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Leaders discuss city/county future, school district at Legislative Breakfast Forum
Haynes R. Shane
Shane Haynes - photo by FILE

    Consolidation of  city and county government would be an interesting concept — in the future, said a couple of local leaders Tuesday morning at the  Legislative Breakfast Forum hosted by the Statesboro-Bulloch County Chamber of Commerce.
    The forum featured representatives of the City of Statesboro, Bulloch County Commission and Bulloch County Board of Education.
    After representatives of each branch of government spoke, guests at the breakfast were allowed to ask questions by writing them down on index cards. One question asked how government officials felt about consolidation of city and county governments.
    "I think ... the mayor, city and county ... are not opposed  to the idea," said Bulloch County Commission Chairman Garrett Nevil. "However, it's not a simple task. It will be very complex, a very slow process."
    There would have to be feasibility studies and other professional consultation before such an endeavor was approached, he said. And in view of the differences between the city and county, consolidation would take some time.
    With Bulloch County being such a large county, and with so many rural areas, issues such as running water and sewer lines would be a considerable undertaking, he said. "There is a lot of complexity, but we're open to the study. I can't see consolidation happening immediately."
    Statesboro Mayor Bill Hatcher was also agreeable to the idea.
    "I believe there are a lot of excellent possibilities." he said. "If we could merge those together I think we could eliminate some things."
    The undertaking would require "some serious thought" and there would be both urban and other districts regarding services, he said. "I believe it has a lot of possibilities and we will explore it."
   
Rough patches and business hub
    Before the question-and-answer session, local leaders took turns talking about the current state of their respective areas.
    Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch discussed the recent economy, saying Bulloch County is "in a little bit of a rough patch" with the drop in building permits being obtained and sales tax being "off by about one percent."
    But the situation is being "buoyed by a lot of positives," including industries  that "seem to  be holding their own" as well as new businesses such as hotels, restaurants, and other ventures coming into the county.
    The county cut back last January and had a minor budget surplus that was applied to rebuilding the "rainy day fund" that county leaders drew from in the past to avoid raising taxes, he said.
    However, the county is forming a "contingency plan" in case the economy continues to decline that may result in cutting some services, Couch said.
    Nevil spoke about projects the county has completed and is looking into, including the new jail expansion paid for by Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes (SPLOST) instead of the county going into debt.
    He also spoke about the county fire department that is expected to help lower ISO (Insurance Services Office) rates across the county. The lowered ISO rates will transfer into savings of 25 to 40 percent off insurance rates, which should offset the $50 annual fee county residents will be charged for fire services, he said.
    Hatcher praised projects affecting the city, claiming "I firmly believe this is the greatest, finest place to live in Bulloch County."
    He talked about the importance of Georgia Southern University to the community, and how the "perimeter (of the city) is exploding" with new businesses. "We're definitely a retail and restaurant hub. No question about it, we have a wonderful community."
    Statesboro City Manager Shane Hayes spoke of several city projects including the upcoming "East Main streetscape" project to begin after the holidays, to be followed by efforts on West Main as well. "We're going to do a lot to enhance the downtown area," he said.
   
School district growing
    Bulloch County School Superintendent Lewis Holloway said the school scene is looking good, with students moving into classes at Statesboro High School next semester, and plans being made for Portal High School's new facility to begin construction next year.
    The school district grew by 251 students this fall and is expected to grow, he said. Plans are for three new elementary schools — Julia P. Bryant, Mattie Lively and Sallie Zetterower Elementary schools, to accommodate the increase of student population by at least two percent each year.
    "It's a good problem to have ... but it means we will need new classrooms," he said.
    All Bulloch County Schools met Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements this year "and that bar continues to rise," he said. Graduation rates continue to increase, and Holloways said he is excited about programs that have all teachers provided with laptop computers, and more classrooms having "Smart Boards,"  a new technology that brings life to the old chalkboard.
    "It's a Power point of sorts" but you can write on the board and it is interactive, a very modern and intriguing teaching tool, he said.