March 14, 2023 | News

Statesboro’s mayor and council retreat to Jekyll, Friday-Saturday

Writer: Al Hackle

Published March 14, 2023
Statesboro Herald

Growth-related topics including the future of Statesboro in cooperation with Bulloch County, annexation of adjacent areas into the city, expansion and maintenance of water and sewer service and the cost of it all are expected to fill an hour or two of City Council’s annual planning retreat Friday and Saturday.

Mayor Jonathan McCollar, council members and key staffers are traveling to Jekyll Island for the retreat. They are scheduled to convene from 8:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Friday, March 17, and again from 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. Saturday, March 18, in the Jekyll Island Ocean Club Resort, 80 Ocean Way.

The strategy session is occurring on St. Patrick’s Day weekend – but not in Savannah – and at a beach resort – but during the offseason.

“This ain’t no vacation; they have to work,” said City Manager Charles W. Penny. “The council has to work, and I can tell you and I think council would agree, I get tired more going to these things than sitting in the office all day.”

This year, “diversity, equity and inclusion” training for the city’s elected officials will fill the first morning and Friday’s working lunch. Deborah Walker, Ph.D., and Thomas Griggs, Ph.D., consultants from VISIONS Inc., will lead the training. Penny said VISIONS Inc. may eventually provide this training for the city staff “leadership team,” including all department heads.

But for the fourth consecutive year, facilitator Michael Hourihan from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia is set to guide the overall retreat and discussions among Statesboro city officials. This is the third year Jekyll has been the chosen location.

The agenda shows those topical talks getting underway at 2 p.m. Friday, with the catch-all “Items for Discussion from City Council.”

“There may be some things that they want to discuss that won’t be reflected on the agenda, and this is an opportunity to get those out there to make sure they have an opportunity for discussion,” Penny said.

A review and discussion of a city “Mission, Vision and Values Statement” is slated for 3 p.m. This reflects a draft document prepared by city staff members, who recently had a leadership retreat of their own, Penny said.

Growth issues

Then 4 p.m. Friday brings an hour outlined for four timely topics: “Statesboro/Bulloch County Future-Approach,” “Annexation,” “Infrastructure,” and “Financial Impact.”

As in many such discussions lately, Hyundai Motor Group’s construction, now underway, of its massive Metaplant America for electric vehicle production in northern Bryan County looms behind this choice of topics. That plant is projected to employ, eventually, 8,100 people. Meanwhile during the past 12 months, four companies, two of them Hyundai suppliers, announced plans to build plants in Bulloch County, and together offered commitments  to employ 1,400 people.

A boom in planned housing construction by private developers – especially of townhomes – has been moving through Statesboro’s city permitting processes for more than half a year.

“There’s a lot that’s coming at Statesboro and Bulloch County, and a lot has to do with infrastructure. So, part of it is cost,” Penny said. “And recently we’ve seen some annexations that are related to housing. We are aware of more annexations that may be coming forward, and so we need to be able to share that kind of information with council. The annexations probably also dictate where our infrastructure emphasis goes.”

In the context of this week’s retreat, “infrastructure” mostly means the city’s water and sewer systems, he confirmed.

Hotel-motel tax

After that topical hour, a “hotel-motel tax” discussion is slated for 5 p.m.  Friday. Statesboro’s hotel-motel tax is currently 6%, but under Georgia law it could be increased to 7% or 8%, through  localized state legislation. At the request of a council member, the mayor and council during a Feb. 21 work session heard a presentation by Tyler Reinagel, Ph.D., Kennesaw State University associate vice president for economic development, about these taxes and how they can be used.

As Reinagel pointed out, organizations funded with the tax, such as the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau, are legally prohibited from lobbying for an increase. City Council could propose one, but now, Penny notes, it is too late to submit local legislation to the Georgia General Assembly for the current session. So, any proposed change would be for next year at earliest.

Saturday strategy

The mayor and council are scheduled to begin the second, shorter, day of their strategic planning at 8:30 a.m. Saturday with a two-hour discussion of  budget items. They need to adopt a budget for the 2024 fiscal year before it begins July 1. After a review of financial reports and the city’s multi-year Capital Improvement Program, the officials are slated to discuss “utilities” and “wastewater customers.”

Potential new customers for Statesboro’s  wastewater treatment plant include the Bulloch County government and the city of Brooklet. County officials plan to establish water and sewer services for areas of residential development in the Southeast Bulloch area, and meanwhile, Brooklet has lined up state funding assistance to build a sewer system that could connect to Statesboro’s.

But when the city and county held a joint meeting last November, an engineer reported that the eventual construction of a new wastewater treatment plant  for Statesboro could cost $30 million. Another possibility is to rebuild the existing plant, but the city is not planning to do either right away, given the current high costs of construction.

“Until our market levels out, it really is going to be expensive to replace that sewer plant or build a package plant, because the numbers that we got when we had that joint meeting with the county commissioners, our consultants have come back now and said it’s going to be a lot more than that,” Penny said.

Another topic for Saturday is his proposal to order a compensation study for updating the city’s employee pay plan. Another is possible enhancements to downtown activities such as those planned by the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority.

Capping the strategic talks, the final hour, beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday, is slated to include a policy discussion on sewer laterals, which connect city sewer mains to homes and businesses. Current rules can require property owners to pay for repairs into city right of ways, which many people cannot afford, he said.