COLLEGE PARK — County, state, federal, municipal and business leaders turned out Thursday for the “State of the County” address at the Georgia International Convention Center.
Michael E. Paris, president and CEO of the Council for Quality Growth, opened and closed the event and Karlene Barron, director of communications for Atlas, acknowledged the presenting sponsors. Morrow High School’s Honor Guard presented the colors and recording artist Erica Dawson sang the National Anthem. Pastor Kay Riley of Lakewin Christian Center gave the invocation and Pastor Harry Riley gave the benediction.
Interim Executive Director of Invest Clayton Erica Rocker-Wills name-checked several major county businesses: JIT Packaging of Forest Park; Swissport Air Cargo of College Park, Tindall Precast of Conley; Kabobs, Inc. of Lake City; and The Clorox Company of Forest Park. She noted a woman-owned startup, CutieCakes, “just closed on a building near Southlake Mall” and makes pourable cake batter. “We’re proud of that kind of innovation that’s happening right here in Clayton County,” she said.
Katherine Zitsch, director of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District, praised the December 2019 recommendation that the Supreme Court dismiss Florida’s suit against Georgia in the “water war.” Zitch said the Clayton County Water Authority wetlands “are a big part of that story because they recycle water.” By saving 10 percent of its water, she said, the county is able to serve 1.3 million more people. She also said CCWA “deserves a shoutout for watershed protection in Finding the Flint” and increasing recreational access.
District 4 Commissioner Demont Davis introduced Board of Commissioners Chairman Jeffrey Turner, who took the stage to Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” noting the chairman “has continuously used his platform to assist in raising funds and drawing attention to groups such as CASA, Alzheimer’s Center and Kinship Care.”
Turner thanked the citizens of Clayton County, “a county turning the corner in a new direction, one of professionalism, transparency and (that is) results-driven, a county on the road to gaining credibility and trust.”
He pointed out the county’s strong fiscal position and nationally-competitive Aa2 credit rating. “Key credit factors include a robust financial position, an exceptionally light debt burden, a moderate pension liability and an extensive tax base,” Turner said. “But we do have a somewhat weak wealth and income profile. Despite that, the financial position of the county is very strong and is relatively favorable in comparison to the assigned rate of Aa2.” Turner said the county’s cash balance is 95.5 percent of operating revenues, “far above the U.S. median. In addition, the fund balance as a percentage of operating revenue, 27.7 percent, is on par with the U.S. median.”
Turner noted the county’s finance department has won the highest award for governmental accounting and financial reporting 41 years in a row and the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for 16 consecutive years.
In 2019, all county employees got a 3 percent cost of living adjustment and merit increases up to 6.25 percent. First responders who move to Clayton County get $150 per month for one year if they rent and $250 per month for one year if they’re paying a mortgage. Minimum wage was increased to $10 per hour, up from $7.25. “It was time to quit talking about it,” Turner said, “and being about showing them they are valued.”
“We heard your concerns about animal control issues, illegal littering and dumping, and non-compliant businesses and homeowners,” Turner said. The county added four Animal Control officers and Police Chief Kevin Roberts partnered with animal rescue groups for extra help. The county also has added eight Code Enforcement staff and two supervisors and given Prison Warden Dennis Nelson funding to hire more officers “so we could have a work detail crew in each commissioner’s district.” Turner also thanked Sheriff Victor Hill, “who also has prisoner work crews working throughout Clayton County every day, cutting grass and picking up trash,” and Lexi Morgan, head of the new Keep Clayton County Beautiful initiative.
Turner said the Northeast Senior Center, Northwest Library, Northwest Police Precinct, District 4 Recreational Center, District 3 Intergenerational Center and Information Technology Training Center should open this year.
A new Community Engagement initiative, with Nickle Works LLC and the Communications Department, is meant to improve communication “between the county and all of its residents in the most efficient manner.”
According to Turner, Gov. Brian Kemp said Clayton County tourism’s economic impact was $1.5 million, up 3.7 percent from 2018. Fifty-two film and television productions brought $706,000 in fees from the county’s top five locations, Turner said, adding that Georgia State University had conservatively estimated the county’s economic impact from film and television at $1.3 million in 2019 with 405 production days logged. Films included Bad Boys for Life, “the highest-grossing January release of all time,” Jumanji 2, Coming 2 America, The Watchmen and Ozark Season 3, among others.
Turner also praised educational efforts, such as the Youth Council and Board of Health’s Personal Responsibility and Education Program (P.R.E.P.) to reduce teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, and the Clayton County Public Schools’ having two of the top 50 high schools in the country.
Turner urged all stakeholders to take an interest in each other’s problems and to “work collectively to move our county forward.”