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January 2020
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What we got in 2019

Time for our yearly trip to the woodshed. About this time every year, we look back at some of the causes we championed in this space a year ago to see if any progress has been made.

For 2019, the county moved forward in several noticeable ways. While it may not seem the earth shook, the seismic plates underneath this community did budge in the past 12 months and, in the right direction. Here’s our wrap up of items called for in “What we need around here” in the New Year’s edition of 2018.

• Parks, parks, parks – The Progress  article “SPLOST plan enables status quo forever” in the July 25th edition touched off widespread disapproval for the commissioners’ paltry funding of the parks in the latest SPLOST. Commissioners listened and upped the ante, raising it from $740,000 to $3.7 million. That’s a cause for celebration. Now let’s see what they put in place.

 

• Incentives to attract desirable businesses and someone to negotiate with the enticements. We got half of this one. One shocking fact looking back is to realize that our county and the city of Jasper have operated for almost two years without an economic developer. Who knows what opportunities we missed while we were essentially closed for reorganization. But with the finalist for this position (Green B. Suttles III) finally announced last week, we can get back in the game. 

To tamp down un-realistic expectations, let’s all keep in mind that Mr. Suttles will inherit what has been essentially an empty office for the past two years and will be asked to strike forth without a definite road-map for success. Here’s wishing our new economic developer luck getting the ball rolling.

 

• A city manager to bring order to the Force – Brandon Douglas (whose hiring was announced in January of 2019) may not be a Jedi, but we’ll give the manager at Jasper City Hall credit for handling the transition away from a mayor/manager with more than 20 years of experience to a separate manager and new mayor Steve Lawrence who will start next month.  

While, the faces may have changed  with Jasper governance frankly it’s hard to see much else that has improved in the past year. There is a growing list of discussed projects that never go anywhere – public bathrooms for downtown, a park along Spring Street, emphasis on downtown. Yet we are still sitting with a grassy field and water park with some new mulch, but no serious renovation and a closed bank drive thru that looks just like it did the day the city purchased it.

• Separate the cows, chickens, rock concerts and wedding chapels – The need for more precise zoning codes doesn’t seem as urgent now and we have covered the planning commission’s efforts to create new categories that will accommodate wedding chapels with one set of guidelines and genuine farms with another. But, it still seems pretty nebulous what/how codes will apply the next time someone arrives seeking a special use variance for an events venue in an agricultural area. Progress has been made in identifying shortcomings in county codes regulating venues and for whatever reason the flow of people wishing to open public spaces here has slowed to a trickle but we suspect that it’s not mission accomplished, yet.

• Finally, last year we wished that the Chamber would roll out a replacement for the Marble Festival. We posited last year at this time that there was nothing really wrong with the festival but it was time to try something new. That idea failed to get any traction. So this year, how about this: keep the Marble Festival and also begin developing a spring or summer festival/event? No reason we can’t have two festivals.

Here’s to welcoming 2020 and seeing where things go in the next 12 months.