As Baldwin County Manager Joan Minton looks ahead to 2009, her outlook is predicated on the economic forecast that has yet to come clearly into focus.

“The reality of the financial situation and state cutbacks have not set in yet,” Minton said.

With the large number of state operations in Baldwin County, the state’s ability to employ its local workforce and appropriate money for state-funded services will play a part in how Baldwin County fares during the coming year.

Baldwin County looks to the Department of Transportation funding to help maintain the county’s roads, the Department of Human Resources’ Division of Public Health to help provide care to county residents through the county’s health department and the Department of Corrections to make sure that state prisoners move through the criminal justice system efficiently.

When the State of Georgia begins to cut back on the services it provides, oftentimes county governments are the ones that must pick up the slack. And that can cause some positive community attributes to weigh on stagnate revenue streams and cause negative consequences.

“In Baldwin County, 95 percent of the roads are paved,” Minton said. “But if they are not serviced to provide regular maintenance, then

they will

deteriorate.”

Another positive development slated to open on the county level next year asks new questions just as well as it answers old problems.

The new county jail, which should open sometime in early January, will provide the space Baldwin County needs to house the inmate population that is currently forcing the county to pay other counties to house Baldwin prisoners.

Part of the problem results from a time lapse in the state’s ability to take custody of prisoners once they have been convicted.

Minton said Sheriff Bill Massee is working with Baldwin County Solicitor General Maxine Blackwell and state Superior Court Judge Hulane E. George to look at the possibility of using day reporting to alleviate some of the crowding in Baldwin’s jail.

Another question posed by the new jail is how to fund the staffing levels necessary to operate the new jail.

In their Dec. 9 meeting, the Baldwin County commissioners signed off on a plan that shifted several line items in the Sheriff’s Office’s roughly $4 million budget to appropriate $190,000 toward the salaries of 15 detention officers to operate the new jail. That figure is still $35,000 short of what is require to fill those 15 positions during the remainder of the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2009.

“Baldwin County has been fortunate because the revenue has increased to meet inflation and the

infrastructural needs of the community,” Minton said. “But we may not be that lucky this time.”

Minton said the county will continue to work to find ways of funding improvements to meet its infrastructural needs.

The county could look to use the next Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax to fund improvements in the county water system. The current SPLOST expires in March 2012, but the county will begin planning the next special purpose tax in 2011.

But there also will be some projects completed and moved further along in the next year.

The county will see completion of the new terminal building at the Baldwin County Airport. Progress will continue at the various Department of Recreation properties across the community including the Collins P. Lee Community Center and the Coopers Community Center.

And Baldwin County will continue to make plans for the forthcoming Fall Line Freeway by working with Wilkinson County under the auspices of the Fall Line Regional Development Authority to create a new industrial park to take advantage of the intersection of two four-lane north-south and east-west interstate

highways.

Minton said the county is doing the planning and working toward the job recruitment now to make sure that the county can keep up with the shifting areas of growth.

And with potential growth on the horizon, some of the challenges of the next year will be welcome ones.

“There will be challenges, but not just because of the new commission,” Minton said. “The next year will be hard for leaders whether they are new or not, and our new commissioners have experience through their jobs, whether they are government or not, that will provide some valuable

expertise.”

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