The Joint City/County meeting on Aug. 29 was hosted by Monroe County Board of Education at the Fine Arts Center and gave those present the opportunity to tour the facility from balcony to stage. Topics covered included an update on the regional T-SPLOST, Comprehensive Plan prepared by Middle Georgia Regional Commission, Monroe County Boys & Girls Club and reorganization of Monroe County Hospital.
Joint meetings of county commissioners, Forsyth and Culloden city councils and Monroe County Development Authority are sponsored by Forsyth-Monroe County Chamber of Commerce governmental affairs committee each month with a fifth Tuesday. The purpose is to bring the members together to facilitate cooperation on issues of mutual interest.
Assistant superintendent Jackson Daniel talked about the evolving plans for an auditorium over his 21 years with the school system. He said the new $8 million FAC with 1,178 seats is built to meet the needs of the school system and the community for a long time.
He said that after opening the FAC and holding five events the first week of December 2016, he knew the school system couldn’t run it without more help; so BOE hired Patrick Hamilton as fine arts coordinator and Jake Smith as information technology support for the school system. Hamilton said that for any given event, they pull in students to help with sound, lighting and other aspects of the production so they can get experience, having the chance to work beside professionals when entertainers from outside the community perform at the FAC.
Members of the Mary Persons chorus sang back up for the professionals in the Almost Billy Joel, Elton John concert on Sept. 3. Hamilton said that although the FAC is primarily dedicated to school programs, he is pleased with the performers it has been able to book for community events, often getting them off I-75 between other concerts.
“The stage makes the one at the old auditorium look like a postage stamp,” said Daniel. “We can do anything. Next door [at the old school system auditorium] they had to change in the hallway.”
The Joint Meeting was the first dinner event held in the FAC. Tables were set up in the lobby for those invited to enjoy a low country boil coordinated by BOE chairman Nolen Howard. It was prepared outside; the FAC kitchen is still getting finishing touches.
Superintendent Dr. Mike Hickman said the need for the FAC was apparent when the 6th, 7th and 8th grade choruses combined to perform their Christmas concert last December and filled the FAC to capacity. In preceding years, they had to perform three separate concerts.
Hickman announced that Monroe County will host the region one-act play competition at the FAC on Thursday, Oct. 26. The performances will be open to the public.
Forsyth Mayor Eric Wilson is one of the five members on the 11-county regional T-SPLOST committee. He was chosen for the executive committee from the 22-member roundtable made up of the commission chair and one mayor from each of the counties. Wilson said the job of the roundtable is to decide whether the district should move forward with a vote on a transportation tax. Three districts in Georgia have approved a 1-cent tax for transportation improvements.
Wilson said the job of the executive committee is to specify what projects will be included in the request for the tax if it is put before voters. Each county presents a wish list, and the executive committee whittles it down. If voters approve the tax, 75 percent of revenue collected goes to these projects and 25 percent comes back to the individual counties according to a formula of population and miles of roads. Also, counties with a T-SPLOST only have to match the state’s LMIG funds for maintaining and improving local roads at 10 percent whereas other counties have to match 30 percent.
Wilson said the Monroe County projects still on the list are widening and re-paving Montpelier and Thornton roads, building a roundabout for better access to Indian Springs Industrial Park and Georgia Public Safety Training Center and building sidewalks from Main Street to Piedmont Apartments. The public hearing on Monroe County projects will be in Macon on Wednesday, Sept. 27 at 2:30 p.m.
Wilson said the roundtable voted to delay putting the T-SPLOST on the ballot until May to have time to make sure the projects are significant enough to get support
“We can’t add projects that weren’t submitted initially,” said Wilson. “We need to make sure we’re getting a return on our investment. Bibb is putting in far more than it is getting but realizes there are regionally important projects, like widening Hwy. 96 across the entire region.”
Monroe County originally included a truck bypass around downtown as one of its projects but dropped it because it seemed unlikely that voters from other counties would support a project that costly that didn’t directly benefit them.
