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'Community conversation' touches variety of issues
people collage
Savannah-based Coastal Georgia Indicators Coalition Director Tara Jennings hosted the two-hour discussions of local issues.

Local leaders talked issues ranging from schools and transportation to health care during a two-hour “community conversation” April 2 at the Stevens Wetlands Center at J.F. Gregory Park in Richmond Hill.
Hosted by Savannah-based Coastal Georgia Indicators Coalition Director Tara Jennings, the event brought together representatives from a number of local governments and institutions, along with Chatham County Manager Lee Smith and Coastal Electric Cooperative’s Jenny Robbins.
Before it was over, it seemed that local officials and private business leaders talked about everything from the county’s rate of teen births to what a new home has to cost to cover what it’ll cost local government to provide services.
The former was 33.4 births per 1,000, which is lower than the state rate of 37.9 per 1,000. The latter, $275,000. That’s what a home has to cost for the taxes it generates to pay for the services it will require.
The aim of all that talk — and information — was to open up lines of communication, Jennings said.
“Community planning and open, honest conversations have to occur if things are going to change for the better,” she said. “Many times organizations work in silos, trying to make a difference, but we don’t do a good job of working together to share the burden nor the success.”
And the event could be a step toward a more regional approach to tackling some of the area’s growing problems, such as transportation and water.
“We’re all partners,” Smith told those in the room. “In Savannah and Richmond Hill, when I look at the traffic coming back and forth between our two communities, we’ve got to figure out how to keep working together on (issues such as) roads and development, and on how what we do has an effect on each other.”
Those who attended included a cross section of public and private leaders from around Bryan County: Family Connection Director Wendy Sims, Bryan County Schools Superintendent Dr. Paul Brooksher and school-board member Amy Murphy; Bryan County Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed, District 3 Commissioner Steve Myers and Bryan County Administrator Ben Taylor; Richmond Hill Planning and Zoning Director Scott Allison; Kristi Cox, area director for the Bryan County Office of United Way of the Coastal Empire; Richmond Hill-Bryan County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Brianne Yontz; and Dina McKain of Fort Stewart’s Public Affairs Office.
“You won’t hear me say ‘county’ a whole lot. I say community, and that community involves everyone in the region,” Smith said. “Effingham, Bulloch, Bryan — it’s all of us.”

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