“This county’s getting ready to go,” Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman Richard Mecum said Monday night. “Whether you’re ready or not.”
Mecum, speaking at a South Hall Republican Club meeting, gave an update on projects around the county, with expected economic growth a recurring theme.
He pointed to a projected population of 645,000 by 2060, up from around 185,000 today.
“Planning is the most important part of what we have,” he said, gesturing to a chart behind him. “Getting ready for this, realizing it is coming and preparing for it. That’s the biggest challenge that we’ve got today.”
As far as bringing in a sizable number of jobs, Mecum pointed to the development along Ga. 365 and in the Gateway Industrial Centre, in North Hall.
Kubota Manufacturing is developing 180 acres in that area, with plans to hire 650 additional people, according to Mecum.
“They’re going to put in around a $118 million building,” he said. “They’re going to move 3 million cubic yards of dirt to be able to put in a 2-million-square-foot building.”
He also mentioned the area being the site of the new Georgia Poultry Lab, which moved in November from its former home in Oakwood.
“Back over here on the other side (of Ga. 365), there’s a plan to put in a mixed-use facility,” Mecum added. “It’s going to be homes, apartments, townhouses and malls.”
Widening of Spout Springs Road
The widening of Spout Springs Road in South Hall to accommodate excess traffic has been a priority for county officials for some time; if a sales tax referendum is passed in March, Mecum said the county plans to use a portion of those funds to begin purchasing right-of-way along the road.
“If SPLOST passes, that gives me what I need to start buying,” he said. “We’ll come from Hog Mountain. ... I’ll get it down as far as I can get it. Hopefully to (Flowery Branch High School). But that’s the plan at this point.”
Mecum periodically mentioned the special purpose local option sales tax, which is set to go before voters on March 17.
“About 65 percent of our SPLOST projects are dedicated to law enforcement, public safety and infrastructure,” he said about the proposed projects for SPLOST VII. “The infrastructure is a major, major part of what we’re trying to do. We’ve got to run sewer down Friendship Road ... we’ve got to run it all the way up to Hog Mountain. Then we’ve got to run it up north.”
There were 237 business permits and 1,026 residential permits issued in unincorporated Hall County for 2014. In comparison, those numbers were 422 and 2,533 in 2006, respectively.
After a dip from 2006 through today, the trend appears to be going back up, but the commission chairman stressed caution.
“We’re trying to really hold the line on our budget,” Mecum said. “We’re trying to hold the line on what funds we have coming in. Again, I don’t know where this economy’s going. Over the next two years, it’s anybody’s guess.”
Tax Commissioner Darla Eden reported “good and gooder” news during the meeting, stating around 94 percent of real property taxes have been collected out of the 2014 tax digest.
“Normally, this time of year, we’re a little bit better than 94 percent,” she said. “But because of all the appeals that are outstanding — several thousand dollars of appeals from lake properties and others — a lot of those taxpayers have a February due date instead of Dec. 1.
“So we will be much higher the next time I see you.”
She also reported that 99.92 percent of real property taxes have been collected out of the 2013 tax digest.
Eden attributed some of the collection success to the reporting of delinquent taxpayers on local government channel TV18.
Budget and fund balance
For fiscal year 2015, the general fund is at $90.27 million. According to Mecum, general fund revenues were up around 5 percent as of November 2014.
Mecum pointed out the fund balance was around $15 million in 2006, then dropped to around $6.6 million for fiscal year 2009. It’s now up to $22.8 million.
“That’s about where we want it,” he said. “You’re looking for about three months (in) reserves just to be on the safe side.”