The first quarterly meeting for Jones County’s elected officials was filled with information about partnerships, suicide prevention and the 2020 Census.
The Feb. 25 meeting was held in the community room of Tri-County EMC and facilitated by Greg Boike with the Middle Georgia Regional Commission.
The Jones County Board of Commissioners was represented by Chairman Chris Weidner, Commissioner Sam Kitchens and County Administrator Jason Rizner.
The City of Gray was represented by Mayor Ed Barbee and Mayor Pro Tem James Collins.
Jones County College and Career Academy CEO Laura Rackley represented the Jones County Board of Education and School System.
Collins kicked off the updates with the announcement of the purchase of a new fire truck for the city. Weidner said it had been smooth going in the county with the exception of trying to keep the roads on track with all the rain.
Rackley said the school system was participating in Read Across America and mock interviews were being held for CCA students. She also mentioned the purchase of a transport bus for the academy and a new barn for the agriculture program.
Morgan County Manager Adam Mestres spoke about the partnerships and joint projects in Morgan County. Those projects are the results of collaborative partnerships with Morgan County Board of Commissioners, Board of Education and the City of Madison.
He said the joint projects work because they are all working for the same group of taxpayers.
Mestres gave a PowerPoint presentation that showed examples of the projects beginning with a $46 million high school and college and career academy. He said the land was owned by the Board of Education.
The Board of Education and county shared expenses for the buildings, and the city provided the infrastructure. Several other projects in the community had similar structures, including a baseball and recreation center and a track and field facility.
The county has an indoor aquatic center that was constructed on land donated to the county by the Board of Education and constructed with SPLOST funds. He said the indoor pool is widely used.
Mestres said a joint transportation facility is located on land donated by the county and maintained by the Board of Education. It also has a joint fuel center owned by the Board of Education but used by both.
The most recent joint project is a soccer field constructed on property that was a joint purchase.
The manager said collaboration is possible because the entities were able to identify common needs and have an open conversation.
“There is a trust between the boards, but the projects are completed with memo of understanding and intergovernmental agreements,” he said.
Mestres said the public also gets involved in the projects.
“When the community sees elected officials working well together, people help,” he said.
Dr. Martha Tingen with Augusta University presented information about Jones County’s Suicide Prevention Campaign. Tingen said, two years ago, her oldest son took his own life, which makes the campaign personal.
She explained that one for her duties at the university is to bring grants to the college for various needs.
“The purpose is to make sure students make good decisions,” she said.
Tingen said she got a call a year ago from the state to go to Jones County to help with a grant. She said at that time she knew no one in Jones County.
“It’s been an amazing gift to work with the people of Jones County,” she said.
Tingen said a grant was funded for suicide prevention in Jones County and she recently found out the grant was funded for another year.
The speaker began with statistics of suicides in the United States that increased 40 percent from 1999 to 2016.
“800,000 people die from suicide every year,” she said.
Tingen said men are three times more likely to die from suicide. White males make up 70 percent of that statistic, and 54 percent of the people who die from suicide have no history of mental illness.
Relationship issues are the number one cause.
She said females were more likely to attempt suicide, but males are more likely to die. Tingen was pointed to Jones County because its suicide rate is number one in the region and tenth in the state.
“We want to address the problem with you,” she said.
Tingen said the goal of the campaign was to increase awareness of the problem and the resources available to help. That includes the availability of what is called QPR Training.
QPR is an acronym for Question, Persuade and Refer, the steps suggested for helping a person in crisis.
The speaker said a readiness assessment of Jones County showed that the community was not aware of the alarming statistics. In a 2019 student assessment, 388 sixth through 12th graders said they had considered harming themselves, and 139 had attempted to harm themselves.
Tingen said the grant requires a target group and based on the statistics, Jones County’s target group is white males from 45-54. The next highest group is students ages 15-19.
The first meeting of the Suicide Prevention Coalition in Jones County was in September with 18 people in attendance. To date she said 160 people in Jones County have attended the QPR Training.
Tingen said 47,000 informational post cards were mailed in February with information about the coalition and available resources.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number is 1-800-273-8255, and Georgia’s Crisis and Access Line is 1-800-715-4225.
The next scheduled meeting of Jones County’s Suicide Prevention Coalition is March 25,10 a.m., in the community room of Tri-County EMC. Pre-registration is not required for the coalition meetings.
The final presentation was by Jones County Family Connection Coordinator Joy Carr. She explained that this was the last quarterly meeting before the April 1 Census Day, and each residence should receive a Census form in March.
Jones County/Gray Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Haley Watson said the Census still wanted to hire 60-70 people to assist with the count in Jones County.
Carr emphasized that Jones County lost $150 million in federal funds because of being undercounted in 2010.
More information about the 2020 Census can be found at 2020census.gov.
The date of the next quarterly meeting is May 26. The meetings are held in the community room at Tri-County EMC at 6 p.m.