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BOC moves ahead with water system expansion

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Also focused on increasing access to broadband internet

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The Jones County Board of Commissioners took a giant step toward expanding water and broadband service to under-served areas in the county.

The March 16 meeting was called to order by Chairman Chris Weidner and Emergency Management Director and Jones County Fire Chief Don Graham led the opening prayer and pledge of allegiance.

The water projects and broadband decisions took place near the end of the new business items on the agenda. County Administrator Jason Rizner and Consulting Engineer Tim Ingram presented the water projects.

Rizner asked board members to narrow down the priority list. He said the money is available in the current SPLOST and from the bond issue. He said he and Ingram recommended narrowing the priorities to the Lite-N-tie elevated tank, the Graham Road expansion and the Highway 49 expansion. Those projects would total $11.5 million of the $15 million available.

Weidner said his concern is water supply.

Commissioner Daylon Martin said he would like to see all those projects done and increase the water supply.

Ingram stated that the Lite-N-tie elevated water tank and water line expansion projects could be done, and the remaining $3.5 million in available funds could to go toward increasing the county’s water supply.

Commissioner Sam Kitchens said the longer they talk about the projects, nothing is being done. He made the motion to move forward with the specified projects and use the remaining funds to increase the county’s water supply.

The motion was approved unanimously.

Kitchens later spoke about American Rescue Plan Act Funds. He said the pandemic has brought to light the need for broadband. The commissioner congratulated Tri-County EMC for its commitment to bring high speed broadband to its customers but there will be pockets that will not be served.

“We need to bridge that gap. I’m asking that we prioritize the next Rescue Act funds we receive to broadband,” Kitchens said. “I’m asking for a commitment from the board. We know the need is there,” he said.

Martin said he is looking for help with ambulance response.

“We will need to support that if we have to go county funded,” he said.

Commissioner John Wood said Navicent has changed its strategy and has improved its service.

Emergency Management Director Don Graham said the change has been significant.

Wood said he agreed to the plan to use the funds for broadband infrastructure.

Kitchens made a motion to prioritize the use of the county’s next round of American Rescue funds to broadband, and the motion was approved unanimously.

New business

The first item on the agenda was a presentation by David Irwin of Mauldin and Jenkins CPAs for the county’s 2020 audit. He stated that the county received a clean audit report with no audit findings.

“That is the highest you can get,” he said.

Irwin thanked the staff of the county’s finance department for their cooperation and assistance during the audit. The auditor complimented Jones County for continuing to strengthen its fund balance, which he said contains enough funds for the county to continue operations for six months should that need arise.

“Your fund balance has doubled in three years. That’s a great job,” he said.

Kitchens said it was only fair to let everyone know what a good job CFO Lavita Crutchfield and her staff does for the county.

“This is not because of us. We appreciate what you do,” he said.

Capt. Travis Douglas with the Jones County Sheriff’s Department spoke about his research into cameras to help with the county’s blight and litter issues. He said he believed what was needed was the same quality cameras that law enforcement uses to read license plates.

“The license reader works with a camera and continuously records,” he said.

He said the camera must to be placed where there is power, and the cost is $1,200 per camera. Douglas said the cameras need a cable to a DVR box.

The captain said the cost of cameras on the upper end can be $10,000 and up. He said, if power is not available, a mobile trailer can be used such as the radar trailers the JCSO and Gray Police Department use.

“The question is do you want to

move the cameras?” he asked. Douglas said officers are glad to help and patrol officers have been instructed to watch for littering.

Martin said he believes the county needs a combination of stationary and mobile cameras.

“The reality is this won’t be cheap, but it’s necessary,” he said. “We are looking for a solution, not a band-aid.”

Commissioner Wendy Vaughn asked if someone would have to monitor the cameras, and Douglas said yes.

The captain said he was having a Zoom meeting with one provider next week, and several of the board members said they would like to be included in the meeting.

Wood said he is looking for something mobile so no part of the county would be left out.

Kitchens said he agreed the camera needed to be mobile.

“I’d like to see this ramped up so we can keep litter from coming from the back of pickup trucks. We need a holistic view and we need teeth in the ordinance,” he said.

The commissioner said the county needed to know who was doing the littering and be able to prosecute them. He suggested raising the fines from $150 to $500.

“We need to make it worth their while for people to stop littering,” he said.

Martin agreed that the county needed to get serious about the issue and make people accountable.

Public Works Director John Lowe asked the commissioners to consider the pay rate for the county’s contract employees. He said the contractors have not received an increase in several years.

Kitchens made the motion to have Rizner look into the pay scale for contractors and the motion was approved unanimously.

Graham asked board members to approve the renewal of the county’s mutual aid agreement with the Georgia Forestry Service. He said the agreement had to be renewed bi-annually.

“We couldn’t do it without them,” he

said. Martin made the motion to approve the agreement and it was approved unanimously.

Rizner spoke to commissioners about the contract agreement with the Middle Georgia Community Action Agency and the Georgia Department of Transportation about the Jones County Transit program.

He said, because of the involvement of federal funds due to the pandemic, the agreement had gotten complicated.

The administrator said the third-party operator rates had been temporarily increased, but the county would be reimbursed for any additional costs. He said when the Cares Act expires, all will return to normal.

Kitchens made the motion to use the temporary rates until the agreement returns to normal, and the motion was approved unanimously.

Old business

Keep Jones Beautiful Director Vicki Bilderback talked to board members about the Community Pride Cleanup scheduled April 17 She said a new flyer had been created that includes a QR code that when scanned will give updated information.

“The QR code works with all phones. All you have to do is scan it with your camera,” she said.

Bilderback said the county is also applying for an old tire reimbursement grant.

Kitchens said dumpsters would be available and the county would pay to haul off the trash. He added that Joe Rutledge with Gray Computers will haul off all electronics, and they are working to get a sponsor for shredders to be onsite.

“I’m issuing the same challenge to the other districts. Let’s make this a big event,” the commissioner said.

Bilderback said the cleanup begins at 8 a.m. and continues until noon. She said lunch would be provided following the cleanup.

The director said information and updates about the event can also be found on the Keep Jones Beautiful Facebook page.

George Scoville, who has been a one-man clean up crew along Highway 49 and Joycliff Road, said he has received hundreds of hits about the topic.

“We need to keep it rolling. People are concerned and are sick of litter,” he said.

The final item of Old Business concerned billing for the Jones County Water Department that was changed by the board at the last meeting.

Weidner said he recently met with Water Superintendent Jeffrey Pehlke and found out that what the commissioners did would not work. The chairman said he now understands that, when the new meters are all installed, the problem will be fixed.

“The issue was a problem with the programs. We need to keep it the way it was, so we need a reversal,” he said.

Vaughn made the motion to rescind the motion approved at the March 2 meeting changing the due date for water payments. The vote to approve was unanimous.

The board’s next meeting is April 6.