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May 22, 2014

Legislators break down state, local issues

CSH, YDC and rural hospitals discussed

MILLEDGEVILLE — The local legislative delegation “brought the bacon home to Milledgeville” this past session, according to Central State Hospital Local Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Mike Couch.

Couch introduced state Sen. Burt Jones (R-District 25) and state Rep. Rusty Kidd (I-Milledgeville) at Wednesday's Chamber Eggs & Issues.

Both officials helped pass state property legislation to free up CSH for future marketing, create a four-year bachelor's degree program for Georgia Military College and allocate Georgia College funding to name some highlights.

“Out of the nine rural communities I represent, we got more done for Milledgeville and Baldwin County than any other,” Jones said.

Each legislator weighed in on key topics such as:

• Central State Hospital redevelopment

Kidd met with the Georgia Board of Public Safety Monday.

“We are going to try and get them 20 to 25 acres of land at the state hospital property on Carl Vinson Road to build a new facility and expand it into a driving track, rifle range and so forth,” he said. “That would be a big plus.”

The state representative also inquired to the State Properties Commission (SPC) about abandoned residential units at CSH. Kidd said SPC would love to sell them all at once.

“The state is ready to send someone down to appraise them so we can start trying to sell those pieces of property and put them on the tax digest rather than let them sit and continue to rot,” Kidd added Wednesday. “There were 160 at one time that could be used. Now it's closer to 100.”

Couch said the homes are zoned residential. The Counselors of Real Estate Consulting Corps (CRE) planning team will arrive June 9 to help determine the best use.

“If you ask me today what the homes will be a year from now, I'd say residential property. I think we'll have them in the market then, but we've got to work through a brand new world. Having CRE come help us develop that plan over an entire week will be critical,” Couch said.

• YDC returning to house 'bad dudes'

Kidd mentioned a limited reopening at the Bill E. Ireland Youth Development Campus (YDC) within “a couple of months.”

The secure facility would be a Special Management Unit (SMU) helping the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice adequately address the most disruptive youth from other facilities.

“It won't be as big as it was years ago, but they are going to put 75 bad dudes down there,” Kidd said. “There will be about 130 to 150 employees. If it works, they will expand it.”

• Transportation infrastructure, Highway 441 expansion update

Jones said the possible deepening of the Savannah Port would boost highway traffic throughout the state.

“The T-SPLOST proposed a few years ago didn't pass, so the state is going to have to come up with the funding by some other means,” the senator said. “We don't have it right now.”

U.S. Highway 441 lane additions are on the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) docket, according to Jones.

Kidd said funds were previously allotted to extend the highway to four lanes all the way to Interstate 20.

The representative said Gov. Nathan Deal's choice not to fall in line with Affordable Care Act related Medicaid expansion affected federal funding for the port and highway projects.

“The President isn't in favor of giving much money to Georgia right now. We've got to find additional revenue,” Kidd said.

Baldwin County must keep rail siding for economic development.

The Development Authority understands the necessity from an industry recruitment perspective.

“We don't want to lose the rail,” Kidd said. “It's vital to find ways to keep it here.”

Jones said communities like Baldwin County should spotlight regionalism for future transportation infrastructure development.

“If the Highway 441 project is the one to put this area of Georgia on the map, it would be good to reach out to our neighbors to get the state to move this up on the itinerary,” he said.

• Rural hospitals are hurting

Kidd admitted that Georgia rural hospitals are in trouble. The state representative was happy to hear that Gov. Deal set up a study committee to analyze ways to save these hospitals.

Kidd spoke with a law firm that will work with Hancock County and Sandersville free of charge finding innovative methods to keep a facility open.

“Triage” centers might be the answer.

“It may not be a full-fledged licensed hospital,” he said. “Patients could come in and stay 24 or 36 hours and then be transferred to a full fledged hospital. That still leaves medical care in that county.”

Oconee Regional Medical Center faces hard times.

“We've got to find answers for our local hospital to keep it a vibrant, regional hospital,” Kidd said.

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