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Bobby Haven/The Brunswick News 

A bulletin board at Sparrow’s Nest food bank contains quotes from FaithWorks volunteers about why they give back.


Local_news
Drop in taxes for Brunswick, Jekyll residents impacts county budget
 tcooper  / 
 05.25.19

Glynn County officials had to work around a drop in taxes for residents of the city of Brunswick and Jekyll Island when preparing the next fiscal year’s budget.

Due to a number of changes between this year’s budget and the recommended budget for the next fiscal year, it’s difficult to compare them directly, County Manager Alan Ours told the Glynn County Commission at a Tuesday work session. However, the total budget for the last fiscal year added up to around $142 million while the 2019-2020 budget comes out to around $132 million.

The $10 million difference can largely be attributed to fewer purchases and the expected drop in revenue from Brunswick and Jekyll Island, according to Tamara Munson, the county’s interim chief financial officer.

Property tax revenue remains stable, Ours said Tuesday, but fewer expenditures are planned for the next fiscal year.

A decision in a class-action lawsuit against the county over improperly-applied Scarlet Williams homestead exemptions will impact the county in some way, but the extent is not yet known, Munson said.

“The decision is impacting property taxable assessed values in the county but the total dollar value of that impact has not been determined. The county did see growth in the digest this year of approximately (four percent), even after changes in property values due to the Coleman decision,” Munson explained in an email sent Thursday.

Of the changes in next year’s recommended budget, the largest difference can be found in the general fund, one of six funds composing the entire budget. It would drop roughly $8.5 million to accommodate for new police and EMS taxes.

When deciding in 2008 which government entities would offer which services, the city of Brunswick and the county decided to levy a countywide tax for the Glynn County Police Department. While he couldn’t say exactly why the decision was originally made, Ours said the city has since indicated it doesn’t want to pay the tax anymore.

“In 1998, the county entered into its first service delivery agreement with the city of Brunswick ... it required cities and counties to come together and agree on how services would be provided and who would fund the services,” Ours explained Tuesday. “At that time — and again in 2008 because the agreement has to be renewed every 10 years, which is tied to the comprehensive plan — the city agreed that the county would charge a county-wide millage for the police department.

“However last year, when we met with the city to discuss the renewing of the service delivery strategy ... Mayor Harvey said we’re not in agreement with this anymore, and we don’t believe city residents should be paying for county police.”

Instead of allotting taxes from the general fund to the police department and EMS, two new taxes would be created to pay for them at 0.68 mils for EMS and 1.84 mils for the police. To compensate, the county’s primary source of revenue — the maintenance and operations tax — would drop by an equivalent amount, going from 7.383 mils to 4.863.

Most county residents won’t see much of a difference in their property tax bills, but those that live in Brunswick and on Jekyll Island will see a drop in taxes as a result. The police tax won’t apply to the city while Jekyll residents would pay neither, but still enjoy the benefits of the decreased maintenance and operations tax.

Jekyll Island residents will no longer receive a credit on their insurance premium tax to compensate, however.

Overall, the lower tax rate will lead to a roughly $500,000 decrease in taxes from the city, $330,000 from Jekyll Island residents, Munson said at the county commission’s Tuesday work session.

Without that money from the city and Jekyll Island, the county has had to rearrange its budget and tax structure to fund the police department.

It created a new police fund where money from the new police tax will feed. Revenue from the insurance premium tax — which once went to the Glynn County Fire Department — will now help cover the department’s $12.3 million budget.

Diverting premium tax revenue from the fire department to the police will have consequences the county commission will need to deal with down the road, Munson said. This year, the fire department will cover the gap in its budget from its own pocket. Moving forward, Munson said in the email that the county commission will have to figure out how to deal with the shortfall in the long term.

“This will be a (commission) decision and discussion that will be taking place in the future. Most of the shortfall is the debt payments for the firetrucks and some discussion is ongoing about paying off some debt with fund balance, but that is a (commission) decision that will have to be made,” Munson said in the email.

The new tax structure, rearranged funds and revenue destinations and a change in the county’s financial reporting software will make it more difficult to draw direct comparisons between budgets created before and after the fiscal year 2019-2020.

“It’s very difficult to compare the FY20 budget to the FY19 budget because of these factors,“ Ours said Tuesday.

Among expenditures budgeted for the next year is $200,000 set aside for special projects related to the comprehensive plan.

The money will be used for a number of things, mostly dealing with the county’s Community Development Department: ordinance changes, code revisions and to hire planning firm Ross and Associates to do an impact fee study and potentially help implement a fee as well.

