TIFTON — Two potential property acquisitions were the forefront of discussions held at the Tifton City Council workshop July 12 at City Hall.
Discussion of the properties opened the session, and nearly half the meeting was devoted to the considerations.
The potential annexations of the almost 123 acres are located on Carrington Drexler Road, (applications PP21-0023 and PP21-0025) which is located north of Tifton and adjoining the eastern side of Interstate-75. The properties were referred to as the Carrington and Boyd parcels. Neither are currently located within the city limits but are in Tift County.
The Boyd property consists of 93.59 acres and the requested rezones are approximately 18 acres to a solar farm and the remainder to suburban agriculture. The property would be fenced.
Both Carrington and Boyd properties are currently zoned as residential. Ryan Sanders of Beltline Energy spoke to the council about the annexations, which he said are currently considered county unincorporated.
“In the near-term, this is going to create a significant revenue stream to the county and the city,” Sanders said.
The equipment taxes alone are “roughly” $234,000 and $38,000 for real estate, he said, and $988,000 to the county.
Sanders said the current residential zone of the Boyd tract was “inconsistent with what the county requires for solar.”
In speaking with the county, Sanders said he was told the land could be classified as “spot rezoning” and could cause potential problems. To avoid that, he said he opted to focus on annexation by the city instead.
Sanders said he would be open to any suggestions the city might have for considering the annexation, such as vegetative screening.
The Carrington property borders the City of Tifton and another suburban agricultural plot already located in the city limits. Ten acres would remain in the county and 29.24 would be annexed. The larger portion of the parcel would also be for a solar farm.
Sanders said some of the tract is actually currently already within the city.
“The solar annexation cleans up the property a bit,” Sanders said. “The existing portion of the parcel that is suburban agricultural will be united with the remaining parcel so all of Carrington Farms will be brought into the city.”
The solar farm would be in operation 30-40 years, he said. At the end of that contract, Beltline is required to restore the property to its original condition. The only home located in the Carrington and Boyd properties is uninhabited.
Councilman Wes Ehlers was concerned the area that would remain in the county would be an island. Sanders showed Ehlers a property map with the property boundaries assuring him it will not be an island.
Councilman Jack Folk asked City Attorney Rob Wilmot if it was possible to bring the remaining 10-acre parcel into the city. Ehlers agreed with Folk that this possibility would be worth exploring. Sanders said Beltline would pay for property taxes if the land is brought into the city, but he currently has no arrangement with those 10 acres.
Following Folk’s comments, Felicia Carrington Meadows spoke at the meeting. She is the daughter of one of the property owners, as well as a trustee of her father’s estate.
“There’s not 100% agreement with what we (the family) want to do,” Meadows said. Everyone was in agreement about turning land into a solar farm.
Wilmot asked if turning the remaining acres into a residential area was a possibility. Meadows said it was.
“We obviously do not want this to be a development that lacks in integrity,” she said.
Folk told Meadows that if annexed to the city, there would be more zoning options. Meadows said it sounded good.
“But I’m only one person here today,” she said.
Mayor Julie Smith recused herself from the public hearing portion dealing with the Carrington property because of a potential conflict of interest.
The council revisited the potential annexation of the Boyd and Carrington properties later in the meeting. Folk said if the remaining 10 acres were brought into the city, city rezoning would be much more favorable than county to the family.
The only item voted for in the workshop portion was to approve the agenda.
City Manager Pete Pyrzenski commented that inert landfill costs were over budget for the second consecutive year.
“It’s very, very costly,” he said.
Ricky Hobby told the council he had a proposal from Farmer’s Bulk Supply, based out of Homerville, but with several area locations. The proposal would turn the inert landfill over to Farmer’s Bulk Supply.
Pyrzenski said that if Farmer’s Bulk Supply took over, garbage pickup prices from Ryland would not change.
“This is a great way to take this to another level and to provide some relief to the city, just on the costs and operation side of of it,” Pyrzenski said.
Emily Beeman discussed and reviewed the city holidays, particularly the recent signing of Juneteenth as a federal holiday by President Joseph Biden.
Pyrzenski and Beeman noted that a single holiday cost the city $19,000, with Beeman adding that with offices closed, the city did not collect revenue on those days. Currently, 10 state and federal holidays are observed by the city.
Smith proposed waiting to further discuss and vote on closing offices for Juneteenth.
Beeman remained at the podium to discuss the city’s educational incentive program. She said that although it is budgeted every year, it has not been used since 2014 and currently there is no formal program for it.
“An incentive program is what we would like to put into play for full-time employees who have been here a year,” Beeman said.
She said it would be a one-time payout per employee.
“If an employee or a new-coming employee has an associate’s degree, we would like to give them a $750 incentive,” she said.
This would be paid up front, Beeman said. A bachelor’s degree would be a $1,500 payout and those arriving with a master’s degree would earn $2,000 up front.
Smith was in favor of the incentive program.
“I think it’s a great plan,” Smith said. “Any time we can offer incentives for education, it makes for a better workforce. It strengthens the organization.”
Folk asked what would happen if the employee left within a year and Beeman answered that the incentive would be prorated. Pyrzenski said the program would apply to those on staff who have already achieved those degrees and those who want to pursue them.
“This is something really important about retention,” Pyrzenski said.
Tifton Police Chief Steve Hyman gave an update on the school resource officer program. Five post-certified officers are posted at schools. Hyman said the school would pay $217,593, per the contract, which covers salaries, insurances and taxes.
Chief Financial Officer Larry Lawrence gave budget updates and talked about the CARES Act funds. Money came in from CARES Act July 12.
Wilmot talked of a city-called special referendum election in November for authorizing package sales of distilled spirits.
Smith said Tifton and Tift County were losing much money to other communities on these sales.
“I see this as a revenue source,” she said.
Smith said discussion would be held later about any potential limitations and regulations on businesses for the referendum.
Wilmot also discussed Georgia House Bill 317, which is an expansion of hotel/motel tax to those renting room through marketplaces, such as Airbnb.
Jonathan Taylor was recognized during the city manager’s report. Taylor, who works in the Information Technology department, won the Government G2G award from the Government Management Information Sciences (GMIS).
A meeting to set the tax digest will be 5:30 p.m., July 26.
Pyrzenski said groundbreaking for the youth center will be soon. Captains Point has been completely dismantled.
“Captains Point is no longer,” Pyrzenski said of the former mobile home community.
Folk asked Hyman for an update on lowering the speed limit through Tifton on I-75. Hyman said he understood it to be a state-level decision. Pyrzenski said he would assist in looking into it.
Folk’s closing comments encouraged coronavirus vaccinations.
“Do what’s right for yourself and the city and the state and get the darn vaccine,” he said. “It’s free and it can save your life. Period.”