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January 16, 2014

HamCo commission round-up

Jasper — Following are the highlights of the Jan. 7 meeting of the Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners:

Suwannee Valley Electric: Tom Tuckey was again recognized by the entire board for his service to the community over the years. His last day representing SVEC was Jan. 7 and his official retirement date is Jan. 31.

Commission Chair Josh Smith told Tuckey, “We couldn’t have asked for a better representative or better person to help this board and guide us.”

“It’s kind of a bittersweet feeling right now,” Tuckey said. “I’m looking forward to retirement. You’ve got a good man coming on board who is going to be the community relations manager for SVEC and he’ll do a great job. His name is Baynard Ward.”

Ward joined SVEC in September and has been training under Tuckey to learn the ropes.

“My goal is to build upon the great things he’s done,” said Ward of Tuckey. “I’m going to miss working with him, but I know he’ll have more fun doing what he’s planning on doing.”

Senator Bill Nelson: Lynn Bannister, director of outreach for Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) reminded the board that she was available to listen to issues and concerns that she would pass on to the senator.

CR 135: Engineer Greg Bailey advised that construction on CR 135 continues with work on pipe extensions and shoulders. Sometime toward the end of the month or early February the road will be closed for repaving. Signs will be posted in advance to alert motorists.

Bailey also said he had conversations with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) before the holidays.

“On these projects they’re going to start having a little more oversight than in the past,” said Bailey. “They’re going to expect us to start doing things very close to what they do. We had a bit of poor administrative work on our part, I guess, to deal with all that stuff.”

Bailey said FDOT wants to review county plans prior to construction, which is something they are instituting statewide.

Economic Development: Hamilton County Economic Development Authority (EDA) Director Susan Ramsey advised the board that the EDA is actively working on trying to bring more businesses into the county and they are currently working on several prospects, however, they take time, she added.

“I have discussed with some of you, individually, a couple of things,” said Ramsey.

One business, Ramsey said, might be breaking ground in the summer and others are still doing research.

Love’s Truck Stop: Bailey updated the board on the ingress and egress congestion issues at Love’s and said there was a meeting at the county coordinator’s office right before the holidays between county staff, the city manager, Ramsey and the property owners who might be affected by the proposed changes.

“Love’s wasn’t able to attend,” said Bailey.

Bailey said two different proposed layouts were presented and were received well, but at the end of the meeting a third option was suggested. Relocating the retention pond was part of the discussion.

Commission chair Josh Smith wanted to be sure Love’s and everyone else knows that the proposed changes are to improve and enhance Love’s business and that the county isn’t trying to give them a hard time.

“This board is not trying to hinder what that business is trying to do,” said Smith. “We’re trying to help them out as much as possible. If that requires some funding, this board is willing to do whatever it can do to assist.”

“For this to be successful, there needs to be a partnership between the property owners, the county, the development authority and the city,” said Bailey. “I think we can do it.”

Once the third proposed layout is prepared, cost estimates can be written up and there will be consultation with FDOT to see if they can assist in any way. The matter will remain on the commission agenda until option three can be presented and discussed.

County Coordinator Louie Goodin reminded everyone that Love’s needs to be a part of the discussion once option three has been mapped out.

Enterprise Zone: Dennis Price presented the board with proposed new maps for Jasper, Jennings and White Springs that show redrawn lines for the Enterprise Zone.

“We’ve been working on this a while,” said Price. “Our task was to redraw the lines and maybe increase the areas that could be included into the Enterprise Zone.”

The Jennings map had minor changes and the Jasper map had revisions to exclude property recently bought by PCS on US 129, as well as other changes. The White Springs map was changed to exclude some areas in floodplains, as well as some state-owned land. Other areas near Big Shoals were added, as were some small parcels in the center of town.

Price said he thought the next step was for the commissioners to approve the maps before a survey drawing can be made. Attorney John McCormick agreed, but added that the maps needed to be in legal description, in writing. Upon final approval by the commissioners, at that point, it can be submitted to the state for approval.

According to the Enterprise Florida website, the program offers an assortment of tax incentives to businesses that choose to create employment within an enterprise zone, which is a specific geographic area targeted for economic revitalization. Tax incentives include a sales and use tax credit, tax refund for business machinery and equipment used in an enterprise zone, sales tax refund for building materials used in an Enterprise Zone, and a sales tax exemption for electrical energy used in an enterprise zone. Local governments can provide additional incentives for a zone located within their boundaries.

It was agreed that the matter would be kept on the agenda for approval of the new maps at the next board meeting.

Hiring procedures: The board engaged in a lengthy discussion about whether or not to change existing hiring procedures for county employees. Hiring from within has been a priority in the past and continues to be, however, the commissioners agreed that by opening the application process to the public at the same time a job opening is posted in-house, it would enlarge the pool of experienced applicants and shorten the time to two weeks to replace an open position. The board unanimously agreed to make the changes and it will be adopted at the next meeting of the board.

Courthouse wheelchair lift: The wheelchair lift inside the courthouse, which was installed over 10 years ago, has not been operational for quite some time and the board agreed it needed to be addressed. Earlier efforts to repair it were unsuccessful, as the contractor who installed it went out of business and the county couldn’t get anyone to come out and even look at it to give an estimate on repairs.

County Clerk Greg Godwin said the lift itself, when it was operational, was complicated to use. Since his office is right across from it, Godwin said he and his staff always had to come out and help the person use it.

To remove the lift and replace it with a ramp did not seem to be an option, either, as it would interfere with the entrance into the property appraiser’s office.

It was agreed that the county coordinator would attempt to find someone to repair it at a reasonable price.

Library wage raises: Suwannee River Regional Library Director Betty Lawrence was on the agenda, however, she was not able to attend. Goodin briefly explained that she was to speak about the impasse over wage increases the board wants to give to library employees in Hamilton County. Since the library employees fall under the jurisdiction of Suwannee County, Smith said Lawrence was concerned that some laws may have been broken last year when Hamilton commissioners gave lump sum bonuses to Hamilton County library personnel. Suwannee County, Smith said, has already finalized their budget and did not include raises for library personnel this year, but they told Lawrence they would take another look at it.

Commissioner Randy Ogburn said he didn’t think it was fair for library staff not to get raises when all other Hamilton County employees do.

Smith said Lawrence is interested in changing the interlocal agreement between the counties because she wants them to get the raise, but she is in a precarious position.

Lawrence is scheduled to be at the February day meeting to discuss the matter. Goodin was voted to serve on the Suwannee River Regional Library board, along with Commissioner Buster Oxendine to represent Hamilton County, which is supposed to meet about three times a year, but has been lax in the past.

The next meeting of the Board of County Commissioners is Tuesday, Jan. 21 at 6 p.m.

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