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Douglas County dealt with growth, saw new projects in 2013
by Tom Spigolon
tspigolon@neighbornewspapers.com
December 30, 2013 04:20 PM | 1833 views | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
From left, Foxhall Resort and Sporting Club chairman Harrison Merrill Jr. and Foxhall owner Harrison Merrill Sr.
From left, Foxhall Resort and Sporting Club chairman Harrison Merrill Jr. and Foxhall owner Harrison Merrill Sr.
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Douglas County dealt with a number of issues related to its growth in 2013, though some new and proposed projects could mean a brighter future for the area.

YES, NO NEW TAXES:

In December, the Douglas County Commission approved a 2014 budget $1.5 million lower than 2013 with no tax increase needed to fund it, county officials said. The approval included $1.5 million to reduce a health care fund deficit.

The 2014 budget approval followed the July passage of a 23 percent tax increase to fund the 2013 county budget, which commissioners said was needed to pay for such projects as road improvements and maintenance that residents said was badly needed. However, they did not fund a request from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office for new radios to replace a radio system officials said was obsolete.

ANIMALS FIND A HOME:

Animal activists protested animal shelter director Rick Smith in March after they said he was not allowing enough volunteer participation in the management of the beleagured county animal shelter.

However, despite only serving eight months on the job, Smith resigned in July and reportedly cited lack of resources for his action. He was replaced with county purchasing director Bill Peacock, whose duties were expanded to include oversight of the animal control department.

Peacock took over amid a worsening overcrowding problem at the 20-year-old animal shelter and a call for a more visible location for the facility, which operates adjacent to the county landfill.

In December, commissioners announced they favored a new shelter site in Deer Lick Park in eastern Douglas County and appropriated funding to begin design work on the building.

HIGHWAY MOVED UP:

Planning had been ongoing for years for construction of the new Ga. Hwy. 92 route through Douglasville before the October announcement the timetable for the start of construction was scheduled to begin in summer 2014 rather than 2016.

The new route includes a realignment of the road through downtown Douglasville, with a new road set for construction east and north of the current route. It will cross U.S. Hwy. 78 near Hagin Street, travel in a new tunnel under the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks and rejoin the old route in north Douglasville.



RIVER RESORT:

Foxhall Sporting Community owners announced plans in August for a resort hotel and convention center on the site in southeast Douglas County on the Chattahoochee River. They later asked the Douglas County Commission to consider a $39 million bond issue to assist with construction, which would give the county development ownership of the convention center, but commissioners balked at committing publicly-backed funding.

POLITICS AND TAXES:

Douglas County Commission members early in 2013 asked the county’s newly-established legislative delegation for Georgia General Assembly approval of an increase in the hotel-motel tax in the county’s unincorporated areas to 8 percent, which matched the city of Douglasville rate.

However, the county’s Democratic Party countered by requesting an increase in the number of Democratic members on the election board. Republican county commissioners protested the request as taking the decision out of local hands. Democratic legislators, including District 35 State Sen. Donzella James, D-College Park, then blocked movement of the hotel-motel tax within the legislative process.

Legislators and county commissioners met in September to seek a compromise on the two issues before the 2014 session. County officials noted the tax increase was needed to help bring in revenue from the new Foxhall hotel, if built.

PAY RAISE:

After months of debate, the Douglasville City Council approved a pay increase for itself in July, including a $40,000 annual salary for the part-time mayor.

NEW MEETING PLACE:

Douglasville opened a new downtown conference center and parking garage in January, using proceeds from the city’s hotel-motel tax to fund it. The new center replaced a smaller conference center across Church Street which had operated since 2000.

City officials then saw bookings from a variety of organizations throughout the year, ranging from the Georgia Automobile Manufacturers Association to a wedding vows renewal event.



ELECTION 2013: SOME OLD, SOME NEW:

Douglas County Superior Court Clerk Rhonda Payne died of cancer in March after her re-election five months earlier. Payne’s longtime deputy clerk, Tammy Howard, was appointed to the office and opted to run for election to complete Payne’s term, which ends in 2016.

Howard, a Republican, then easily defeated Democrat Annetta Danley Stembridge in November for the position.

Meanwhile, in a political comeback of sorts, former county school board member Mike Miller defeated two-term incumbent Dennis McLain for a Douglasville City Council seat in November. Miller had lost a heavily contested primary race for a Georgia House of Representatives seat in 2012.

McLain ran as a fiscal conservative. However, he admitted to Facebook posts in which he bitterly denounced President Barack Obama, leading to charges of racism.

Incumbent Mayor Pro-Tem Larry Yockey turned back a challenge to his city council seat from Jay Mark Smith. Two other council incumbents, LaShun Burr Danley and Samuel Davis, were re-elected without opposition.
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