The Union Recorder

May 15, 2013

Legislators miffed by state properties

Kyle Collins
The Union-Recorder


Baldwin County has extensive state property collecting dust. Groups like the Fall Line Regional Development Authority and the Central State Hospital Local Redevelopment Authority’s ambitions for stagnant land and buildings can’t advance without State Properties Commission (SPC) movement.

State Rep. Rusty Kidd (I-Milledgeville) and state Sen. Burt Jones (R-Jackson) spoke Wednesday in this year’s final Milledgeville-Baldwin County Chamber Eggs & Issues installment about the conundrum facing local and state officials.

Jones said Central State Hospital’s 200 buildings fit perfectly into college expansion or private enterprise possibilities if the authority gains use.

“We’ve got to get flexibility from the state of Georgia with that property. Take the shackles off of us and give us an opportunity to develop this property to what we see as the best fit for this community,” Jones told the crowd at Central Georgia Technical College’s conference center.

Kidd said at least 130 homes at CSH, formerly housing nurses and doctors before the decentralization, suit the community setting idea touted as the future in mental health. As the Craig Center closing looms, Kidd said having one nurse check on a block of houses makes better sense than sending medical personnel all over town.

“Why can’t we use those houses for community settings?” Kidd said. “It’s better than letting them sit there and rot.”

The Justice Department’s answer is that houses currently sitting on campus state property can’t be used for a community group home.

Kidd places the Central State campus high on his legislative agenda. He said the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) must designate buildings as surplus with SPC before anything changes.

Jones echoed the frustrating sentiment surrounding local state property acquisition. 

The final nine-mile Baldwin County Fall Line Freeway construction joining the long-awaited roadway with U.S. Highway 441 near the Wilkinson County border brought talk of a joint Fall Line Regional Development Authority (FLRDA) industrial park. At this point, vested parties can’t find a decent trading number for the land tracts.

A near $600,000 difference between Atlanta and Wilkinson County appraisals leaves everyone in a waiting phase.

“This is property that we need. It’s rough property that needs a lot of work,” Jones said. “They won’t budge or take what I would deem a reasonable offer. Until they are flexible with us, we are in a holding pattern.”

Sheriff Bill Massee spoke up about the mentality of the SPC. The sheriff dealt with the commission when the county wanted land between the Bill Ireland Youth Development Campus and the West End Projects.

Massee said the sate wanted $45,000 per acre for the 20- to 30-acre area.

“Our representatives and senators are facing what I call the Atlanta mentality. Nobody would spend that money for property like that. They are unreasonable and that’s the war they are fighting,” the sheriff said.

Jones hasn’t given up on SPC negotiations.

“We have to push them. It’s a tough bunch to try and get a commitment out of,” Jones said. 

• Mental Health

Similar to the state property issues, Kidd said once a bureaucrat has set his or her mind to something it’s hard to change. The nearly complete shuttering of Central State leaves room for concern.

Kidd isn’t on board with the DBHDD notion every client is better served outside an institution.

“These snot nosed kids in Washington, D.C. that have never seen a mental health or developmentally disabled patient are writing rules and regulations on how they should be treated,” the state representative said. 

“That’s a mindset that’s going to cost the state more money than if they kept Central State or places like it open for treatment.”

Every mental health or developmentally disabled consumer now treated in the community is costing the state between $60,000 and $70,000 yearly. Considering that total client number above 9,000, long-term savings versus the old hospital aren’t as bright, according to Kidd.

Besides cost, nursing care quality remains the largest worry for people housed at the Craig Center’s skilled facility.

“The pendulum has got to swing back, because I know in my heart the vast majority of those clients are not getting the same type of 24/7 treatment,” Kidd said Wednesday.

• State becoming business-friendly

On a positive note, both legislators share the idea that Milledgeville and Baldwin County have what they need for success.

Jones highlighted a recent Forbes Magazine issue ranking Georgia as the eighth most business-friendly state in the country.

Our goal is to get to No. 1,” Jones said. “As legislators, that needs to be priority to us, and I think it is under our current leadership.”

The General Assembly passed an Invest Georgia bill that supports that claim.

Through the initiative, the state will commit $100 million over five years as seed investment money. The program establishes a new state fund, managed by a third-party administrator, to funnel funds through Georgia venture capital firms into startup companies.

According to Jones, Georgia lost 40 companies created here since 2006 without mechanisms to push upstarts along. 

“In any business the toughest time is the early stages especially when a business is a new idea," Jones said. "There are a lot of people excited about the venture capitalist market."

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