We have details from both the area men’s and women’s prisons that help us cut grass, clean up, etc.   While we do pay for (the men’s detail), the costs are ALOT cheaper than we could do alone.

We have over the last few years raised some service fees (on things like trash pickup, water rates, etc.).    We expect each department’s service fees to 100% fund that department at a minimum.   In other words, the collections from the water bills should cover our annual costs of delivering that water to your house.   The garbage fees should cover the costs of weekly pickup.   At best, each department services themselves AND provides income into the general fund to offset property taxes.   I am proud to say that – on average – each department DOES pay their own way.   In fact, our gas department, adds a substantial figure to the general budget every year, while still keeping its rates competitive with other customer alternatives.

We have consolidated services with the county whenever possible.   The city and the county get along well and by consolidating services, we can avoid duplication of efforts.  We are simply too small a community to do otherwise.    In the last several years, we have consolidated tax collections (the county bills and collects our city taxes along with the county taxes).   We have consolidated our recreation departments, 911 services, animal control departments, and code enforcement (building inspector) departments.   This saves both the city and county on employees and related costs such as providing space/furniture/utilities, etc.     And most recently, we have entered into a inter-governmental agreement with the county whereas the Sheriff now has full law enforcement duties in both the city and county.   This reduces administration costs and allows the Sheriff to better manage the manpower issues.  (In fact, service levels for the city residents have already INCREASED with two officers on patrol within the city at all times, previously there were times that we could only afford to have ONE officer on duty).    While we do pay the county for these services, the cost is substaintially less than we were paying to go it alone – and the service has increased – WIN WIN!

While we have separate city/county fire departments, we share a chief.    So those departments are “practically” consolidated and we may move to formalize that consolidation before long.

So these consolidation efforts are one way that we are working to keep our costs contained.

Utilizing SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) is another way that we have been able to maintain our property tax rates.   SPLOST allows us to make much needed capital improvements that we quite simply could not afford otherwise.   In the upcoming SPLOST (the one just passed), we have 1.5 million dollars allocated for infrastructure upgrades to our water, sewage, and gas lines.   Plus roads, recreation dollars, and fire and police equipment.

But the purpose of this post is to tell you about another source of money that we have been very aggresive in obtaining.   That is GRANTS.      Now on a personal level, I wish the state and federal boys would cut out alot of these grants with a dollar for dollar lowering of our taxes.    In theory, I don’t agree with most of these grants.   However, if the state/federal agencies are handing out money – I want to be sure that the City of Hawkinsville’s hand is open and reaching for it.   We want our share (or more) of these monies.    And we have been very successful along these lines – more successful than I think most people realize.

One of our primary sources of grant income has been our successful CBDG grants (Community Block Development Grants).     Cities can apply for up to $500,000 every other year.    However, because we have taken the massive steps to become an opportunity zone / enterprise zone, we can actually now apply for these grants EVERY YEAR.   That’s huge!!!    We have recently completed the 6th street project.  This project was funded by a $500,000 CBDG grant and replaced water lines and added a sidewalk along sixth street.    Then we applied for another $500,000 CBDG grant to replace the water lines in Orchard Hill S/D.   We received this grant, and when we bid out the job, the bids came back lower than expected and we subsequently expanded the scope of this project to include Forest Hill S/D.   These CBDG can only be used in areas below certain income thresholds.    So the SPLOST monies will be allocated to areas that are not CBDG areas.

We received a $500,000 ONE GEORGIA grant that will be used to build the community farmers market on part of the old Pillowtex mill property.   We also received a $500,000 CBDG grant for environmental cleanup at the mill site that LandMark Development is developing into a housing complex.

We have also received a $18,500 grant for police department equipment, a $250,000 fire equipment grant, a $10,000 Historic Preservation Grant for replacing/repairing windows at the Opera House, and a $2,500 Home Depot Grant for building wheelchair ramps on houses within our community (of which I think about 8 have been built with donated labor from both the Deacons and Stewards Association and Darryl Brown Construction).   And also a grant for landscaping and design work at our city entrances.

We received a 3 year GICH (Georgia Initiative for Community Housing) grant (no money) that allows us to partake of training and resources with other GICH designated communities twice a year. (only3 communities a year get this designation).

And the latest announcement is a HUD grant for $1,000,000.    (incorrectly advertised by HUD as a $650,000 grant).   We have just received notification that we have won a $1,000,000 grant that will be used to facilitate the development of Phase I of the cotton mill lofts – the housing portion of the development at the old Pillowtex mill.

We were recently named a Preserve America Community, a federal designation that while not having a check attached, will allow us to apply for additional grants due to having that designation.

