TIFTON — Tyron Spearman, executive director of the Tifton-Tift County Tourism Association, asked the Tift County Board of Commissioners to support his request to bump up the hotel/motel tax from 5 percent to 7 percent at the Sept. 3 TCBOC meeting.
In order to increase it higher than 5%, the city and county governments would have to specify the tourism projects and/or product development the money would be used for and indicate how the money would be allocated.
It would then have to be approved by the Georgia Generally Assembly in its 2020 session.
“We’re going to ask the city to pass a resolution, along with you, and then that’ll go to [State Representative] Ms. Penny Houston and she’ll take it to Atlanta,” said Spearman.
Spearman estimated the increase would bring in $200,000 more for the county and recommended that the increased tax funds go toward the EB Hamilton Complex “for the purposes of developing the recreation area.”
“You’re not going to buy much for $200,000,” said chairman Grady Thompson.
“Oh, I know,” Spearman said. “That’s the reason we’d like you to consider borrowing some money for the purpose of moving forward to get part of that project done…You can’t wait around five or 10 years.”
“I’m of the opinion that recreation is not tourism,” Thompson said.
Spearman pointed to several examples of sports tournaments hosted in Tift County.
“We don’t get anything out of it much,” said Thompson.
“I’m just trying to get more money,” Thompson added later.
“If we bring more people to town, you’ll get more money in SPLOST,” said Spearman.
“No, we’ll be left out,” Thompson said.
Tift County Director Jim Carter offered to sit down with Spearman to further break down the numbers before the Sept. 9 meeting.
“I want it to be clearer than mud,” said Thompson. “I want to be able to see through it. I don’t have a problem with doing it, but the only thing I’m asking is I don’t think the county should take the whole burden of recreation.”
Mental Illness Court
Tronda Westbrook, First Baptist Church Minister John Hughes and Kent Todd talked to the board about starting a mental illness court in Tift County.
Similar to a drug court, a mental illness court tries to point people with mental illness towards resources.
Westbrook told the story of her son, who she says deals with schizophrenia. When he was arrested months ago, he was taken to jail “instead of him being dealt with as a mentally ill patient,” Westbrook said.
“My son is still in jail, and that was May 9,” she added.
Hughes talked about Celebrate Recovery, a program at FBC.
“Our church tries to minister to people, all different kinds of people,” said Hughes. “There’s a problem, and we want to be a compassionate community,”
Todd shared his story of being diagnosed as bipolar at the age of 55 after being ordered to go to Behavioral Health.
“They gave me medicine that made my mind work,” said Todd. “It made me think clearly, it made me understand what I was doing.”
County attorney Tony Rowell told the trio that starting a mental health court is not something the board could do, but that it would have to be started through the courts.
DFCS emergency repairs
The board weighed emergency repairs to the Department of Family and Children Services building.
“We have one end of our DFCS building that…has settled,” said Carter. “That’s a nice way of saying it’s sinking and pulling away. There’s a foundation issue and we can’t tell what the foundation issue is until we take down the wall.”
The northwest corner of the DFCS building has settled, with brick pulling away from the windows and water seeping in, according to county staff.
The estimated cost from Jones Construction would be $17,000.
Sunday School Building
The board debated what to do with the old Sunday School building across the street from the Administration building and behind the Tifton-Tift County Public Library.
One suggestion, Carter said, had been to take it down and use the space for parking.
“I’ve had some conversations with folks from the downtown development authority,” Carter said.
“The DDA has agreed to partner with us to try to put together a site plan or a study that address that: Do we have enough space for parking, do we enough space to utilize that building for another purpose other than tearing it down? What other properties might we need? There’s a lot of what ifs that you could answer by having a professional come in and do a space study.”
Boardmember Greg Wood suggested having an architect go through the building and see if it’s worth saving.
“The footprint of that isn’t going to add a tremendous amount of parking, it’s just not,” said Carter. “Is that the best use? It’s not going to make or break the number of vehicles we can park.”
The board also discussed:
• Preliminary engineering for paving Red Oak Road from Whiddon Mill Road to Cromer Road, roughly 1.5 miles.
• Contracting with the South Georgia Regional Commission for mapping system software. The initial cost would be $9,562, followed by a yearly fee of roughly $5,769.
• Updating the county’s permitting software. The low bid from Dude Solutions would cost an initial $30,718, with an annual cost of $9,875.
• Approving a cooperative lease agreement with Georgia Forestry Commission for the tank and pump on Tanker 59.
• Purchasing Sophos Intercept, a cloud-based anti-virus software.
• An alcohol license for Tifton Holiday Mart at 4468 Highway 319 South.
• An alcohol catering license for Collins at 2703 US Highway 41 South.
• A new lease for Department of Driver Services offices at 3057 US Highway 41 South.
• Joining Seven Rivers Resource Conservation & Development.