Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of stories in which the Bryan County News reaches out to local leaders to get their perspective on issues facing the community. Read our conversation with Richmond Hill Mayor Russ Carpenter here.
This week, Bryan County Commission Chairman Carter Infinger answers questions.
Q: First, the census said over the past decade Bryan County was the fastest growing county in the state and the sixth fastest growing in the U.S. That’s obviously provided both challenges and opportunities. What’s been the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity for county government?
A: The biggest challenge is always keeping ahead of growth with infrastructure, especially water and sewer and transportation. We’ve been doing a good job and have grown from 90 water and sewer customers to around 2,000. We will continue to look for state and federal funding opportunities to maximize our dollars for infrastructure availability in the coming years. The biggest opportunity we have from the growth is utilizing the additional tax base, particularly the industrial growth, to take some of the burden off homeowners. These additional dollars have been used to improve the County for those that choose to live here from a quality- of-life perspective and a fiscal perspective given that we have consistently reduced the County’s millage rate. TSPLOST has already generated over $19 million that is specifically dedicated for transportation related projects. This helps us continue to stay ahead of the growth. Furthermore, improving our infrastructure helps to provide an environment that will increase employment and housing opportunities within our community.
Q: Along those lines the population growth in South Bryan has far exceeded that in North Bryan. Will that impact county residents’ representation on the county commission? Will North Bryan lose a seat on the commission, or will the districts be redrawn in such a way as to create a seat that includes both ends of the county.
A: Every 10 years following the decennial Census, we are required to examine the size of the County districts and account for population growth and shifts to ensure that everyone is being represented evenly and fairly. Based on the growth of Bryan County, the ideal district size has increased to just under 9,000 people per district. The proposed redistricting maps keep two seats in the North. In order to pick up enough population to keep two districts in north Bryan, District 2 will extend further into south Bryan than previously. These maps will be approved by the Board of Commissioners this month and then go to the state for adoption by the Georgia General Assembly in January.
Q: What do you say to critics of growth who say the county grew too fast?
A: Bryan County is a desirable place to live and with our proximity to Savannah the growth was going to come whatever we did. The County Commission is focused on making sure the kind of growth we are experiencing is desirable and adds a positive benefit to the County. The most important thing we can do is to plan and prepare for that growth, so we are able to determine what the future of our community looks like.
Q: What sort of impact has the county’s impact fee had?
A: Impact fees have had a positive impact on the County. We have raised $2.1 million (since fees have been implemented) that will help offset the costs for infrastructure improvements and ensure that growth is paying its proportionate share of the costs. We are projected to collect nearly $1 million this year which is money that we would not have seen were it not for impact fees. More homes are being built in Bryan County since we have enacted impact fees which goes to show that people want to move to places that have had the forethought to plan for infrastructure improvements.
Q: Builders sued the county over that fee and some design requirements in the county’s development ordinance. What’s the latest on that?
A: The case is ongoing, but the County is within the parameters of state law. As a County Commission, we have local jurisdiction over our community, and we should be determining what we want our community to look like in the future and how to raise the money to accommodate the increased burden on our existing infrastructure. Building design requirements and impact fees have not hampered the growth, but only made our area more desirable.
Q: How are relations between the county and city of Richmond Hill?
A: The relationship between the County and the City of Richmond Hill is good. We may have different points of view on issues, but we have ultimately been able to come together and work things out to benefit the community. We will continue to do so going forward.
Q: What’s the status of the Richmond Hill library?
A: The library renovation committee has recently reviewed the final conceptual plans and materials selection is underway. We hope that we can bid the construction out in late spring of 2022.
Q: What’s the latest on the Fisherman’s CO-OP?
A: Fisherman’s Co-op will be a multi-year project that will provide an exciting recreational addition to our County. The newly redesigned co-op site will provide additional access to the abundance of natural resources that Bryan County has to offer. Preliminary engineering and clean up of the site has already been performed, and we have included $1.5 million in the upcoming budget for the project that will serve as the match to state grant money or the seed money to get the project moving forward.
Q: One of the biggest potential stories in the recent past has been the state’s purchase earlier this year of the Mega-Site in Black Creek. What’s the latest you’ve heard on the site as far as prospective manufacturers setting up shop there? How transformative will that site turn out to be not only for Bryan County, but for the region?
A: The Mega-site project a tremendous project for Bryan County. It was the largest land purchase in state history, and we are excited to continue working with the state and our surrounding counties to attract industry and help to transform the entire region. It is anticipated that the Mega-site will bring 10,000-20,000 direct jobs in the immediate area and potentially another 50,000 indirect jobs. The Mega-site will have an immense impact on the area that will bring jobs and housing to northern Bryan County.
Q: On that note, the 280 interchange on I-16 needs improvement to handle the increase in traffic from the ports, the industrial park there and projected growth from warehouses expected to go up in that area. It certainly isn’t equipped to handle the traffic from the mega site when it becomes operational. What improvements are in store there?
A: US Highway 280 is maintained by the state, and the County has a great relationship with the Georgia Department of Transportation. GDOT is very much aware of the future growth that is anticipated at US 280 and plans to install an interchange on I-16 that will be similar to the Belfast Keller Road exit on I-95 with roundabouts on either side of the interstate. The State’s plan is to eventually widen U.S. 280. The proposed 2022 Bryan County budget includes a signal at the intersection of Oracal Parkway and Interstate Center at US 280 to allow for better entry onto US 280 from the industrial side roads, a roundabout at US 80 and US 280, and a roundabout at US 280 and Wilma Edwards Road.
Q: The county has been the only local government to actually adopt a rollback rate in recent years, but is still faced with providing services to a growing population. How has county government been able to reduce the millage rate and still provide services to residents?
A: The Bryan County Board of Commissioners has consistently reduced the millage rate every year since I became Chairman in 2016. At that time the county-wide millage rate was 9.15. We recently reduced the millage rate down to 7.999. We have been able to do this thanks to the professional management of the County and the increasing tax base that allows us to spread the costs of running the County across an increasing number of residents. Home values continue to increase which has also increased the tax base. Furthermore, having a solid sales tax collections with SPLOST and TSPLOST have allowed us to fund large scale capital projects with those funds rather than the general fund which is largely funded by property tax collections. All of these factors combined have allowed us to reduce the millage rate over time and continue to provide quality services to our citizens.
Q: How has social media impacted local government?
A: Social media has its positives and negatives about it. It’s definitely an important tool that helps us get information out to the public. This year, we hired a Communications Manager to oversee social media, the website, and other public information outlets in order to communicate better with Bryan County citizens. So far the response has been positive. All of that said, there can be a negative side to social media that occurs when people go off rumors that they have seen on Facebook or elsewhere. I would ask that if anyone sees something pertaining to the County that doesn’t sound right on social media, please contact me or your commissioner to ask questions rather than just perpetuating something that may only be a gossip. On a similar note, please call me anytime you have concerns with a road, public facility, or service provided by the County and I am happy to answer your questions or follow through with staff to addresses your concern.