We have no crystal ball and even if we did, we wouldn’t count on many of the following. But, what the heck, this is a time of wonder and magic and maybe a couple of our desires for the county in 2019 might come true. An editor can dream.
• Parks, parks, parks – For years we have begged for more recreational opportunities. The county’s own master plan for recreation from 2005 plainly calls for a whole new park. The community center in Roper Park is the only significant advance in parks and rec. this county has made in 25 years and it opened in 2011 at a cost of $3 million; that’s not very recent and well shy of what the people of this county deserve. Our county ranks horribly among other counties (both smaller and larger) in park facilities. Maybe 2019 will see a change, but we won’t hold our breath.
• Incentives to attract desirable businesses – Any salesman will say you must have an incentive -- something to sweeten the pot so to speak. Neither Jasper nor Pickens County have any enticements – no tax abatements or special perks with fees or permits that might help solidify a deal with a new company. If someone shows up interested in bringing a new manufacturing operation to town or will fill a recognized need (a microbrewery/steakhouse in the old NAPA building) at the very least, we need something to offer.
•Someone to negotiate with the above enticements - Our city/county operated without an economic developer for most of 2018, so it’s hard to guess exactly who would conduct negotiations on the public’s behalf with a potential new company. Maybe we didn’t miss any opportunities during the past year. We certainly aren’t advocating hiring an economic developer just to say we have one. This county needs a plan first or at least some discussion on economic development efforts. If there are no incentives or plans, then filling the position is of no significant benefit.
• A city manager to bring order to the Force – By the time you read this, the city of Jasper may have filled their first openly-advertised city manager job position. Working with paid consultants to find the right person, they attracted 39 applicants. Let’s hope whoever is hired can restore order to the Force, as they say in Star Wars, at least the Force that is city hall. If he/she is indeed a professional and experienced civic manager, we ask that the mayor and city council give their top person some breathing room. No reason to hire someone if the person is micro-managed and caught in a crossfire from day one.
• Separate the cows, chickens, rock concerts and wedding chapels – It’s time for the county to re-think their land use codes, particularly the practice of using agricultural zonings as a catch-all category for everything from concert venues to wedding facilities. Common sense dictates that ag should be the most restrictive of zonings – quiet farm life. In the past year, we have seen planned public venues directed to the ag zoning and had a former planning director interpret the provisions so that shops of most any nature are legitimate in property identified as farm land. Neither dance floors nor tree house hotels come to mind when you think farms. It’s time to take a serious look at what constitutes agriculture or agro-tourism and where venues for wedding or concerts really belong.
• Let’s roll out a replacement for the Marble Festival – Not as a complaint about the Marble Festivals past, but looking to the future, let’s try something new. Shake things up, roll out new ideas/themes. For reasons no one can ever put their finger on, the county’s largest festival has never really grown, especially compared to festivals in other north Georgia towns. Instead of further gradual tinkering, it’s time to shake those stones.