Another significant difference between this year’s budget and the recommended budget for next year is a drop in the county’s capital projects fund.

“In prior years, the general fund made significant contributions to the capital projects fund to fund county-wide projects, however, the revenue was not available this year due to other increasing costs and there was no transfer from the general fund to the capital projects fund for FY20. Also, police and EMS capital are shown in their individual funds rather than the capital projects fund,” Munson said in an email.

Also in next year’s budget, the county is looking to replace 24 vehicles, including the fire department battalion chief’s vehicle, 10 Dodge Charger pursuit cars for the police department, seven patrol vehicles for the Glynn County Sheriff’s Office, two new ambulances and a half-ton pickup truck, among others.

The price for vehicles listed comes out to around $1.2 million, not including a second half-ton truck that had no estimated cost listed.

The full recommended budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year can be found on the county’s website at glynncounty.org/civicalerts.

Looking forward, Ours said Tuesday that there’s a general belief among economists that the country could experience another economic downturn soon.

“We’re monitoring that. (Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau President) Scott McQuade, at last week’s (Brunswick-Golden Isles) Chamber (of Commerce) presentation, indicated that they’re already seeing fewer bed nights. However revenues have increased, possibly due to higher rates,” Ours said.

Commission Chairman Mike Browning asked if Ours had seen any other signs of an incoming downturn.

“I have not. (There are) four good indicators, one was the (bed tax). One is building permits, and they’re holding steady,” Ours said. “One is the title ad valorem tax and that is increasing. It’s hard to get a handle on that. We’ll have a better understanding this year because of the law change with TAVT ... but it’s holding steady and has been increasing.

“The other, which I think is a really strong indicator and one I look at closely every month, is the local-option sales tax. This past year, that tax has increased month-over-month to 10 percent each month from the previous year.”

Browning said he wasn’t sure building permits are a good metric for Glynn County, as the number of permit applications still has not caught up to pre-Great Recession numbers.

If another downturn is coming, Ours said the county will need to plan on maintaining its current operations with few to no increases in revenue in the coming years.

The county must approve the next fiscal year’s budget by the end of June.


Buddy Hughes/The Brunswick News 

Glynn Academy seniors get ready to walk onto the field Friday at Glynn County Stadium for the school’s graduation ceremony. The seniors — along with school staff, friends and family, and others — braved a steamy night to walk and get their diplomas. Valedictorian Jon Michael McKinnon was among the student speakers at the ceremony, and he was joined by Baker Carter, Gabrielle Riddick, Walker Butin adn Ladd Rector.


Local_news
Residents ask judge to act on Terry Creek plan
 wwolfe  / 
 05.25.19

With a small tent nearby providing some amount of shade, around a dozen people or more kicked off a two-hour demonstration at the corner of Warde Street and U.S. Highway 17 — the southwest corner of Hercules’ Terry Creek property.

It’s still very much undecided what will happen regarding future cleanup actions, as the federal government decides whether to go forward with a proposed consent decree between it and Hercules. The plan they propose would put a geotextile cover over contaminated sediment that remains at the outfall. A concrete-lined channel would reroute current discharge.

“We want to wave to people and get them to honk, because we’re saying honk for clean water,” said Alice Keyes — vice president of coastal conservation at One Hundred Miles — as a car honked its response to signs already by the road. “And honk for a better plan, a better cleanup.”

Keyes walked over to a group of signs and pulled one out specifically calling on the local federal magistrate judge to act.

“We’re hopeful that this guy will get the message,” she said. “Judge (Benjamin) Cheesbro … is going to have to make a decision whether to accept the bad cleanup agreement, or tell EPA and Hercules to not go back to the drawing board, but look to other alternatives.”

The event, while organized by One Hundred Miles and the Altamaha Riverkeeper, included various unaffiliated other people who dropped by to participate throughout the event — that included Brunswick Mayor Cornell Harvey and City Commissioner Johnny Cason.

The intention was for people to move in and out of the demonstration as they could, being as it was near a roadway in late afternoon with 90 degree temperatures. However, the Terry Creek issue over a number of years, and especially the last several months, riled up a large amount of the local community, cutting across nearly every demographic.

The Environmental Protection Agency, the Justice Department and Hercules, who have the most power here, thus far have shown they want to go in a direction opposed by a significant number of local residents and nearly every elected official in Glynn County.

Cheesbro on May 14 ordered the federal government to respond as to its progress in processing “approximately one hundred comments” on the proposed decree, noting federal officials told the court five months ago it was involved in this process and had yet to notify the court on their advancement.