And if all continues to go our way, we will receive another $500,000 CBDG grant for housing allocated to our McDuffie Street Housing project proposed by our H-GICH (Hawkinsville – Georgia Initiative for Community Housing) committee.  AND a $300,000 CHIP (Community Housing Initiative Program) grant for housing issues on the North side of town.   We hope (and think that we will) to be awarded BOTH of these grants by the end of August, 2010.

I am sure that I have left some recent grants out.   Every department in the city is keenly aware that they need to help us fund their work.   Each department actively seeks out grant funding that can be utilized in their department.

Did you have any idea that the City of Hawkinsville had received these grants?

The other way to grow revenue without raising property taxes is through controlled growth.    But growth requires JOBS.   We hope the pending sale of our spec building to the Korean companies will not only put that property back on the tax digest but will also provide hundreds of jobs.   Jobs mean people.  People mean houses and businesses to support those people.  Houses and businesses mean an increased tax digest – more money – without raising the rates.    Again, a WIN WIN for all involved.

Let me know your thoughts!   What other areas to we need to be looking at?  What are your thoughts on grants?  consolidation?   cutting expenses?   improving infrastructure, etc. etc.    Inquiring minds want to know.    At best, comment on this post, at worst, shoot me a private email (shelly@gawebservices.com) and let me know your thoughts.

Shelly

Hawkinsville Water Improvements


The City of Hawkinsville applied for and received a $500,000 CBDG grant (Community Block Development Grant) from the state of Georgia for the purpose of rebuilding the water lines in Orchard Hill Street Subdivision.  Orchard Hill Street subdivision is located adjacent to the Hawkinsville City limits but receives (at a higher cost than city residents) city water services.   However, the water lines are very very old and very small.  They are inadequate to service the neighborhood.  This section is one of the primary problem areas for our city crews being called out for repairs.   By replacing the lines, we will not only offer cleaner, safer water with better pressure, but we will also be able to install Fire Hydrants in the neighborhood that will increase the safety of the area AND reduce the homeowners’ fire insurance costs.   AND reduce our maintenance costs as well.

And after bidding out the work, we realized that we were going to be able to come in way under budget.   Rather than send the money back to the state, we asked for a scope enlargement and added the Forest Hill Circle Subdivision to the project.   Forest Hill will also receive new lines and fire hydrants.

Local Resident Lance Woods of Ocmulgee Engineering worked with us on designing and engineering these improvements.

There are many many areas in the city that desperately  need infrastructure improvements.   But without these grants, it would be next to impossible for us to afford.    In order to qualify for these CBDC grants, the area has to meet certain qualifications including medium income limitations.    Some of the areas that need improvement, do not meet these medium income criteria.  Therefore these areas can only be done with local money.     Therefore, we have designated 1.5 million dollars from the upcoming SPLOST election budget to fund street, utility, gas, and other infrastructure improvements.    That vote will take place on July 20th and will hopefully allow us to make other major improvements over the 6 year life of the SPLOST.  (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax)

Shelly

Dilapidated Housing


More City of Hawkinsville News. I am very pleased to report our progress on removing blighted property in Hawkinsville. We have over 100 homes in our town that are too far gone to renovate. These houses are a detriment to our community. They are an eyesore, thus hurting economic development and hurting property values of surrounding homes. They are magnets for crime and drugs. It is simply not right for a neighbor to work hard to keep their yard and home attractive, while right next door a house is falling in and the lot is overgrown. Plus some of the houses that need to come down are burned out and hold memories of tragedies.

The City of Hawkinsville has really made this a priority in the last few years and our current status is this: 23 homes have been removed. And of those 23, 17 were removed by the owners with NO expense to the city. The 6 that the city removed, we have placed Liens on the property so that – eventually – we will get our expenses back on those as well.

The City administration and codes enforcement office, along with help from our HURA (Hawkinsville Urban Revitalization Authority) and GICH (Georgia Initiative for Community Housing) committees have helped with this effort.

But our work is not complete with JUST tearing down dilapidated houses. We also need to work on housing rehabilitation so that additional structures do not reach the dilapidated stage. The City has applied for a $300,000 CHIP grant from the state of Georgia as well as a $500,000 CBDG grant. The CHIP grant will focus on properties NORTH of Broad Street. The CBDG grant will focus on properties SOUTH of Broad Street – in particular the McDuffie Street Area. We need to make sure we have available workforce housing as we work to entice industry to our town.

ALOT of work needs to be done, but ALOT has already been done and progress is continuing.

Comment to this post and tell me what you think ought to be done with Housing in Hawkinsville. Ideas? Suggestions? Compliments? Complaints? In order to be a better commissioner, I want YOUR feedback.   And/or complete the poll below!

Shelly

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