There will be little down time for Columbia County's city and county officials as the new year begins.
They face a slew of issues, from implementing a new fire tax to pushing economic development programs.
A referendum to extend the county's one-cent sales tax collections for is not slated to go before voters until July. But county leaders will be working up to that point, whittling down project proposals to place on the ballot and galvanizing public support for another five years of the penny tax.
"In April, a committee will select the projects that seem to be the most popular," County Administrator Steve Szablewski said.
Though the county is not allowed to advertise for support of the referendum's passage, officials will hold more public meetings in February to raise awareness of the vote and solicit feedback on which projects to select.
Some of the projects that could make a first appearance on the sales-tax ballot are capital improvements for fire services.
That's because the county is looking to implement a countywide fire tax to replace subscription fees that each private fire department has collected.
County officials soon will start drawing up services contracts with the private departments for fire protection. The switch will mean that property owners will pay for fire service as part of their property tax bills.
City officials in Harlem and Grovetown are waiting to see how the new contracts will impact them since their residents already pay for fire protection as part of the cities' taxes.
"We keep hearing about it, but we haven't seen the details," Harlem Mayor Scott Dean said.
With recreational facilities continuing to be a top issue for the county, officials will keep studying the possibility of finding money outside local government coffers.
"We're going to be looking at doing more with the private sector on a variety of projects, including recreational activities," Szablewski said.
Although he said the public-private partnerships are being looked at for anywhere in the county, the Columbia County Board of Commissioners last year discussed a proposal for private investment of a recreational building at the Blanchard Woods park under development.
The county's population growth shows no strong signs of stopping, and traffic will be one of the biggest problems the county faces this year, Board Chairman Ron Cross said.
"We have several critical areas in the county where traffic is a major problem already," he said. "With state funding at very low levels, immediate correction is impossible."
Last year, workers made numerous improvements along Washington Road, such as adding center turn lanes to help ease congestion and accidents. There also are plans for work on Ronald Reagan Drive and Bel Air Road, and intersection improvements at Halali Farm and Hardy-McManus roads.
"We must do something about the Greenbrier situation and Blue Ridge Drive," Cross said.
Consultants working on the county's first countywide transportation study are expected to have final recommendations for necessary improvements in a few months.
Cross also said that another significant item on the county's agenda will help support the move to protect Fort Gordon for the upcoming round of nationwide base closures in 2005.
With part of the county's economy and work force tied into the fort, he said local officials must continue working with the CSRA Alliance to protect and expand the facility.
Managing growth also will be a leading priority for the city of Grovetown, Mayor Dennis Trudeau said.
He also said he is looking toward the next phase of building the city's greenway system.
The Grovetown Greenway, nearly 45 acres of donated land, borders Euchee Creek at Grovetown-Harlem Road, extends to Wrightsboro Road and includes the area behind the new Grovetown Middle School
Phase one of the project, consisting of two miles of multi-use trails, a rock den, a parking area, a pond, a 300-foot-long bridge, rock outcroppings, picnic areas, an overlook and an outdoor classroom, is expected to officially open soon.
Construction on the second phase this year will be for additional trails and another parking and rest area off Wrightsboro Road.
Trudeau also said he will be lobbying for the state to commit funds to build a technical school in the Horizon South industrial park.
In Harlem, economic development for the city's downtown area is a immediate issue, Mayor Scott Dean said.
The city has $25,500 ready to dole out through the county's Development Authority to help downtown businesses with sign and facade improvements.
The businesses will provide an equal match for their revitalization grants.
"I've got two of them ready to get started as soon as the grants are approved," Dean said.
He also is waiting to hear if the County Commission plans to match the grant pool with another $25,500. Dean said he has received support from some of the commissioners, but an official vote on the funding has yet to happen.
"I'm wanting to get the final answer on that," he said.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.