To help flesh out a five- to 10-year strategy for things as various as street maintenance, park space and police and fire protection, Statesboro city officials have scheduled four public input meetings at different locations April 24, April 27 and May 13.
City Council in February approved a $28,500 contract for the Atlanta-based consulting firm Amec Foster Wheeler to develop a citywide strategic plan, the first of its kind for Statesboro. To do this, the firm will analyze data on population growth and the local economy, review existing plans and gather public input.
But the work also involves all of the city government’s departments, said Frank Neal Jr., director of the Planning and Development Department.
“Basically, this is going to be a road map to help build the city’s future and identify any future needs,” Neal said. “We want to hear about everything from the roads to water and sewer, economic development, parks, street lights, drainage, and really any other issue that citizens feel is relevant to have identified in this plan.”
Two on April 24
Amec Foster Wheeler offered to hold two public input meetings in a single day, and these are the first two of four meetings now planned. The first will be at Pittman Park United Methodist Church, 1102 Fair Road, on April 24 from 1:30 until 3:30 p.m. The second meeting will be held in the Bulloch County Board of Education’s boardroom at 150 Williams Road, from 5:30 till 7:30 p.m., also April 24.
These will be “drop-in” meetings, meaning people do not have to attend from beginning to end to participate. The city planning staff will make maps and other reference materials available at each of the meetings, Neal said.
In addition to consultants, representatives of the various city departments will attend the April 24 meetings to listen to citizens’ ideas and concerns and answer questions, he said.
At Georgia Southern
The city staff also plans to hold two more meetings at different locations, on the Georgia Southern campus and downtown. Neal said the consultants are not expected to attend these, which were not part of Amec’s contract offer.
The third public input drop-in meeting will be held in the Russell Union Ballroom at Georgia Southern University, from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. April 27.
“We’re hoping to get some input from the university students and faculty, et cetera,” Neal said.
On East Main
The final meeting is scheduled to be held from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. May 13 in the Joe R. Brannen Hall, the storefront converted to meeting space next door to City Hall on East Main Street.
After projects are identified, city leaders will prioritize them by their importance to the community, he said. Amec’s team, which for Statesboro also includes Bill Ross from the firm Ross & Associates, is supposed to develop five-year and 10-year implementation programs.
“Finally, and really probably the most important aspect of it, is going to be looking at the possible funding solutions, how are we going to fund these projects, and prioritizing that funding process as well,” Neal said.
“Really, we want this process to be as inclusive as possible,” he said. “That’s why we’re having all of these meetings, and we want everyone’s input and we’re providing every opportunity we can.”
The city and its consultants also plan to gather input through an online survey. A paper version will be available as well, but Neal said the city may distribute cards encouraging people to complete the survey online.
Both Neal and Mayor Jan Moore referred to the strategic plan as a first for Statesboro.
“I felt like, at least a year ago, we needed a strategic plan. The city has never had one,” said Moore, now in her fourth year as mayor.
Statesboro has a number of other kinds of long-term plans. In fact, as part of the process Amec Foster Wheeler is supposed to look at the city’s current Comprehensive Plan, its Long-Range Transportation Plan and the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority Master Plan.
But the comprehensive plan is a document required by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. It does not address in detail local priorities and how to achieve them, but the strategic plan will, Neal said.
At budget time, Moore observes, various departments identify certain things as needs for the city and will sometimes suggest a rate increase, like last year’s increase of water base rates.
“I felt like we never had a road map for that, that we need to look five and 10 years down the road and see what the city of Statesboro needs and what the citizens of Statesboro want and craft a road map to get there,” Moore said.
The city of Statesboro has an annual budget of almost $60 million and more than $200 million in assets, and “most enterprises of that size function off a strategic plan,” she added.
“You don’t make decisions unless they’re within the bigger scope of what you’re trying to do, and the city of Statesboro is at a point where if we’re going to make those critical decisions as policy makers and as department heads, we need to have a plan,” Moore said.
The city government should have a strategic plan in place before it asks voters to fund any projects with another Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax renewal, she said. The current SPLOST will expire unless renewed by 2019.
Apart from the meetings for the general public, staff from the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development at the University of Georgia will train Statesboro High School students to host two input sessions for their schoolmates later this month, Moore said.
Neal said he expects the planning process to be completed in July or August, or possibly September. A final public meeting will be scheduled to present the plan.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.