Jones: County's financial position 'healthy' and 'thriving'

Liz Marino/Douglas County Sentinel

Douglas County Commission Chairman Romona Jackson Jones gave a "State of the County" speech Thursday in the first floor atrium of the Douglas County Courthouse before county employees, elected officials and members of the community. She reported the county's economy is "healthy and thriving." Jones said the administration tackled an inherited $8.5 million shortfall and successfully balanced the 2018 budget without increasing taxes nor interrupting county services.

Douglas County Commission Chairman Romona Jackson Jones called the county’s financial position “healthy" and "thriving” during the annual “State of the County” address last Wednesday, as she spoke before a group of county elected officials, department heads and citizens in the first floor atrium of the Douglas County Courthouse.

She said that foreclosures in the county are declining, home prices are above pre-recession levels and population growth is the highest since 2002. Jones said in 2017, the county experienced 5.5 percent new growth in the tax digest, calling it “a 10-year high.”

Jones said that in 2017, the Douglas County Tax Commissioner garnered over $7 million in delinquent taxes going back as far as 2007 and the Board of Commissioners cut the tax rate by 4.43 percent and reduced the millage rate by 0.499 percent in 2017.

She said, “Our setback is a set-up for our comeback and this administration stepped up and tackled an inherited $8.5 million shortfall and successfully balanced the 2018 budget without increasing taxes and there was no interrupting of county services.”

Jones called the county’s financial position “robust” and its credit position “very strong.”

“We continue to sustain the highest AA2 bond rate comparable to counties our size and our reserve fund is healthy,” she said.

Jones said the county is “committed to workforce development initiatives which build relationships to foster economic growth and transformative advancements.”

The commission chairman said the county is in the process of laying the groundwork to build pillars to celebrate the community, invest with intention and cultivate talent.

Economic development capital investments totaled $3.3 billion in 2017, Jones said, with five new industry locations and 210 new jobs coming into the county.

“Most recently, Las Vegas-based global technology company, ‘Switch’ broke new ground here in Douglas County,” Jones said. “Switch is building a one million square foot campus called ‘The Keep.’ This $2.5 billion investment is the most significant capital investment in Georgia’s history.”

Jones said the strategic planning efforts underway include the Sweetwater Master Plan completed by Kimberly-Horn and a sewer study for Capps Ferry Road.

She said progress with Foxhall is moving forward. The venture recently announced its plan to move forward with completion of the Westin Hotel, villas and conference center at its south Douglas resort property location during a special called meeting with the BOC and the Development Authority of Douglas County.

Jones praised the public safety employees in the community who, she said, “do a fantastic job tackling fires and natural disasters.”

“Last year was a hectic year,” she said, “and our first responders have the battle scars and letters of commendations to prove it. We are taking pride in best practice approaches with fully cross-trained fire-EMT staff, utilizing sophisticated advance life support equipment and continuous rigorous disaster preparedness exercises.”

She said that because of SPLOST funds, a “desperately needed” digital radio system has been vetted and planned for activation in 2019. Jones said upcoming projects include sidewalks; a new community center at Boundary Waters, a senior center in Lithia Springs and an additional fire station to be built near Douglas Hill and Thornton Road in the upcoming years.

In her address, Jones said that FEMA recently announced that Douglas County had exceeded requirements for National Flood Insurance program participation and effective flood plain management, improving the county to a Class 7 rating.

This federal program enables property owners in participating community to purchase insurance as a protection against flood losses, according to Jones.

The chairman said the crime rate in Douglas County dropped slightly in 2017.

“However,” Jones said, “this administration continues to invest in necessary resources to keep our residents safe. We stay abreast of advancements that drive efficiency such as body cameras and we consistently look for ways to minimize risk with proactive measures and our 2018 budget will fund the hiring of four sheriff deputies to patrol and protect the Fairplay area of Douglas County.”

She said the administration is encouraged by all of the progress in Douglas County, including the opening of the new animal shelter and Dog River Trails in 2017.

Jones said the tax and tag offices, appraisal department, the GIS department and fleet management will be moving into new offices at the end of April or May of this year in the Douglas County Government Annex building that was once the old Bleakley RV facility.

Jones said a number of transportation projects are underway.

“The transportation director is working to move the Lee Road Project along,” she said. “The Northeast Extension of the Chattahoochee Hill Country Regional Trail is continuing, and the design of the segment from Boundary Waters to Sweetwater Creek State Park is now underway. Road widening and installation of turning lanes are currently in progress at Yancey and Stewart Mill Road.”

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