Bryan County Administrator Phil Jones gave a state of the county address at the March 11 meeting of the Richmond Hill Exchange Club. He said 2009 is shaping up to be a good year for the county – both in terms of finance and projects.
Jones said the county has effectively managed to roll with the downturn of the national economy and has managed to avoid taking a hit on the local level. He said the county is "taking a pretty big beating" as far as the lack of income from home and commercial building, but revenue from new industry has filled in those gaps.
"Financially we’re in good shape," Jones said. "We managed to do pretty well last year because of some business and industry in our industrial park. We had three new businesses come out there and build some relatively large buildings. The permits for those are rather healthy - in the $50,000 range - so that pulled us out of the doldrums in terms of revenue coming in."
Jones also said, to his surprise, Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue has continued with slight increases. He said 2008 was a financially sound year for the county since expenses were less than revenue and less than budgeted.
Jones said some individual departments were over budget due to inflated fuel costs, but overall the county was one percent under budget for 2008 "and we still managed to get quite a few projects done."
In response to a question from club member Lynn Bennett, Jones said real estate in Bryan County is healthy.
"A lot of people said real estate was down, and we took a hard look at it last year," Jones said. "80 percent of the sales were at or above county values. The values have been holding remarkably well here. The tax assessor board is looking again at it this year."
Jones discussed most of the major projects the county is currently undertaking, which includes the following:
- Extension of Harris Trail Road. Jones said the road has been cleared to where you can now drive all the way through, on a dirt road, to Belfast Keller Loop Road. He said funds to pave the road have been applied for through the state.
- Widening of Hwy. 144. Jones said the design has been completed, but funds have yet to be allocated by the state for the project. He is hopeful the President’s stimulus package may lead to some funding for the project.
- Widening of Belfast Keller Loop Road up to Belfast Siding Road. Jones said work is in progress on that 3.4 mile stretch of road from Hwy. 144 until it turns into Belfast Siding Road.
- Belfast Siding interchange project. Jones said a recent Interstate Justification Report came back from the state as a ‘do not recommen." The state recommended the existing interchanges be upgraded.
"We disagreed with GDOT’s assessment, and GDOT is reviewing additional data that could change the results of their previous study. It was a project recommended by the county for economic stimulus funds as it would provide an economic boom for the county. This project is well known at the state levels, and was added to Representative Vance Smith’s proposal for a one percent statewide tax for road projects. Hopefully, we’ll get something done with that over the next couple years."
- DeVaul Henderson Park. After many years of county planning, it just had its grand opening.
"We have some excellent facilities there, and we’ll be adding to those facilities over time. Right now, after $7 million, we’re about spent out on SPLOST for that project."
- County industrial park on north end. Jones said the park currently employs over 400 people. The park recently expanded to 505 acres, including a 600,000 square foot building that was just built.
"That building has brought in a ton of big businesses looking to relocate. We have dealt with several large corporations in last couple weeks alone that are considering coming to Bryan County."
He said a 1,100 acre tract near Belfast Siding and I-95 has recently been rezoned for another potential industrial park "and I think that’s going to bear a lot of fruit also – especially if we can get that interchange opened up."