Statesboro City Council by a 4-1 vote Tuesday evening approved spending $50,000 as half the one-year cost of employing a coordinator for the Creek on the Blue Mile project.
The Blue Mile Foundation Inc., which received Statesboro’s $1 million third-place America’s Best Communities prize in 2017, is expected to pay the other half of the $100,000 coordinator cost. The person to be hired is expected to coordinate the work of all agencies and committees involved in the $20 million-plus project.
“One thing that’s great about the Creek on the Blue Mile is that this is an excellent example of a public-private partnership, and what you see are governments are moving towards collaborative forms of government in order to create a higher quality of life for the citizens that we serve,” Mayor Jonathan McCollar said after the meeting.
He and the council met in the Nessmith-Lane Conference Center ballroom on the Georgia Southern University campus. City Council’s first regular meeting held away from City Hall in several years featured McCollar’s presentation of an honorary key to the city to GS Eagles Head Football Coach Chad Lunsford, who was accompanied by more than 15 team members.
When the council reached the “Blue Creek coordinator” item on the agenda, District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum made a motion to table it until the next meeting. But no other council member seconded the motion.
McCollar then asked for a motion on the funding action itself. District 3 Councilman Jeff Yawn made that motion, and District 5 Councilman Derek Duke seconded it.
“We’re about to write a $50,000 check when we have a bunch of bullet points, we have no contract, we have nothing written, there’s no written agreement,” Boyum said.
He said he wanted a more precise “scope of work,” or job description for the coordinator, and that this and the lack of a contract was why he wanted to table the action.
“When we hire a city manager, we hire a planner, we hire somebody else, I mean it’s very clear what their scope of work is,” Boyum said. “Right now the scope of work, it’s loose but there are some issues, especially considering that some of the potential job tasks really fall under city staff.”
But he added that he “absolutely, 100 percent” supports the Creek on the Blue Mile project.
“If I could snap my fingers and make it happen today, I would,” Boyum said. “If I had the wherewithal to write a $20 million check today, I would, but I don’t have that. We’re using tax dollars, and there are procedures to be followed.”
With all five council members present, Boyum’s was the one vote against the funding action, which the agenda stated was “pending the intergovernmental agreement.”
Council members’ packets included a two-page memo, added Monday, from City Manager Randy Wetmore and interim Assistant City Manager Jason Boyles.
“The Blue Mile Foundation has requested that the City help partially fund a position in the amount of $50,000 for one year that will be dedicated to coordinating different aspects of the Blue Creek project,” the memo stated.
The intergovernmental agreement will be with either the foundation or the Bulloch County Development Authority, according to the managers’ memo. It contains a “not all inclusive” list of 15 things the coordinator is expected to do. One is making sure that all efforts and plans for the creek project itself and the Blue Mile of South Main Street stay in synch “with all parties working together.”
Preparing a timeline with deadlines and coordinating the approval processes of the Creek on the Blue Mile Commission and the downtown Tax Allocation District in regard to the project are other listed responsibilities. Still others include assisting with covenants, constructions guidelines and schedules and, if needed, special city zoning.
Now-former Gov. Nathan Deal expressed support for the Creek on the Blue Mile project during a visit to Statesboro in December, beginning his last month in office. Local planners announced then that state officials had committed a $5 million grant and a $15 million low-interest loan for the project.
City Manager Randy Wetmore said last week that paperwork for the state funding is still being finalized by the Development Authority of Bulloch County and state agencies.
Based on a study by EMC Engineering, the Creek on the Blue Mile project plan includes the construction of a 25-acre lake, or “reservoir,” in an undeveloped area west of South College Street for flooding and runoff control.
But recreation is also a big part of the proposal. Plans include nature trails, fishing and kayaking opportunities and a pavilion with an adjoining playground.
The “creek,” will be an expansion the drainage canal that crosses under South Main Street, with linear park features linking the lake area west of the Blue Mile to Fair Road Park, east of the Blue Mile, where an amphitheater is proposed.
Near the beginning of Tuesday’s less than one-hour meeting, Mayor McCollar presented a $6,000 check to representatives of the Statesboro Family YMCA. After helping host the City Hall-based Run the Boro 5K during the 2018 Downtown Holiday Celebration, the Y received this amount from the race proceeds and sponsorships.
Then McCollar asked Coach Lunsford and the Eagles players to come forward for the key to the city. A photo of Lunsford was mounted in the display box with the key.
“I think it goes without saying how special this team made life for us in the city of Statesboro,” McCollar said. “We had two very, very dark years, and these young men came along and they did something extremely special.”
After serving as interim head coach from halfway through the previous two-win season, Lunsford was appointed permanent head coach and led the team to a 10-3 season and a win in the invitational Camellia Bowl. He thanked Statesboro and the whole “Eagle Nation” for their support.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.