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BOC discusses improving internet availability

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Better internet access countywide and bike trails on Highway 49 were items considered by Jones County Commissioners at their second June meeting.

The June 16 meeting was called to order by Chairman Chris Weidner. All board members were in attendance with the exception of Commissioner Tommy Robinson.

Ronald McCant was the only visitor on the agenda, and he spoke to the board about drainage problems on Cheehaw Drive. He said the county had put down crush and run to divert the rainwater, but he described the situation as a mess.

“The water still washes out the road and makes puddles. Water is ponding, but not where the culvert is,” McCant said. “The culvert is in the wrong place.”

The speaker said the crush and run was appreciated but was a temporary fix. He asked commissioners two questions, what can be done and how long before it is fixed?

Commissioner Sam Kitchens said the road needs a ditch and another culvert.

“Driveway issues belong to the owner, but it’s a county issue when it’s on the road,” he said. “The hope was the crush and run would divert the water to the culvert. We need to look at how to cut a ditch to run the water to the culvert.”

McCant said he understands there are other issues, but when the road was repaved, it was not the best.

Kitchens asked County Administrator Jason Rizner to work on the problem and said he would be in touch with McCant with the solution and timeline.

Internet

Commissioner Jonathan Pitts brought up the Connectivity Enhancement Pilot Program rolled out by Gov. Brian Kemp to fill the internet connectivity gap for rural areas. The program was created because of a donation from AT&T, but Jones County was not chosen as one of the Wi-Fi sites.

Pitts said that means Jones County needed to be creative to make Wi-Fi more accessible. His proposal was to upgrade the internet at six Jones County Fire Departments and make them a provider for the public. The commissioner suggested the upgrades be done as a pilot program from Aug. 1 through Dec. 31. He said the usage could be tracked to see how much it is used.

Pitts said it might be possible to partner with the Board of Education for the project. He presented a proposal for the upgrades at the six fire departments for the five-month pilot program at an estimated cost of $4,500.

Wiedner said the internet is definitely a need.

“Some kids have to go to McDonald’s to do their homework,” he said.

Pitts said they need to find out the areas that need Wi-Fi the most.

“Is it possible to take it to the recreation centers? I’m seeking input to make it better,” he said. “Kids go back to school in August, and I want to make it happen.”

Commissioner Daylon Martin said it does not necessarily need to be the fire departments.

He said he would like to see it put where it is needed.

Kithens said he agreed it was a great idea. He said if the project could be in partnership with the Board of Education, it could have multiple uses.

“COVID taught us how behind we were for internet access,” he said.

Jones County’s Director of Information Technology, Will Harp, said the problem with using the fire departments was that their service was through Windstream, and where they are located, only low bandwidth is possible.

Harp said some areas have no mobile phone service either.

“We are learning on the fly. This can get into real money,” he said.

A vote was approved unanimously to postpone the topic to the next agenda for more input.

Rizner announced a program from the Georgia Department of Transportation that would be available in 2023 to help with road striping, replace signage and help with minor shoulder widening.

He said the GDOT had a scorecard of roads and would like the county to use the funding for those roads. The administrator said the amount for the funding was $333,333.

Kitchens made a motion to apply for the funding, and the motion was approved unanimously.

Old business

Pitts again brought a request to allow a food truck to operate on county property. The request had been brought to him by the owners of the Sawmill Restaurant, Rodd Reeves and Herman (Deuce) Black.

The commissioner asked County Attorney Ashley Brodie about progress with the ordinance needed to allow the food truck. Brodie said she had studied ordinances from other counties, and they included many specifics that needed to be determined by the board.

She said those details were items such as the distance from existing restaurants, how many food trucks would be allowed and hours of operation.

“We can do it, but we need to hammer out specifics,” she said.

Black said the plan was to start on a Saturday for now to give them the opportunity to see how it goes.

“We are looking at how we can best serve the community,” he said.

Pitts made the motion to have a work session on the topic, and the vote was unanimous.

The commissioner moved to a discussion of Pickle Ball in Jones County. Haddock resident Lynn Dugger explained how the sport was handled in Baldwin County, where he currently plays three mornings a week.

Dugger said it was a great game that could be played by all ages. He said it is played on a small-scale tennis court, using a hard paddle and a whiffle ball.

“We play in Baldwin and Bibb County. I’d like to see a league form here,” he said.

Parks and Recreation Director Matt Goins said he needed to look at the logistics of the game, but he was all for it. He said the cost to get started with two sets of everything and a storage container was $1,600.

Pitts said the county could use funds from the sponsor fees at Morris Park to pay for the equipment. He made the motion to purchase the equipment to play on the tennis courts at the Morris Bank Recreation Complex two mornings a week and the vote to approve was unanimous.

Martin said he would like to have bike trails at Mattie Wells. Goins said he had talked to the commissioner about the trails because the funds were available from the 49 Recreation complex budget.

The director said the county could rent a mini excavator for $3,400 for a week to mulch the trails out. He said the routes were already laid out.

Weidner said he had made the offer to help with the trails last year, and the offer was still good. He said it was a good opportunity for bike trials and walking trails.

“It’s a beautiful place,” he said.

Martin made the motion to complete the trails, and the vote was unanimous.

Goins asked board members about an upcoming softball tournament to be played in Gray. He said the board had discussed it at the last meeting but postponed it to see what happened in two weeks.

The director said he had checked with other counties having tournaments, and they reported no problems.

Pitts made the motion to approve the tournament, and the vote was unanimous.

Department heads

Goins spoke to the board about the need to get information to the community. He said, with so many social media platforms, it was difficult to quickly get information to everyone.

He asked about board interest in working with a media company that has the ability to put the information on all media platforms with one touch. Goins noted that the information, in addition to upcoming events, would be power outages and road closings.

Board members agreed by consensus that they would be interested in finding out more.

Kitchens said, if it worked out, the information could also be connected to the county’s website.

Martin added that it was long overdue, and Goins said he would start researching the costs and details.

In his comments, Pitts said he received a compliment about the help John Lowe provided the Board of Education in its projects at the high school.

The meeting was adjourned to go into closed session at 7:24 p.m. to discuss personnel. The meeting went back in session at 9:14 p.m., only to adjourn the meeting.

The next Board of Commissioners Meeting is scheduled July 7.