TIFTON -- Tift County Commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to finalize a contract with Robert and Co. of Atlanta for the purpose of updating its Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

"The deadline grows closer each day and our local citizens have been waiting on some guidelines for new homes and property use. We can't wait any longer," Commission Chairman Buddy Bryan said Thursday. "We have got to move on this."

The Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DOC) mandates cities and counties update their land use plans every 10 years. The new plan must be completed before 2008.

The three-phase plan will take three years to complete and cost approximately $85,000. The original plan was for Tift County and the City of Tifton to reach an agreement on splitting the cost to conduct the study. The City of Tifton has not yet agreed to an interlocal agreement with the county to contract with Robert and Co. Commissioners indicated Wednesday that if the city decided not to participate, the county would adjust the cost accordingly.

Commissioners said in February the county had contracted with Robert and Co., and the City of Tifton has a tentative agreement with the company to conduct the research.

"It really is the prerogative for the county to do the comprehensive plan," Commissioner Harriette Rowe said Wednesday.

County attorney Rob Reinhardt suggested commissioners schedule a brief public hearing on the plan and gather input on how the plan will affect zoning.

At the county's February meeting, Tift 20/20 representative Dale McGriff presented Bryan with a list of suggested members for a Comprehensive Plan Policy Committee and said "the key to success is the steering committee." At the same meeting, Lee Walton of Robert and Co. presented a brief overview of how the study will progress through data collection, analysis and input from the community.

Bryan, Commissioner Ed Moore, County Administrator Wayne Johnson and county attorney Rob Reinhardt met June 29 with Tifton Mayor Paul O. Johnson, Vice Mayor Joe Lewis, City Manager Charles Howell, Assistant City Manager Billy George and city attorney Greg Sowell at a Service Delivery Coordinating Committee (SDCC) meeting and discussed the plan. No agreement was reached with the city on the plan and a July 1 SDCC meeting was canceled.

Howell said the deadline for counties and municipalities to submit the updated plan is the same, but that the city would "like to do as much of ours as possible in-house."

"We would certainly want to cooperate with the county and coordinate the planning efforts, but they don't necessary have to be done by the same consulting firm, if there is a consulting firm," Howell said.

The plan would also include the cities of Ty Ty and Omega.

Phase One of the plan Robert and Co. proposes for the county will include strategic land use plans, amendments to housing, economic/industrial development and land use elements of the economic/industrial development and take six to eight months to complete.

Phase Two of the plan will include ordinances and regulations and expected to take four to five months to complete. Phase Three of the plan will include a plan update for recertification of qualified local government status and is expected to take five to six months to complete.

In other action Wednesday, the commission:

Voted unanimously to contract with South Georgia Health Partners as the PPO for Tift County. Johnson said the change would not adversely affect this year's budget and there would be no change in premiums for the service.

Approved the malt beverage license application of David Carlton King, d/b/a Chula Superette.

Approved a resolution authorizing participation with the Georgia Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Transportation for assistance for Tift Lift services under the Federal Transit Act.

To contact reporter Angie Thompson, call 382-4321, ext. 208.

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