Wilson gave an update on news from the city. Forsyth is without a City Hall; moving out of the old city hall was hastened by the disrepair of the building, including a chunk of the ceiling falling during the work day. The city manager and mayor’s offices are now upstairs in the Welcome Center on N. Lee Street. Other city offices, including those for paying bills and dealing with utilities and municipal court are now at the Forsyth Public Safety Complex, 200 Kimball Street.
City council will meet at Alderman Hall on Adams Street, although council is considering meeting at other places around the city. Plans for a new city hall are still being developed.
Wilson said the pad for the Splash Pad at Country Club Park was poured the weekend of Aug. 26, and the fence was being installed that day [Aug. 29]. There will be a ribbon cutting as soon as it is ready to open.
Wilson congratulated council members Chris Hewett, Mike Dodd and Julius Stroud on qualifying for re-election without opposition.
Boys & Girls Club
to open Sept. 11
Hickman said that work on the Boys & Girls Club site in a wing of the Monroe County Middle School William Hubbard campus is progressing. The start date has been pushed forward a week to Monday, Sept. 11. An Open House is planned on Friday, Sept. 8 from about 4:30-6:30 p.m. Hickman asked that everyone consider being a mentor in the program.
Monroe County Boys & Girls Club director Joel Tolliver said a very colorful painting scheme has just been finished in the classrooms the program will use. A pool table and foosball table have been delivered, and he brought in board games and sports equipment. He is ready for staff training and is working with Mary Persons’ Marcy Sanders to get Work-Based Learning students assigned to work at the Boys & Girls Club.
Tolliver said the Boys & Girls Club will have programs from 3-6:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, and he hopes to add Saturday programs at least quarterly as the Club expands. He said the cost is a $10 membership and $25 monthly program fees for 6-12-year-olds and a $75 membership and no program fees for teens. The payments usually come from families, but there will be some resources available for those who have problems paying the fees.
Tolliver said he grew up in Macon, lives in Warner Robins, goes to church in Bolingbroke and plans to move to Monroe County.
Todd Tolbert, chairman of Monroe County Hospital Authority board, reported on changes at the hospital. He said the new site director, Loraine Smith from the Peach County Navicent Hospital, brings professionalism to the day to day operation. Tolbert said the losses at the hospital have been cut almost in half from the $2.6 million lost last year, and the hospital made a little money in July. He said every bed has been full during August.
Tolbert said plans for remodeling the hospital are at the state waiting for approval. The board is reviewing whether unused hospital space can be rented or whether it would be more efficient to tear it down. The hospital has retained a new group of doctors, including some of the doctors who have been serving the hospital. The board will review its 5-year/10-year plans and decide who it wants to do business with, such as an outpatient surgery center.
“We are making strides by leaps and bounds,” said Tolbert. “The staff is re-energized.”
Tolbert talked about the Georgia Heart Hospital Program to help fund hospitals with income tax. The program lets those who decide to use it get a credit for up to 90 percent of state income tax. Its purpose is to benefit rural hospitals, and Monroe County Hospital is on the list of approved recipient hospitals. It has already received about $35,000.
Monroe County commission chair Greg Tapley said it is a good program that can benefit Monroe County Hospital, but the bill is too complicated. He has contacted the bill’s author about working to streamline it. Both citizens and corporations can contribute. It will not cost those who participate anything as it it just directing the state tax they owe to the hospital. Tolbert said Monroe County Hospital can get up to $4 million from the Georgia Heart Hospital Program, up to $2 million from citizens and $2 million from corporations.
Kaleigh Sullivan of Middle Georgia Regional Commission gave out copies of the County/Cities 2017 Joint 5-year Plan Comprehensive Update and asked for comments on it by Sept. 1. She said the Regional Commission has covered all the required elements, including holding public meetings for input. She said it needs some help with land use maps, that is, how specific locations should be used for development in the next five years.