As we enter 2009, The Times takes a look at what could lie ahead for the region in the coming year. Topics include:
With the start of 2009 comes the chance for people to start the new year with a clean slate and plan for the goals they want to accomplish.
The same is true for Jackson County, with officials working on specific infrastructure, financial and communication goals for the new year.
The county commission met at the end of October with chairman-elect Hunter Bicknell and future District 2 Commissioner Chas Hardy at the Hurricane Shoals Conference Center in Maysville to determine plans for 2009 and to ensure the new commissioners had a good sense of what to expect in their terms.
County Finance Director John Hulsey has been working closely with County Manager Darrell Hampton and other officials to review all revenue-generating departments to "make sure that the fee we're charging is appropriate for the work that we're doing," Hulsey said.
"We are starting to build spreadsheets so we can look at where all our revenues can come from," which will help give the county a succinct list of revenue sources, he said.
Similarly, the finance department will be looking at projects funded by special purpose local option sales tax revenues that will be completed, and what projects will get funding in the new year.
"As the current SPLOST expires, we have to decide which projects will be promoted for SPLOST," Hulsey said.
Hampton said the county plans to open both the new jail and the county fire training facility in 2009, both of which were funded through the sales tax. Hulsey and his team will also look at how the county amends the budget, a process that has legal guidelines the county must follow, he said.
Hulsey and Hampton have also made preparations for budget reductions in each department should the need arise and know where they can gain ground if the economy improves.
"We've done some preparatory things to position ourselves so that if we need reductions, we know where we can make them," Hampton said. "We're trying to live within what the economy is today and position ourselves such that if the economy improves, we're ready to move forward."
Capital improvement plan
At the county commission's October meeting, the commissioners discussed creating what's known as a Capital Improvement Plan, or CIP. This, Hampton said, helps determine what it costs for daily governmental operations versus specific needs, such as equipment, computer systems and buildings.
"It allows us to look at those (large, long-term needs) in practical ways and look at the best way to fund them with the least amount of impact on the taxpayer," he said.
The October meeting allowed current and incoming commissioners to detail those long-term needs, such as developing a master plan for the historic courthouse campus, working with the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority to identify additional water sources and pursuing improvements for the Jackson County Airport.
"We want to look and make sure we make the most effective use of the existing infrastructure and plan on that land that we already own," Hampton said.
Jackson County will take steps in 2009 to prepare for the next census, which will take place in 2010, Hampton said.
"Our (Geographic Information System) department has been working closely with the (Northeast Georgia Regional Development Center) out of Athens to make sure our information is as accurate as possible," Hampton said. "There are a number of funding mechanisms based on that information, whether it be the sheer population number or other factors."
In addition to funding calculations, the census data allow the county to have an updated look at the population and see if sales tax and commission district adjustments need to be made.
Recently released data from the U.S. Census Bureau listed Jackson County as the third-fastest growing county in the nation from 2000 to 2007.
"We will look at how the county's population has changed from 2000 to 2010 and make sure we look at the commission districts," he said. "And we will revisit the redistribution of local option sales tax."
Hampton said the county will be very meticulous in its calculations because the numbers generated by the census will be the ones used until the next census.
"We're bound to that number for 10 years," he said.