DOJ attorney Valerie Mann filed a new status report Friday that states the government won’t be in a position to comment for around another month or two.

“In the proposed consent decree, Hercules LLC agreed to implement the interim remedy selected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the outfall, to reimburse the EPA $153,009.48 in past response costs at the site, and to pay future response costs incurred by the United States in connection with the proposed consent decree,” Mann wrote.

She later added, “The United States has been diligently reviewing the approximately one hundred public comments received during the extended public comment period. The United States anticipates it will be in a position in the next 30-60 days to make a motion to the court regarding the United States’ position on the lodged consent decree.”


Bobby Haven/The Brunswick News 

Mark David Johnson tees off on the ninth hole at Coastal Georgia’s Fall Invitational in September.


Local_news
Cops: DUI driver gives firefighters a wakeup call
 lhobbs  / 
 05.25.19

When a man crashed his vehicle on Community Road shortly after midnight Thursday, Glynn County Fire Department EMS workers did not have to go far to reach him.

That is because the crash occurred at 4310 Community Road, better known as Fire Station One of the county fire department, according to a police report. Police allege the 29-year-old driver was drunk when the Ford Taurus he was driving somehow left Community Road, rolled up into the station’s driveway and collided with the bay door at the fire

station.

Christopher Allen Taylor was arrested and charged with DUI, willful obstruction of the law and failure to maintain a lane, police said.

Taylor was taken to Southeast Georgia Health System’s Brunswick hospital for medical clearance before going to jail.

He was taken to the Glynn County Detention Center, where he was released later Thursday on $2,946 bond, according to jail records.

The crash came as a shock to the on-duty firefighters, said Glynn County Fire Chief R.K. Jordan. “I don’t know how he did it, but he actually came off the road and struck one of the bay doors,” Jordan said.

No one at the fire station was injured, he said. The impact left the bottom portion of the wide bay door crumpled in, but caused little damage to the structure otherwise, Jordan said.

Instinctively, the Station One crew began treating the man who had just crashed into the building.

When the county police officer arrived, “GCFD personnel were already loading the driver into the back of the ambulance,” the police report said.

That did not surprise Jordan.

“That’s a good crew, that’s our job,” he said. “That is what we do, always. They were very professional.”


Local_news
Florida wildfire creates gridlock in Georgia
 gjackson  / 
 05.25.19

ST. MARYS — An 11-mile portion of Interstate 95 just south of the Georgia state line reopened Friday after being shut down for more than 20 hours because of heavy smoke from a wildfire.

But authorities Friday said it’s possible the interstate could be closed again if smoke from the Yellow Bluff Fire obscures vision or threatens the safety of motorists.

Authorities initially closed the interstate on both sides from State Road 200 (A1A) in Yulee to Pecan Park Road around 2:15 p.m. Thursday but extended the closure south several more exits to Interstate 295 later in the afternoon.

By late afternoon, southbound traffic had backed up on the interstate to Exit 3 in Kingsland, said Maj. Chuck Byerly, with the Camden County Sheriff’s Office.

Motorists trying to avoid the gridlock on the interstate quickly impacted U.S. 17, with traffic backed up more than a mile north of downtown Kingsland.

“It backed up bad,” Byerly said. “We had some major accidents as a result.”

Adding to the pandemonium were two serious accidents in Camden County where some of the injured had to be flown by emergency medical helicopter to regional hospitals.

One accident involved two trucks. One of the drivers was flown to a Jacksonville hospital. A separate accident involved a car driving about 70 mph ramming into the back of a truck stuck in traffic.

It was a challenge getting emergency vehicles to the scene of both accidents and an even bigger challenge finding a place for the helicopters to land with the gridlock on the interstate.

In response to the problems in Camden County, Georgia Department of Transportation officials agreed to reroute southbound traffic on the interstate in Glynn County at Exit 29. The detour took southbound motorists west on U.S. 82 toward Nahunta then south on U.S. 301 south into Florida to avoid the gridlock on the interstate.

Despite the help, Byerly said traffic was backed up in Camden County until after 4 a.m. on Friday because of the accidents. The gridlock forced the day shift to work late and the night shift to report for duty early. Byerly praised his dispatchers and deputies for dealing with one of the more chaotic days he can remember.

The fire burned more than 450 acres by lunchtime Friday and was considered about 30 percent contained, though the fire has spread into a difficult to access marsh and wetlands area that has dried out in the hot weather.

The Florida Forest Service has 13 bulldozers and one helicopter at the scene to assist local firefighters battling the blaze.

Byerly said his deputies were prepared for another tough night on Friday if the interstate gets shut down again during the state of the holiday weekend.