Concluding her four-year term Dec. 31, Mayor Jan Moore leaves Statesboro’s city government with its first five-year strategic plan, adopted by City Council just last week.
For a $28,500 payment from the city, consulting firm Amec Foster Wheeler worked with city staff to develop the plan with public input through a series of drop-in community meetings and a survey. Results from the survey, which drew 569 responses, were presented Aug. 29. But the final report approved on a 4-0 vote Dec. 5 identifies 12 strategic initiatives for 2018-2023, with rough budgeting estimates for each and some suggestions of funding sources.
“One of the things I said during my tenure was, I don’t like asking for money just to ask for money. That doesn’t make sense to me,” Moore said during the council meeting.
“I don’t want to sit here as a taxpayer and ask taxpayers to fund things that we haven’t vetted out,” she said. “So the purpose of this was to go through and look at what the public wanted or felt like our city needed and then what was that going to cost to do that, in conjunction with infrastructure needs and those kinds of things.”
The report as presented by City Planning and Development Director Frank Neal listed the strategic objectives in alphabetical order. Here they are reordered from the most to the least costly.
1. Traffic safety: $14.4 million. The strategic plan calls for carrying of safety improvements, such as intersection work in the existing city-county Long-Range Traffic Plan “as highest priority investments.” Coordinating with the Georgia Department of Transportation for work on state routes is suggested.
2. Infrastructure and facilities maintenance: $12 million. This includes maintenance of essential infrastructure, such as water, sewer and storm water systems.
3. South Main Street (Blue Mile area): $4 million. The Blue Mile Foundation Inc. has $1.1 from Statesboro’s third-place America’s Best Communities prize to apply to redevelopment in this area, and the city, working with a city-county advisory committee, will oversee tax allocation district funding. The city strategic plan calls for working within the Blue Mile plan, making “effective use of grant funds awarded,” and pursuing additional funding.
4. Bike and pedestrian improvements: $3 million. These would include improved and additional sidewalks and bike paths. As with several of the other initiatives, the strategic plan suggests a continuation of the existing SPLOST, or Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, and creation of a new Transportation SPLOST for funding projects, both requiring voter approval.
5. West Main Street initiative: $2.5 million. This also refers to street, bike and pedestrian improvements that could be funded with SPLOST and TSPLOST. Some West Main residents and business owners came to Moore in 2016 asking that the area receive more attention, since improvements were previously made on East Main and the recent focus has been on South Main.
6. Optimize public safety staffing levels: $2 million. This includes the police officer pay raises being implemented Jan. 1 after City Council approved a 1-mill property tax increase in September. But the strategic plan extends cost projections through five fiscal years.
7. Greenspace initiative: $1.1 million. This item in the plan calls for spending $220,000 per year to improve and maintain greenspaces, such as parks and trails.
8. Optimize city staffing levels and competitiveness: $750,000. In 2016 and 2017 City Council phased in raises for almost all of its employees following a compensation study delivered in April 2016 by Evergreen Solutions LLC on a city contract. However, Moore notes that the strategic plan is for five years and says that the city’s pay scales will need to be looked at again and at least revised by the third or fourth year.
9. Clean and Beautiful Community: $500,000. The city relaunched a former county-hosted program this year as Keep Statesboro Bulloch Beautiful, now based at City Hall. In addition to continued KSBB support, the strategic plan calls for a study to relaunch a recycling program and for clarification of code enforcement requirements on the maintenance of property.
10. Community communications: $250,000. This initiative seeks to update the city website and add a dedicated phone system, smartphone app, website mechanism or combination for handling community concerns or requests. It also recommends assigning or empowering staff to “manage partnership” with local news media and the colleges and university.
11. Neighborhood development: $250,000. This calls for “a broad community and multi-agency partnership” for revitalization and improvement, including efforts to encourage home repairs, renovations and new construction. A goal is to increase the number of owner-occupied homes in Statesboro, where rentals make up a large share of housing.
12. Business recruitment and retention: $100,000. This calls on the city to create a joint economic development strategy, working with agencies such as the Development Authority of Bulloch County and the Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce and potentially participating in a University of Georgia program called the Archway Partnership.
Moore had called for a strategic planning process at the beginning of 2016, and council approved the consultant contract Feb. 7. Atlanta-based Amec Foster Wheeler assigned Project Manager Lee Walton to Statesboro’s planning and was assisted by Bill Ross of Ross & Associates, who had done previous work here.
Partly based on input
Four public input sessions were held in April and May at Pittman Park United Methodist Church, the Bulloch County Board of Education headquarters, the Russell Union Ballroom at Georgia Southern University and the Joe R. Brannen Hall beside City Hall.
The city’s planning staff and representatives of other departments conducted some input sessions beyond those the consulting firm promised.
“We had a tremendous amount of public input through this process,” Neal said. “We held a number of public input meetings throughout the community, even on Georgia Southern’s campus as well. We also had surveys that were online, and I think really we got a great participation for a community our size.”
He called the result “a guide and a roadmap for the city to pursue in the next five years.” Moore has repeatedly described the plan in similar terms.
SPLOST and T-SPLOST
“Now you see those things so, if you’re planning for the city you’ll say, well OK, this is what we’re going to need over the next five years, and part of it is going to come out of the general fund, part of it can come out of water-sewer, part of it out of SPLOST, part of it out of T-SPLOST, but now you know what you need to do the things that people have said they want,” she said Friday.
Statesboro officials have recently been talks with the county government and Bulloch County’s other three towns to put a Transportation SPLOST referendum in front of voters, possibly in May. A November 2018 referendum for a five-year extension of the regular SPLOST past its December 2019 expiration date has also been suggested.
The strategic plan report also notes some of the limitations on Statesboro’s tax base. Bulloch is one of fewer than 10 counties in Georgia where the regular Local Option Sales Tax is dedicated to the operation of the public schools instead of being divided between the city and county governments. As Moore and Mayor Pro Tem Travis Chance noted last week, LOST funding would not be limited to special projects the way the SPLOST and T-SPLOST are, but the option of a regular LOST currently is not open to the city.
Mayor-elect Jonathan McCollar is slated to take office Jan. 2.