TIFTON — The 2020 census, a proposed 42 acre rezoning and rescinding approval for a hotel/motel tax increase were just a few of the agenda items at the first 2020 meeting of the Tift County Board of Commissioners Jan. 7.
Thad Wright, a partnership specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau, talked to board members about the 2020 census.
Census notifications are scheduled to go out by mail in March.
Starting Apr. 1, census workers will start going door-to-door to households that have not responded.
In the 2010 census, Tift County had a 78.8 response rate before workers starting visiting households, and an 85% rate at the end of it.
“That’s one of the better ones,” Wright said. Georgia as a whole had a 72 percent response rate in 2010.
Census data is used to determine how much federal funding an area receives, among other thing.
That means every non-responding household and missed percentage point equals real dollars that are lost.
“We want to help educate those who haven’t responded as to why it’s important,” said Wright. “It’s important our voice gets recognized in Washington. Either we count the people in our community or we leave that money in Washington.”
One area of concern for Wright is the percentage of homeowners versus renters in Tifton.
“Two out of three homes in Tifton are not owner occupied. They’re renters, and they tend to report at lower rates.”
“The time to engage and make it publicly aware what we’re doing is now…We need to make sure…we help people understand,” he added.
The Census Bureau is currently hiring and needs at least 150 people in Tifton and Tift County, Wright said.
Rezoning public hearing
A public hearing for rezoning 42 acres near the Brighton Road exit off of I-75 prompted discussion.
Part of that 42 acres is already zoned for community commercial; the request would rezone the entire tract as community commercial.
According to county staff, the owner plans to sell the land and wants it rezoned to make it more attractive to buyers.
“I have a real problem with not knowing what’s going there,” said board chairman Grady Thompson. “We’re not in the habit of rezoning something if we don’t know what’s going there.”
The list of accepted businesses for community commercial is varied, but there are restrictions.
There’s been some concern about a truck stop going there, according to County Manager Jim Carter. While a gas station would be a possibility, a truck stop would not.
A public hearing for the rezoning will be held at Jan. 13 meeting of the TCBOC at 6 p.m.
After approving raising the hotel/motel tax from 5 percent to 7 percent at the Dec. 9 meeting, the board debated rescinding that approval at the Jan. 7 meeting.
Tyron Spearman, executive director of the Tifton-Tift County Tourism Association, asked commissioners to support the increase at the Sept. 3 TCBOC meeting.
To go into effect, the proposed increase would also have to be approved by the Tifton City Council and then carried to the Georgia legislature in January, where it would have to be approved by elected state officials.
“The city would prefer this by done by an intergovernmental agreement (IGA),” said commissioner Stan Stalnaker. “We’re still in discussions. I think we’ve still got some more work to do. I think we still have some more due diligence.”
Stalnaker advised pausing the process, meeting throughout 2020 with the city and then sending it up to the legislature in 2021.
“Right now, we have two different resolutions,” said Stalnaker. “They don’t mirror each other. Frankly, I don’t think they’d advance this legislation without them mirroring each other.”
Commissioner Tony McBrayer and Thompson indicated they’d support rescinding the resolution and waiting until next year.
“That’ll give us time…to get everybody in the room and get these issues ironed out,” said Stalnaker.
County seeks community input on development projects
A public hearing is scheduled at the Jan. 13 meeting for residents to suggest potential community development projects for the county.
Projects eligible for Community Development Block Grants include housing, public facilities, economic development and a combination of housing and public facilities.
The county can request CDBGs of up to $750,000.
A recent example is the new Ruth’s Cottage and the Patticake House facility, which received CDBG funding.
Recreation Department Master Plan
A $27 million facility master plan for the Tift County Recreation Department was discussed.
The plan would be phased out over a period of years as funds were available and approved.
The plan gives the county and the recreation department “a footprint we’re able to build out in the future,” said Craig Sowell, recreation director.
The costs, Sowell noted, assume that the county does none of the work. If county departments contribute to master plan projects, “these costs will go down significantly.”
“This plan needs to be adopted so someone can’t come in and say we need to build a shooting range or we need to build a BMX park,” said Sowell. “It gives us a systematic approach.”
After a recent test, the county determined that four of its nine weather sirens aren’t working.
The board discussed repairing the weather sirens at Omega, Chula, Ty Ty and the Southside Community Center for $11,500.
“Have we looked at any data,” said commissioner Greg Wood. “Are these really necessary?”
“There are counties that have 60 and there are counties that have none, “ said Vickie Hickman, Tift County Emergency Management Agency director.
In addition to the county’s nine sirens, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College also has two sirens.
The county has roughly 270 security cameras spread out across 11 buildings.
The board discussed a bid to replace the majority of those cameras, along with servers and cables.
The county’s IT staff is recommending a $431,663 bid from Coopercraft Communications.
The board also discussed:
• purchasing 117 desktop computers, 17 workstations and 32 laptops, for a total of $134,522.
• commissioner Donnie Hester as vice chairperson for 2020.
• setting qualifying fees for the 2020 election.