DavisMayor Davis performing "This is Our Country".
Richmond Hill Mayor Richard Davis, as the Dec. 13 guest speaker for the Richmond Hill Rotary Club, laid out his vision for the city. He detailed the substantial growth through the years while explaining many of the current and ongoing city projects.
Davis, who has been involved in Richmond Hill politics for 29 years, started out with some quick facts about the early days of the city. He said Richmond Hill was incorporated into a city on March 3, 1962 "which makes Richmond Hill 45 years old. At that time, the population was merely 450 people."
He then discussed the population trends since then: 1980 – 1,177; 1990 – 5,900; 2000 – 6,900. Davis estimates the current population of Richmond Hill to be between 10-11,000 people. "We’ve come a long way since 450 people," he said.
"According to the 2000 census, 34 percent of our population was 18 and younger, 36 percent were between 25-44, and 11 percent were senior citizens," according to Davis.
Davis said growth has slowed down recently, although not as much as many parts of the country.
"Even with the national housing slowdown, the growth rate is still pretty decent right now for Richmond Hill," he said. "We continue to attract new businesses, especially restaurants and banks. We’re now a seven-bank city, a three-McDonald town and soon to be a six-traffic light town. Not many cities the size of ours can say that."
Davis said two of those traffic lights are in the planning stages – one on Hwy. 17 between the McDonald’s and the T/A Truck Stop and the other at Timber Trail Road and Hwy. 144. The third McDonald’s is currently being constructed in the Publix shopping center.
"We have new businesses expressing interest in our city all the time," Davis continued. "We have a new super Kroger with gas pumps coming, new Walgreen’s store, maybe a Chick-Fil-A, maybe a Cracker Barrel, maybe an Olive Garden, maybe a Kohl’s department store, and the list goes on and on – stay tuned. I heard yesterday that Sunrise Breakfast Café is coming to the Publix shopping center."
He said 1,048 residential and commercial building permits have been issued inside the city within the last three years alone. He estimates the total dollar value of new improvements and construction in the city to be around $200 million in that period.
On another topic, Davis said there are currently 112 city employees, including eight full-time firefighters and 22 police officers. "That amounts to one per every 500 residents which is a good national standard," he said. "And each officer’s vehicle is equipped with video cameras and lap tops so an officer can key in a tag number to find out who you are and all about you before the officer even gets to your window to write you a ticket. We’re very proud to say that we provide them with the best equipment to keep our city safe. As for the fire department, they have achieved an ISO rating of four. ISO is what the insurance companies use to price homeowners and fire insurance, so were very proud to have such a low number."
On the topic of water/sewer infrastructure, he spoke of "a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment center" built in the mid-1990s, which he said is undergoing engineering work to double the capacity on it to 3 million gallons a day.
"Last year, we overcame a court battle with EPD to achieve a tap into the lower Floridan aquifer to greatly increase our water supply," he continued. "We are very well poised for future growth as far as water and wastewater is concerned."
He spoke of how J.F. Gregory Park is a great asset to the city and how an estimated 77,000 vehicles have entered the park so far this year. In discussing ongoing plans for the park,
Davis said surveillance equipment was recently erected which covers 90 percent of the park, that the pavilion is now a wi-fi hotspot where you can surf the web on your laptop, and the fact that a 26,000 square-foot conference center is about to begin construction in the rear of the park, with groundbreaking estimated for February.
Davis spotlighted a couple of the statewide accolades the city has been awarded. This included being designated as a "Preserve America City" by First Lady Laura Bush – one of only 13 cities in the state of Georgia to earn this honor.
He also brought up Richmond Hill being recognized by the GMA as a Trendsetter City for the public works department – one of only eight cities recognized throughout Georgia as a trendsetter.
He spoke of some of the vital groups in the city, such as Arts on the Coast and the Richmond Hill Historical Society and how they contribute greatly to the community.
"Our budget for 2008 has just reached a milestone by breaking the $10 million mark," Davis said. "That’s a long way from $276,000 when I started on city council in 1978. Believe it or not, even with a budget this size, we were still able to reduce our millage rate on property tax – which makes six consecutive years we’ve been able to do so. We attribute that to the growth we’ve had. A lot of people say growth costs money. Well, growth brings money too. Having residential growth allows us to have more stores, shopping centers, medical facilities, and on and on."
Davis commented on the Coastal Comprehensive Plan which will be implemented in 2008.
He said it is mandated by the governor because the population in the six-county coastal region is projected to be 830,000 by 2015. He said that the plan entails the CGRDC (Coastal Georgia Regional Development Center) to act as a commission in order to review and monitor anything that is built.
"I’m not so sure we need another layer of bureaucracy," he said. "It might just make our current housing slump even worse, but we do need a plan. Anytime you have that large of a population, you’ve got to plan for it. I’m just not sure this is the right one. It might work out, I’m just a little skeptical."
To close the meeting, Davis surprised the Rotarians by singing a couple of songs "in keeping with my reputation of being unpredictable."
For a music video of Davis singing John Mellencamp’s "This is our Country," go to www.bryancountynew.net