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Governments review future plans at retreat in Athens

The future of McDuffie County came a little more into focus this past weekend. Thomson, Dearing and county leaders met in Athens, Ga. to discuss the status of upcoming projects across the board.

For Thomson City Administrator Bob Flanders, the retreat is a good way to make sure everyone is on the same page and keeping an eye on things to come.

"We just covered a ton of projects that are on the boards at a critical stage," Mr. Flanders said. "...It gives us an opportunity to speak frankly ... and talk about projects, talk about the merits of them, and debate them in an open kind of way."

Matt Bishop of the University of Georgia's Fanning Institute started things off by treating officials to a statistical breakdown of the county. They hope the information will help them craft more precise future plans.

Representatives from the school system gave a report on plans for a new eighth and ninth grade academy along with a proposed sales tax package that would come up for a vote this year. That package includes a new Norris Elementary building and repairs at numerous school sites.

McDuffie Regional Medical Center CEO Doug Keir shared information about the hospital's recent financial plight and how that affects the county's economy.

Airport issues were also a discussion point at the retreat. Phil Eberly, of the Atlanta-based consulting firm W.K. Dickson, shared information about upcoming construction projects at the Thomson-McDuffie Regional Airport.

Christian Lentz of the CSRA Regional Development Center gave a presentation on how his group could assist officials on planning for the future. Along those lines, County Manager Don Norton updated officials on sales tax projects.

"We're actually doing fairly well with our sales tax collections," Mr. Norton said. "... Everybody understands how important those SPLOST projects and those SPLOST dollars are."

Officials also received information on the numerous water and sewer expansion and upgrade projects currently in the works. Those include a new filtration system and sewerage for Belle Meade and near the intersection of I-20 and Cobbham Road.

Another upgrade presented at the retreat was the web portal. Information Technology Director Kelly Evans unveiled the new city and county site which was met with approval from officials.

Forward McDuffie Director Don Powers shared information about industrial parks in the county and gave an update on revitalization of the former Thomson Company facility.

Mr. Flanders asked officials to begin looking at plans for the proposed City-County Government Complex. He said a calendar for setting up what needs to be done is the next step.

"We've got to make sure we've got our ducks in a row so that when we get to the point where we are ready to do some construction, we know what kind of problems we will be looking at," he said.

Also, Mr. Flanders gave an update on the downtown redevelopment plans that include streetscape redesign on Main Street in Thomson as well as bringing in more specialty shops and the future museum.

Overall, the retreat was a successful one, according to Mr. Norton, who said working together helps eliminate duplication of services.

"I think we do work together very well," he said. "We disagree on some things, but in that disagreement is cooperation as well. We have a way of talking about things. If there's a disagreement, we work that out."

Web posted on Wednesday, March 1, 2006

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