Photo by Heather Middleton
By M.J. Subiria Arauz
Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell updated about 150 business professionals, Thursday, on county issues, and some of the challenges that must be overcome, in a down economy, to keep the county moving forward.
"Indeed, I beg you to join me at the future," Bell said. "You have [more of] a jewel here than any other place I've ever been, and I've been [to] a few," he added.
The commission chairman was the featured speaker during the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce's "SunTrust Early Bird Breakfast," at Clayton State University, in Morrow.
Although jovial and joking at times, Bell was also serious, as he shared both negative and positive aspects of the county's situation. He began with State Senate Bill 346, which he said, requires the county to notify citizens of their rights to appeal their taxes, and informs them of what their taxes will be.
"That's good for our citizens to see that all at one time," he said, indicating that was a positive thing. To carry out the mandate that the state requires in the bill, however, the county will have to add personnel, which will come out of the residents' pockets, he said, indicating a challenge during a time of tight budgets and belt-tightening.
The county budget is extremely tight due to the economy, he reminded the audience. "We will have to add people at taxpayers' expense to meet the mandate of the state," he said.
The county will also have to meet a Federal Communication Commission (FCC) mandate that requires its 911communications center -- located at the Clayton County Police Department Headquarters Building, in Jonesboro -- to become "inter-operable" with the entire region, he said. All of Clayton County's cities will also be required to fulfill this upgrade, he added. Another financial challenge.
"I am encouraging our cities to come aboard and upgrade their systems, which will be required by the FCC, so that we can efficiently serve the people of Clayton County," said Bell.
In order to fulfill the FCC's mandate, however, the county will have to use its Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds, said Bell. There is approximately $20 million there, he said. "The board will be looking to use that money to assist us in upgrading our communication system."
Bell told the audience the county's budget is currently $8.5 million short, mostly due to the troublesome economy that has severely decreased housing values in the county. It is a common problem, nationwide, he said, which was caused, in part, by unscrupulous lending practices of major financial institutions.
Clayton County's Board of Commissioners is currently looking at ways it can balance its budget, so that there will be limited disruptions of services to the community, he said.
Another challenge flowing from a government mandate, said Bell, is that the county will have to renew its agreement of House Bill 489, or The Services Delivery Strategies Act, which requires it and its cities to make sure their service-delivery strategies are accurate and current, to effectively and efficiently address the needs of the citizens.
Clayton County's agreement expires April 29, he said, and an invitation will be sent to all the cities, so the renewal process on the agreement can begin.
"We get to review it every 10 years," he said, "and we are coming [up] on it."
Even with the current economic and other challenges facing the county, Bell seemed optimistic, and determined to look toward the future.
"It is important for the county to become a futurist," he said. "Let us think 40 years ahead, and prepare ourselves in meeting these challenges by investing in our future, living within our means, and working to create partnerships, both public and private."