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How leaders are planning for Hall County's future
Strategic plan anticipates future growth, addresses quality of life
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A loader sits in front of the Holiday Inn Express under construction near Buffalo Wild Wings on Dawsonville Highway. Commercial construction is picking up in Gainesville, and more than 2,500 building permits across commercial and residential projects were issued in the city in 2017. - photo by Nick Bowman

In anticipation of growth, Hall County has completed a strategic plan, which focuses on both short-term and long-term goals such as streamlining development permitting, planning for landfill space and focusing on employee recruitment and retention.

The county is expected to more than double in population by 2040, when Hall is projected to have more than 370,000 residents, according to the strategic plan, which was developed with the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia.

The strategic plan committee comprised county officials and local business representatives, as well as Mayor Danny Dunagan representing the city of Gainesville. Focus groups and interviews were used to receive input from other community leaders.

Goals in the strategic plan are both short-term and long-term, with short-term initiatives expected to begin within the next fiscal year and other goals having a timeline of up to 10 years.

“A lot of these priorities will not be accomplished in a year or will not be accomplished in two years, but they are long-term and broad in nature and they are very wide-sweeping in nature of what they do,” County Administrator Jock Connell said. “They are designed to have a permanent and lasting impact on the future of Hall County.”

Commissioner Scott Gibbs said that while the ideas may be adjusted as the county grows, the strategic plan’s findings will provide guidance for county officials going forward.

“We kind of look at it as a living, breathing document that will change as Hall County changes,” Gibbs said. “It gives us a direction to help steer the county.”

The priorities in the strategic plan are economic and workforce development, infrastructure, transportation, quality of life and internal operations.

 

Economic and workforce development

The county hopes to re-evaluate its development permitting process by consulting with developers about their experiences and hiring a development review coordinator to assist with the process. Materials such as a flow chart and updated website will also help clarify the process, according to the strategic plan.

Long-term goals include the establishment of a workforce development committee that would meet with local businesses and educational institutions.

Another component is the development of the Highway 365 corridor, which the county expects to experience major growth over the next few decades. Over the next several years, county employees hope to develop a land access management plan for the area and coordinate with stakeholders such as school systems and businesses to plan for the growth.

Beginning in about a year, Hall also hopes to create an internship or apprenticeship program and create a Youth Government Scholars Academy for local students who want to gain experience working in a government position.

 

Infrastructure

The county wants to hire an engineer to evaluate the current solid waste program, including landfill operations. Building a materials recovery facility, or a plant that process recyclables and sells them to manufacturers to make products, is another possibility.

Other infrastructure goals include meeting with local municipalities to develop plans for specific corridors and creating a strategy for maintaining and adding greenspace.


Transportation

Hall wants to expand public transportation, pursue roadway improvements and make the county more walkable as long-term goals to address transportation issues.

The strategic plan calls for county collaboration with cities to identify transportation projects that would have a significant regional impact, then working to educate voters on T-SPLOST as a funding source for those projects. Trails are another priority — the county wants to continue work on the Highlands to Islands trail network and research spots for other trails.

Another goal is improving public transit, especially to the new Lanier Technical College campus off of Ga. 365, which is set to open later this year. Hall plans to explore a partnership with Gwinnett County Transit, which has an express bus service to Atlanta.

Hall Area Transit may lose $548,000 in federal funding following the 2020 census, when the county’s population will likely top 200,000 and Hall will be redefined as a “large urban area.”

 

Quality of life

The county’s plans to address quality of life include promoting affordable housing, increasing awareness about behavior and mental health and opening a senior center in South Hall.

One effort to promote affordable housing is the Gainesville-Hall County Land Bank, a board of city and county appointees who will acquire, manage and sell vacant properties so they can be fixed up into livable homes.

Hall also wants to address behavioral and mental health by conducting a community-wide health assessment and convening resources such as schools and health care systems. The strategic plan suggests that stakeholders look at other communities that have addressed the issue, then develop a mental and behavioral health campaign.

The strategic plan also calls for a new senior center in South Hall, although that project would likely not begin for about six more years. The county would partner with the municipalities of Oakwood, Flowery Branch, Braselton and Buford, as well as other community partners and local seniors, to determine the community need and a potential location. Funding for the project could come from a variety of sources, including state or federal dollars, grants, the county’s capital projects fund or public-private partnerships.

 

Internal operations

While the county’s strategic plan offers several suggestions for projects and community outreach, it also addresses the local government’s internal operations.

Employee morale and retention rates can be boosted by offering competitive compensation similar to other regional agencies, evaluating current situations that motivate employees, and developing a county leadership program and employee growth program.

The plan also suggests evaluating the county’s communication processes and hosting training on communication delivery, as well as continuing to seek public input.

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