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McCollar describes ‘State of the City’ in election year, ongoing pandemic
Highlights sidewalks, housing, transit and parks
Mayor Jonathan McCollar speaks to Statesboro via a lectern and microphone placed in front of the council dais Tuesday evening. He wore a protective mask before he rose to speak and afterward during the meeting. - photo by AL HACKLE/Staff

Statesboro Mayor Jonathan McCollar in his 2021 State of the City speech touted efforts underway to improve parks as well as infrastructure such as sidewalks, a multipronged initiative to upgrade housing and the expected arrival of a city bus system this summer.

A lectern had been set up facing cameras and a socially distanced audience in the City Council chambers. Mayor Pro Tem Paulette Chavers, District 2 council member, made welcoming remarks at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, and First Presbyterian Church Pastor Taylor Lewis Guthrie Hartman said an invocation prayer.

“At the beginning of a new year, our city, state and nation are in a much different place than where we were this time last year,” McCollar began. “We are currently in the midst of fighting a global pandemic that has taken nearly 500,000 American lives, 85 of which are from our beloved community.

“In this fight, we are working diligently to save lives while shoring up our local economy and lessening the pain of our most vulnerable neighbors,” he said. “Three years ago, I shared with you that poverty was the greatest threat to our beloved community. … COVID-19 has shed light on just how vulnerable many of our neighbors are.”

During his 23-minute address, allusions to things he said during his 2017 campaign and when he  took  office  in January 2018 were as close as the mayor came to mentioning that he is seeking re-election this year.

“From Day One of this administration until now we have been working diligently to build an environment where our local economy can grow and the people can prosper. In this effort, the city has taken on its most aggressive revitalization effort in its history. …”

He referred to ridding “the city of archaic policies and ordinances that strained the growth of small businesses,” through revamping “outdated alcohol ordinances,” and the recent  creation of a city law allowing and regulating retail food  trucks.

“We are currently at the start of developing a downtown master plan, that will lead to the redevelopment of our beloved downtown and bring life back into the heart of our beloved city,” McCollar continued.

He and the council received a presentation about that plan during a 3 p.m. work session that preceded his 5:30 p.m. speech. The regular council meeting then followed it.


Sidewalks & repaving

Needing improved infrastructure to support businesses, attract new jobs and higher wages and improve the quality of life for residents, city officials also worked collaboratively with the Bulloch County government “to put forth a T-SPLOST and SPLOST package that the people would approve,” he said.

A majority of voters countywide approved the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or T-SPLOST, in May 2018. Statesboro was projected to receive at least a $20.6 million share over five years. That November, voters also approved a six-year extension of the regular SPLOST, for other city and county projects and purchases.

“With the blessing of the people of the city and the county, we are now able to put forward the most aggressive infrastructure agenda in the history of the city,” McCollar said. “Currently, you can travel across the city and see orange barrels of progress as new sidewalks are being built and worn roads are being resurfaced.”

He mentioned some targeted areas but no dollar amounts. The city currently has $3.26 million anticipated from T-SPLOST earmarked for sidewalk projects over the five fiscal years 2021 through 2025. Meanwhile, Statesboro currently spends more than $1 million annually on street resurfacing from a combination of T-SPLOST revenue and Georgia Department of Transportation, or GDOT, grants.

McCollar also noted the extension of Akins Boulevard funded by the GDOT and Georgia Southern University, near the area where the Tormenta Stadium and a Publix supermarket are planned, and the downtown West District development by private investors.

He noted that the Blue Mile streetscape project is slated for construction beginning this summer.

“It is projects like these that are going to aid our efforts in putting our  people to work and move our city forward to be a destination-class city with a booming economy,” McCollar  said.


Transit system

The T-SPLOST referendum designated $450,000 for Statesboro to launch a public transit system. A study and planning followed. The city is carrying out the plan in cooperation with the Coastal Regional Commission, which operates a multicounty system and will be a conduit for federal grants.

“So after nearly three years of planning, the city of Statesboro will launch its public transportation system, hopefully by mid-summer,” McCollar said.

By linking  neighborhoods  to workplaces, “this  effort will put more people to work and help in stabilizing the workforce for some of our  largest employers, and thanks to the efforts of the Coastal Regional Commission, the state of Georgia and our dedicated staff, the first year of operation of our new system will be paid in full by CARES funding and will have an estimated cost  of $160,000 per year thereafter…., making this one of the most cost-effective systems in the state of Georgia,”  he continued.

Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or related legislation, the federal government has waived this year’s required local contribution for transit system operating grants, city staff members explained after Tuesday’s meeting.

McCollar traced Statesboro’s neighborhood revitalization effort from the city’s acceptance into the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing to its spending adoption of the International Property Maintenance Code as a Statesboro city law.

“This initiative is fueled by the belief that every person that lives in the city of Statesboro should live in neighborhoods that are free from dilapidated and substandard housing. ...,” McCollar said  of the overall revitalization drive.


Park improvements

“And the cornerstone to our neighborhood revitalization efforts is the renovation of the park system that serves the people that live, work and play in our city’s main corridor,” he said.

In fact, local officials took steps toward an estimated $4 million worth of improvement projects for Luetta Moore Park and the Grady Street Park on Tuesday, both before and after McCollar’s speech.

The Bulloch County Board of Commissioners that morning and City Council that evening approved an intergovernmental agreement so that $1 million of county SPLOST revenue and $1.1 million of city SPLOST revenue will go to these projects, over five years. But the council also authorized its new Urban Redevelopment Agency to obtain up-front financing for the full cost.

“These renovations will bring aquatics back into the heart of the city, improve youth programming opportunities and beautify the areas that they serve,” McCollar said.

Other subjects he touched on included Statesboro’s high number of homicides in 2020 and the city’s ongoing assistance efforts for people and businesses affected by the pandemic.

“It goes without saying that last year was a very tough year, and in the midst of that, we managed to continue to move our city forward, but if there’s any lesson that we can take away from 2020, the lesson should be that we are stronger together,” McCollar said.

Recordings of the full speech can be found on the “City of Statesboro” Facebook page and the city’s YouTube channel.

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