Bryan County Administrator Ray Pittman advised commissioners to think ahead at the beginning of a four-hour workshop Saturday morning at Fire Station No. 7 in Ellabell.
“When you’re thinking about your decisions, think about their impact 20 years down the road,” Pittman said. “We need to do that with every decision we make.”
Pittman, an engineer in his first month as the top appointed official in the county, then led commissioners, a handful of county employees and a few interested residents through discussions on everything from ordinances to the proposed I-95 interchange at Belfast Siding Road (see related story on page 1).
Commissioners could take no action at the workshop, which began with a Powerpoint presentation called “Roadmap Bryan County 2030.” During the presentation, Pittman provided a synopsis of Bryan County’s opportunities and challenges while also throwing out a number of statistics.
The information provided an interesting look into issues the community and commissioners face:
• The county’s opportunities included its schools, its natural resources and its location on the coast.
“We have 100 miles of waterfront property,” Pittman pointed out.
The proposed I-95 interchange at Belfast Siding Road and retail and industrial development also were listed under opportunities.
• Challenges include Bryan’s split geography — the county is separated by Fort Stewart and the two sides differ widely in demographics — and the specter of hurricanes.
Though Georgia’s coast hasn’t been hit by a major storm since Hurricane David in 1979, nine hurricanes struck the narrow Georgia coast from 1871 to 1898. Under a Category 5 storm, all of South Bryan would be underwater and areas in North Bryan would also be impacted.
“They have happened in the past,” Pittman said. “They can happen again. We need to anticipate that and understand it.”
Similarly, the county has bad soil and is in a flood plain. Land ownership is also restricted in many cases to single owners of large tracts. And water could become a major issue down the road due to saltwater intrusion in the Floridan aquifer.
“If there’s one big issue Bryan County faces, that is water,” Pittman said.
North Bryan County is currently permitted to use some 200,000 gallons per day and unincorporated South Bryan gets about 400,000 gallons per day. Waterways Township and the area around it is permitted to pump 1.5 million gallons per day thanks in part to an agreement with Savannah.
Bryan County’s sewer capacity is 40,000 gallons per day on the north end while South Bryan is permitted for 200,000 gallons per day.
• The county’s median age is between 28-33, a sign of a growing community.
“Bryan County as a whole is extremely young,” Pittman said.
The county’s median family income is $69,361. That is higher than surrounding counties such as Chatham, which is $50,797, and the state, which has a median family income of $56,369.
Most of Bryan County’s wealth is in South Bryan, where the median household income is $75,000 in many areas. By contrast, income in North Bryan is more varied, with much of it being between $30,000 and $60,000, according to maps in the presentation showing where wealth exists.
But opportunities for employment within Bryan County are still limited, with government being the largest employer. Most residents work elsewhere.
In addition, nearly half of the county’s sale tax revenues come from the sale of gasoline, thanks largely to I-95.
Still, Bryan’s economy continues to grow, though perhaps not as rapidly as in years past. According to the presentation, the county’s retail sales grew 36 percent from 2000 to 2010 after a boom period in which they grew 53 percent from 1990 to 2000 and 116 percent from 1980 to 1990.
• Not surprisingly, traffic counts are also up. Some 16,000 people use Highway 144 daily, while more than 17,000 drivers a day travel on Highway 17 in Richmond Hill. That number jumps to more than 22,000 per day on Highway 17 from Richmond Hill into Chatham County. The interstate, meanwhile, sees a daily traffic count of about 70,000 cars a day while I-16 averages more than 22,000 a day.
“Do we have some traffic issues, yes,” said Pittman, while showing a slide of traffic backed up on 144 west of I-95.
That prompted Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed to note that had TSPLOST passed in the region, some 37 roads would have been resurfaced within the next three years.
• Property taxes have remained low, particularly on the county side. Bryan County has a millage rate of 7.9 percent, which is second-lowest in the coastal area behind Glynn. The school system has a rate of 15.537, prompting Pittman to note “when people get their tax bills, a third of it is the county’s, two-thirds of it is the schools.”
Bryan County’s combined millage rate 23.437, which is fourth lowest in the area.
Commissioners also discussed the need for transparency. The county is videotaping meetings to put online and on Bryan County Television.
Recreation, development, ordnances, updating the county’s rating system in order to lower FEMA flood insurance for homeowners and the county’s emergency services were also among the issues discussed at the meeting.