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Coastal planners worried over funding
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Officials responsible for creating the coastal comprehensive plan hope the plan will be approved during this year’s legislative session. But there are already concerns about money.

The state will chip in $575,000, if Gov. Sonny Perdue’s budget is approved by state legislators. That means each of the coastal counties, including Bryan, will then be expected to combine funding to match that, dollar to dollar, to help implement the plan.

The funding concerns were raised during the Coastal Georgia Regional Development Center’s board of directors meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 15.

"While the plan has been approved by the Governor, it really cannot be implemented unless the funding in the Governor’s budget is approved, so it’ll be up to the General Assembly to approve that," said CGRDC Planning Director Tricia Reynolds.

If the coastal comp plan does pass through legislation, Reynolds said there is a related bill that is also on the table that would create Coastal Regional Commissions to take the place of the CGRDC.

The CRC would be made up of a newly elected board, which has yet to be determined.

According to CGRDC Executive Director Vernon Martin, the plan is for the CRC to pick up where the CGRDC leaves off.

"The total amount allocated to implement the plan will be $1.2 million. All the coastal counties combined will have to match that $575,000 from the Governor," County Administrator Phil Jones said. "If the plan is approved, we won’t have any choice about providing funding. It’s broken down on population and I think we make up about 13 percent of the coastal population."

Bryan County Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed said there is concern because the responsibilities of funding are scheduled to increase for all the coastal counties.

"But the state is supposed to match what we put in, so that certainly seems to be fair. As you know, the legislation has not yet been introduced so we won’t know what it’s going to be until it happens," he said.

"But I don’t see how the state can contribute any less than that," he said. "Mike Beatty, Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs (DCA), has made that commitment and been involved with the Governor from the beginning."

Burnsed said he also thinks in the future, the state will have to contribute additional funding in order to achieve what they want with the plan.

"It’s too early to get into too much speculation, but it is something that I think will ultimately benefit the coast and the region," he said.

Dennis Hutton, of Chatham County’s Metropolitan Planning Commission, said during the latest coastal comp plan’s public workshops earlier this month, public comments centered on the reorganization of the CGRDC into the CRC as well as the process of Developments of Regional Impact.

"(One resident) pointed out that the coastal comprehensive plan would begin to change our thought process, so we would begin to think in a much broader scope – that our developments and the things we do don’t exist within a vaccum," Hutton said.

Teresa Concannon of the DCA said the new CRC would be responsible for deciding how the funding of the coastal comp plan’s implementation will work, and will be in charge of taking into consideration the needs of all the communities involved. She also noted there will be grants available to help counties fulfill the standards of the plan.

In other business, after a year-long search, the CGRDC recently announced Allen A. Burns, III as the new Executive Director. He will officially take on the position March 3, when current Executive Director Vernon Martin retires.

Burns is a native of St. Simons Island and has almost 30 years of local government experience.

"I look forward to continuing the leadership you’ve had over the last 39 years and to continue this transition smoothly for our cities and counties," Burns told Martin in January.

Burns holds a master’s degree in city and regional planning from Clemson University’s College of Architecture. Burns’ bachelor of science in sociology was earned in 1980 from Georgia Southern University. His professional certifications include recognition as a South Carolina Certified economic developer and a certified economic development finance professional.

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