About 80 people filled a meeting room at Ephesus Baptist Church in Winston Thursday night for District 4 County Commissioner Ann Jones Guider’s town hall meeting. The biggest topics on the minds of the attendees were roads, buses and the budget – not necessarily in that order.
Guider began the meeting with an update on road projects in District 4, which makes up the greatest land space and road miles of the four county districts due to a less dense population.
She said that SPLOST-funded paving for 2017 included High Point Road, Liberty Road and Central Church Road from Bright Star Road to Highway 5. Only five projects this year, Connie Way, Laura Way, Short Drive, Paul Way and Tyree Road, have been completed this year with Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant (LMIG) funds.
Seventeen projects that were expected to be completed in 2017 have been delayed due to “rain and paving bike lanes,” Guider told the group.
There are a number of projects that are still underway, or are scheduled to begin in the foreseen future, Guider said. The GDOT project on the intersection of Mann Road at Highway 78 is making progress. This project includes a Post Road reroute and Conners Road at Highway 78 revamp, as well. Paving is in progress and signs indicate that the project should be completed sometime in 2018, according to Guider.
The West Stewart Mill/Yancey Road intersection, a SPLOST project from 2002, still remains in limbo. Guider said the project will have to be completely redesigned. The intersection is being re-bid out and will be funded from previous DOT funds.
The Post Road bridge, which had been planned for reconstruction with 2016 SPLOST transportation funds, will get some relief from GDOT funding instead. Guider said that they are in the process of obtaining Right-of-Ways (ROW) and GDOT will begin designing the project next year.
During the discussion concerning roads, one resident asked, “If we’re getting new roads, what is being done to maintain the ones we have? Instead of rain, it was because bike lanes were being done on the other side of the county.”
Guider said she had received a revised (proposed) budget from County Administrator Mark Teal on Wednesday.
“The budget has the biggest impact on the tax rate,” Guider said, “and I encourage people to pay attention to the budget. Revenues are based on estimated revenues and spending begins on Jan. 2 of the fiscal year. The finance department monitors expenditures each month to see if they are on the targeting amount. The tax digest is received by the tax commissioner in July or August and the millage rate is set using the budget/digest and any adjustments that are made.”
She said, “We are in the process of redoing the whole budget. We got the deficit down to $3 million to borrow from the fund balance.”
Guider said the deficit was due to different tax revenues, such as local option sales tax (LOST) and Title Ad Valorem Tax (TAVT) and others trending downward. However, the tax digest has grown from 0.97 percent in 2016 to 5.62 percent in 2017. Revenues also fell due to decreases in state and superior court fines, the jail surcharge and Rideshare fees.
Guider said both she and County Commission Chairman Romona Jackson Jones have said they were not in favor of a tax increase.
Guider shared her own recommendations for decreasing the budget shortfall during the town hall meeting. She said if there were to be any pay adjustments, the county should use the lower option and not to adjust the pay of any contract employees.
The BOC received a report following Day 2 of the budget retreat Nov. 1 from a consultant with Evergreen Solutions regarding a classification and compensation study authorized by the BOC. If implemented, it would develop a new pay plan for county employees to bring about more parity within the pay scale.
“Something should be done for the people who are being paid under what they should be,” she said. “Pay increases should not be paid to contract employees whose contracts are renegotiated yearly.”
Guider also recommended that funding be eliminated to the Development Authority of Douglas County (DADC) and that bus route funding in the 2018 budget should be eliminated, which brought loud applause and cheers from those in attendance at Thursday night’s meeting.
Guider also recommended delaying SPLOST projects which would require additional personnel until another year. She also suggested that the county ask all departments to cut their budgets and to push the 2021 sunset rule out. She said the rule is forcing some Douglas County Fire Department and Douglas County Sheriff’s Office employees into retirement.
A number of citizens attending the town hall were very vocal against a fixed-route bus service that has been in the planning stages for many months. The county’s transportation committee, chaired by District 2 County Commissioner Kelly Robinson, voted in October to send four routes with estimated costs to the Atlanta Regional Commission for them to evaluate a Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) application for federal funding on the project.
The recommendations were made by Connetics Transportation Group, a consulting firm in Roswell. A new proposed route from the Douglas Boulevard Park and Ride would provide service to the H.E. Holmes MARTA Station and would connect with all Douglas County Routes, GRTA route 463, CobbLinc Routes 25 and 30 and the MARTA rail line at eight bus routes.
This connectivity to other parts of metro Atlanta would score higher points with the ARC in obtaining the CMAQ grant, which would cover operations over three years, but would not be available until the federal government’s fiscal year 2019, which would begin Oct. 1, 2018.
Grant funding from the Federal Transit Authority (FTA) was already in place to pay for four new buses, as well as four additional buses for the program.
One of the biggest concerns raised at the meeting was how the county would fund the fixed bus service after CMAQ funds, if received, ended after three years.
Guider said the original plan for the bus service came after a comprehensive transportation study, which determined the need for seniors, those with disabilities and those without a source of transportation to be able to get around within the county for work, medical, groceries and other quality of life needs.
Douglasville City Councilman Mike Miller, who was present at the meeting, said that the city had been left out of the loop concerning the bus service, which would have a major impact on the city residents.
“Being in the council and getting a lack of information,” he said, “and it seems Kelly Robinson doesn’t give a darn. It seems that there are some people who do not give a darn about the other areas.”
Miller said that according to Douglasville City Manager Marcia Hampton, the city did not get formal knowledge of the CMAQ.
He said the city has a Service Delivery Strategy (SDS) with the county as far as county-wide public transportation is concerned.