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Richmond Hill joins regional planning group

Richmond Hill now is a full-fledged member of the Savannah-based Coastal Region Metropolitan Planning Organization, known as CORE MPO for short.

The City Council approved a memorandum of understanding Tuesday with the regional transportation-planning body.

The move became necessary after the 2010 census lumped Richmond Hill and a portion of South Bryan into the Savannah urbanized area, and it will cost the city slightly less than $10,000 a year in dues to participate.

Had the city not joined, it could have lost access to federal funds, Mayor Harold Fowler said.

“All I want to say is, this is a federal mandate,” he said shortly before the council approved the measure. “But it’s about as good as it’s going to get. I think we do need to move forward to memorandum of understanding. Hopefully, we can get a lot of good out of it, and I think we will.”

Tom Thompson, executive director of the CORE MPO and Chatham County’s Metropolitan Planning Commission, said Richmond Hill’s inclusion into the group should pay dividends for the city.

“You’ll get an opportunity to have our staff and your staff work together on your planning needs and get some return,” Thompson told council members. “We’ve set aside some planning funds for (local projects). Not everybody gets everything they ask for every year, but it rolls over and there are opportunities to do some things.”

Among the projects Thompson mentioned is a regional traffic-management center that would “help manage all the traffic in the region through technology, traffic signals and so on,” he said.

“We’ve been doing regional things, but we do look forward to doing more specific things for Richmond Hill in the future,” he said.

In addition to Richmond Hill, the CORE MPO takes in unincorporated South Bryan, Bloomingdale, Garden City, Pooler, Port Wentworth, Savannah, Thunderbolt, Tybee Island, Vernonburg, unincorporated Chatham County and portions of unincorporated Effingham County.

The Georgia Ports Authority, Savannah Airport Commission and Chatham Area Transit also belong to the CORE MPO, with each paying $10,250.

Otherwise, membership dues are based on population, with Savannah and unincorporated Chatham providing more than $230,000 of the MPO’s $310,000 local-share budget.

City Center finances

The City Council also got an update Tuesday on Richmond Hill City Center’s finances.

The facility is currently running about $40,914 in the red this year, but that’s better than the $57,159 the city budgeted to lose.

“Certain months they do well, they’ll break even some months and then lose some months,” Finance Director Bob Whitmarsh told council. “They’ve made some strides, but now the thing we’re seeing, and we knew it was going to happen, the building itself is going to need some repairs now that it’s getting older.”

The center was built in 2009 at a cost of $6.2 million.

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