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Statesboro council retreats to Jekyll Friday-Saturday for strategizing
FY22 budget, fire and police staffing among topics
Statesboro City Manager Charles W. Penny, seen here in his City Hall office, last year described the annual retreat to Jekyll Island as a chance for Statesboro’s “governing board,” meaning the mayor and council, to talk about priorities for the community. This weekend, councilmembers, Mayor Jonathan McCollar and key city staff members will return to Jekyll for the 2022 strategic planning retreat. - photo by AL HACKLE/Staff

Statesboro’s City Council, mayor and key staff members will travel to the coast for a “strategic planning retreat” Friday and Saturday on Jekyll Island.

The specific location, for what will be open sessions if other members of the Statesboro public wish to go, is the Westin Jekyll Island at 110 Ocean Way, described on its website as a four-star hotel on the beach. But Statesboro City Manager Charles Penny said the officials won’t have time for beach amenities. Besides, it is still March.

The Friday session is slated to begin at 9 a.m. and last until 5 p.m., with lunch from noon until 1 p.m. and a 15-minute break at mid-morning and another at mid-afternoon. Then Saturday’s session is slated to begin at 8:30 a.m. and end at noon.

One but not the only focus of the retreat is thinking ahead for the city budget for fiscal year 2022, which begins July 1, 2021. Staff members will be listening to the elected officials before developing budget proposals, Penny said Monday.

“It’s important for the governing board to have a chance to be away, to talk about priorities for the community,” he said. “When they set their priorities it helps us from the budgetary standpoint because we’ll be putting together the budget for them to adopt in June, and then it

also helps build relationships between the governing board, and when they’re away they hopefully don’t get distracted.”

Statesboro city officials have lined up a professional facilitator, Michael Hourihan of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia, to guide them through the process.

‘Good, bad & ugly’

Friday’s session is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. with an overview of retreat objectives and “rules of engagement” followed by an “icebreaker activity” before Statesboro’s city elected officials discuss what they have learned in the last 12 months, “good,” “bad” and “ugly.” They are expected to discuss what is and is not going well and how to fix things that are not.

But Penny and Assistant City Manager Jason Boyles will lead some of the more topical discussions, with updates for the council. One year ago the council went to Augusta for a similar retreat and discussed some goals and action plans. Boyles will report on progress made toward last year’s goals, Penny said.

Major projects noted for discussion on the 2021 agenda are park improvements – now with a ribbon cutting slated for next week – the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing and the housing study now underway. The downtown master plan under development is another topic, among others that could be discussed Friday morning, Penny said.

Performance pay

Then he is slated to talk to the elected officials, beginning at 1 p.m., about fiscal 2022 budget priorities.

“Performance pay for all employees” is one subtopic listed. But what Penny has in mind is rewarding individual city employees based on performance evaluations, he said.

The Statesboro’s city government’s previous approach “has been a little bit inconsistent,” Penny said, and he does not generally favor across-the-board pay adjustments.

“Granted, I have top-notch employees, but when you do across-the-board adjustments, the good employees get the same thing as the marginal employees, as the outstanding employees,” Penny said, “and we ought to be differentiating in how we reward those employees who are giving us 150 percent.”

“Avoid raising taxes” is another listed priority. Penny said he perhaps should have phrased that differently but believes, with the end of the COVID-19 pandemic still not clearly in sight, that the city should “be trying to be as frugal as we can but still maintaining a high level of service for our citizens.”

SFD & SPD staffing

Fire department staffing and police personnel are other topics listed for the strategic discussion toward budgeting. As reported last week, the Statesboro Fire Department is applying for a three-year federal grant to add 12 firefighters to its current city-authorized total of 45 firefighting positions. If the grant is not approved, Penny will look for other ways to add firefighters over time, he said in Monday’s phone interview.

He also acknowledged that the city has completed an in-house staffing study on the Statesboro Police Department’s need for officers.

“We just want to talk about it a little bit, and at some point we will come back and present that (to the council) in a work session,” Penny said.

The city’s needs in regard to “resources, partnerships, finances” are a 3 p.m. Friday topic, followed by discussion of action plans.

A review of the multi-year capital improvements budget, which schedules major equipment purchases and infrastructure projects, is the lead topic for 8:30 a.m. Saturday.

Statesboro’s ongoing street resurfacing program, the Blue Mile streetscape set for construction beginning this summer, stormwater drainage improvements, replacement of some firefighting equipment and a long-pending proposal for a third fire station are among the line items.

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