With a more defined outlook regarding his professional future, City Manager Frank Parker has begun reviewing and formulating long-term options for the City of Statesboro as it embarks on the tenure of just its third city manager.
Parker, a former city councilman and long-time Statesboro resident, was announced last week as Statesboro’s full-time manager, relinquishing an interim tag that had been attached to the job since taking over for Shane Haynes in October 2010.
With the role officially his, Parker is beginning to assess ideas to help stabilize and advance a city previously in flux – which has paid thousands of dollars in settlement money, faced a deficit in its budget and appeared before the Georgia Supreme Court for allegedly conducting secret meetings during the past year.
“When I was hired as an interim city manager, we had various issues facing the city – some are still prevalent – but I feel as though we’ve addressed many items,” said Parker, who last week thanked council for the opportunity to fill the position.
“I very much enjoy working with the employees that we have here within the city; they are fine, dedicated folks,” he said. “I also enjoy working with the citizens of Statesboro and helping them where I can. It is a challenge, but it is definitely fulfilling work.”
According to Parker, business within city hall in the post-interim era of his employment will remain business as usual.
He, along with staff and council will continue work to complete existing projects like redistricting, the formation of a revised city charter and a budget for the 2012 fiscal year.
“Right now, we are involved in many intermediate projects that we need to get out of the way before looking more at long-term plans,” he said – a final version of the 2012 budget and a map of new districts will be presented to city council members in a regularly-scheduled meeting next week.
Though focus has not strayed too far beyond the city’s more pressing items, Parker has directed an eye toward major projects he hopes will impact Statesboro in coming years, he said.
Pending the results of a referendum in November to extend a one-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) through 2019, the City Manager would like to see Statesboro grow with significant changes and additions to its infrastructure.
“Many of our long-range plans have to do with the projects we are proposing to pay for with 2013 SPLOST funds,” said Parker. “The projects provide an idea of where we want to go with engineering, fire and police, and other areas within the city.”
Beyond the ever-needed improvements to roads and buildings, the city manager wants to see tax moneys spent to grow the city with new facilities and additional routes for transportation.
“Where we have streets, we want to have more walking and bike paths,” he said. “We want to encourage alternate transportation. It creates a healthier lifestyle and less of a drain on existing infrastructure.”
With the growth of Georgia Southern University and the always-rising price of gasoline, Parker says demand for bike and walking paths will continue to increase.
“We also want to create a Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) filling station,” said Parker – the city currently provides gas to Georgia Southern, who powers its fleet of transits with CNG. The gas would fuel large vehicle fleets like school busses, garbage trucks and police and fire vehicles.
“Cost savings would be significant,” he said. “We would be paying less than a third of what we pay currently to fuel vehicles by utilizing natural gas.”
Parker also expects the city to upgrade the capabilities of its fire services.
“There are moneys in the current SPLOST for at least one additional fire station,” he said. “With other dollars we have, I am hopeful that council will approve two new stations.” – according to Parker’s plan, the station currently on Grady Street would be replaced with a new municipal court building and moved elsewhere.
The two new stations – one located on the east side of the city, the other on the west – would require Statesboro to maintain three facilities, which is the average for a city of equal size, he said.
Also envisioned is a multi-purpose, open-air facility downtown to support various events hosted by the city and the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority – the facility, said Parker, would provide a home to the continually-growing Farmers Market, arts festivals and other events.
A recent development design for such a facility, presented by the Downtown Development Authority, features a park and amphitheater.
The work to improve and add to Statesboro’s infrastructure is a key to growing the city and attracting new business, said Parker.
“We want to provide infrastructure and utilities to continue drawing jobs into Statesboro,” he said. “If you don’t do your homework, and first provide utilities and infrastructure to attract business, you are not going to get your Viracons, your Great Danes or Walmart Distribution Centers. To get development, you have to plan for it and attract the businesses.”
According to Parker, long-term planning to attract new business has been successful in the past and continues to draw new companies to the area
“We have quite a number of things on the horizon coming to Statesboro,” he said. “We have the new Belk’s extension; there is going to be a new tractor supply, a new hotel, a pharmacy, a couple of new apartment complexes and a new grocery store. We have a lot of new projects that are getting close to being finalized. It speaks well to Bulloch County and Statesboro.”
An effect of the new commerce, in addition to cost-saving efforts by various city departments, will be the rebounding of Statesboro’s fiscal condition, said Parker.
“When I came onboard with the city we were in debt and working under a deficit,” he said. “We have made changes accordingly. We want to make decisions with our costs in mind. We want to look at projects and do them in the most efficient and economical way possible.”
“We are projecting a surplus in our budget this year and next year. We have not built up our reserves to the point where we need to, but we are working on that,” he said. “We are going to continue operating below budget, building our reserves and continue moving this town forward while doing that.”
Parker, who accepted the city manager position for an annual salary of $90,000 with no benefits, has but eight months of experience as a professional city manager – a reason some members of council felt the city should conduct a search to access other viable candidates – but is confident in his ability to lead Statesboro into the future.
Citing experience garnered when serving on City Council, at a time when Statesboro had no city manager and councilmen performed a more active role in managing day-to-day activities within the city, Parker believes he is both capable and eager to serve in the role he’s been awarded.
“When I was on city council, I was responsible for many duties similar to those I perform now. I ran many of the major departments of the city and gained great experience,” he said. “I enjoy the community, take pride in the community. I have been fortunate and look forward to giving back to a community that has given my family so much.”
“My major strength is my affection for this community. I was born here, raised here and have worked here. It has been and will always be my home,” said Parker. “I definitely want to, and will, leave the City of Statesboro better off than I found it. We will work well enough as a team to do that here.”
Jeff Harrison can be reached at 912-489-9454