While it’s unrealistic to expect a community’s future to be decided in one day, Bryan County’s countywide planning retreat held this week at the Richmond Hill City Center was positive in a number of ways. Coastal EMC sponsored the event in an effort to bring Bryan County leaders together to discuss major issues facing our area in the years ahead.
We have begun the slow recovery from the most serious economic meltdown since the Great Depression. But property values are still well below pre-recession levels, resulting in lower property taxes collected, which in turn leads to fewer dollars to spend on the services residents expect. Plus, the homestead exemption available for some Bryan County homeowners further eroded the county’s ability to collect adequate revenues for operation.
And on top of the reduced tax revenue, the county’s population has grown 6.5 percent since 2010, according to U.S. Census reports.
Many local governments, including Bryan County, have been forced to raise millage rates to maintain the current level of services. So the challenges to keep taxes as low as possible and still provide services will become even more difficult in the years ahead. That’s why community leaders should come together, voice opinions, express concerns and let elected officials know what kind of community we want.
This week’s retreat did just that with a strong contingent of leaders from North and South Bryan communicating in positive ways about the major issues we face. It was clear Tuesday that the group as a whole is focused on working toward a better Bryan County for all. That kind of communication and cooperation will be necessary if we are to keep the quality of life we all want and build a stronger local economy not dependent on property taxes alone for funding our county and city governments. The geographic distance between North and South Bryan has been an obstacle in bringing our county together, but this week’s retreat proved we are working beyond that.
Some of the major issues discussed were:
• Working toward making the Belfast interchange a reality in South Bryan. New industries bring jobs and can lessen the tax burden of local homeowners.
• Supporting our schools and maintaining the quality of public education in Bryan County.
• Trying to bring the recently defeated regional transportation special local option sales tax, or TSPLOST, back for a new vote in two years. Bryan and Liberty counties voted for passage last year of the tax that would help fund regional and local transportation projects, but the tax was defeated overall by larger counties in the region.
• Ensuring Fort Stewart remains a strong and vital neighbor.
• Working on ensuring Bryan County has an adequate water supply in years to come while also doing what is necessary to improve infrastructure for all.
• Protecting our environment. We live and have access to a beautiful coast. It’s up to us to protect it.
• Supporting local businesses on both ends of the county.
When a community works together for a common good and a better future, we all win. This week’s retreat proved we can work together. That approach will be essential in the years ahead.