By Mayor Tony Paulk
Happy New Year citizens of Douglas! The great year of 2020 has begun and I am ready to get started with improvements for Douglas. I hope to see growth and prosperity for our great city in 2020. Looking back at 2019, I hope citizens can see that the City of Douglas is growing. I promise, once it is done, everyone will appreciate the enhancements and new construction that will improve our quality of life.
Our biggest accomplishment in 2019 was the passage of the T.A.D. referendum. Our educational campaign paid off and as soon as some details are handled, citizens should see construction begin on Douglas Square. Citizens chose to show that Douglas is a city that grasps our moments to shine and make what seems to be out of reach - a reality. What a way to come together to create new opportunities in Douglas and Coffee County!
The first Community Mental Health Fair was held in May 2019. This was a much-needed collaborative effort with the city, churches, organizations, and Unison Behavioral Health Services. In 2020, we plan to add to this community health fair and hope to reach more people in Douglas and Coffee County that are in need of mental and physical stability. We care about our citizens and want to offer resources to unburden those affected by health problems, drug and alcohol addiction, and other life issues.
Over the last few years, I have preached passionately about cleaning up our city. In 2019, we reached out to citizens to see if there was interest in forming a Keep America Beautiful Chapter and I am excited to say we had an overwhelming response! We are meeting soon with Keep Georgia Beautiful representatives and with hopes to form a Keep Douglas Beautiful Committee. In 2020, we are going to continue our “Team Up, To Clean Up” and Operation Quality of Life initiatives so that our citizens can get rid of excess trash and large items at NO cost to the citizen. If you are interested in making Douglas a beautiful place to live, contact Community Development and become a volunteer on the committee.
The Community Foundation was prevalent in our community in 2019. They saw a need to come in and help the Parks and Recreation Department out with improvements at Wheeler Park. They have donated funds to assist with improvements at Wheeler Park and purchase soccer goals for our youth soccer program. What can you do to help cleanup Douglas? VOLUNTEER! Citizens can continue to help keep our parks clean and our downtown area clean by our “Adopt a Park” or “Adopt a Spot” programs.
The new Municipal Services Complex is well underway. I can’t wait to have all our utility employees in one location. Service departments that will be re-located to the complex include vehicle maintenance, public works, parks maintenance, building maintenance, and public utilities. Providing a location that is large enough for all these departments will create workspace that will provide greater centralized operations and more efficiency for these departments. Our vehicle maintenance department has already moved to the facility.
Since we hired a new police chief in March 2019, our police department has now filled all vacant positions. To better serve and protect Douglas citizens, all vacant patrol and criminal investigation positions have been filled. We now have a Training/Community Relations unit and Selective Enforcement unit. Chief Shane Edmisten, was on a mission to improve community relations, and he has – here’s the proof! The department has worked diligently on this goal. Working with the Board of Education, the City Police Department entered into an intergovernmental agreement to help protect our children and staff at schools. Douglas Police Department has hosted three Coffee with a Cop meetings, Pizza with the Police for our youth, a community kickball game, and a benefit “Battle of the Badges” softball game. These activities have improved our police department’s image in our neighborhoods.
I appreciate customer concerns and I want us to work together to come up with solutions and continue to improve transparency and our relationship with utility customers. We updated and made our website more user-friendly and we began to use non-traditional media outlets such as Constant Contact to engage our citizens more in 2019. We will continue to engage our public through social media platforms.
When looking at utility usage, we have software that citizens should use to monitor utility usage. UtilityHawk Software and the My Usage program are the first line of defense against a water leak or abnormal usage. They help catch the issue before a customer receives a high utility bill. Also, in December 2019, the Customer Service Department began offering customers the opportunity to apply for the payment plan more than once per year. A citizen can apply for a payment plan as long as they are not currently paying on a plan and they apply prior to the day before cut-offs are scheduled.
Our youth have been shining bright throughout 2019. Our Mayor’s Youth Council continues to build leadership skills in our youth and spotlight youth excellence that is in the community. Remember, our youth will help shape the future Douglas and Coffee County. We also saw growth of our teens throughout the first cycle of the Douglas-Coffee County Teen Court program. Leaders in our community continue to help shape our future by helping re-mold youth who may have gone wayward. Let’s get these kids on the right track – sometimes involvement is all it takes to change a child’s world for the better. If you know of a youth that exhibits leadership skills, let us know! We want them to be involved in the Mayor’s Youth Council or Douglas-Coffee County Teen Court.
In 2019, we saw the City receive re-designation as a PlanFirst Community, which offers advantages for our local government when applying for grants, loans and training opportunities. We have our very first R.U.R.A.L. Zone designation! What does that mean for businesses? It means a business can receive investment tax credits, rehabilitation tax credits, and job tax credits to build business in designated areas of downtown Douglas. Look for more details on these business opportunities soon. We also continued to improve our infrastructure in 2019. With the aid of grants like the Community Development Block Grant (C.D.B.G.), Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant (L.M.I.G.), and Transportation Alternatives Program (T.A.P.) grant, we will soon begin paving/resurfacing streets and adding sidewalks to areas in town.
Speaking of transportation, in 2019, Douglas became a motorized cart community. Just be sure to register your cart, have appropriate safety gear, and cross at designated cart crossing areas! Our airport continued to grow in 2019. Construction of 16 new hangars was completed and all 16 hangars are now full! Who knew Douglas had so many people flying in and out every day! We are hoping to partner with local educational institutions to provide programs for aviation and aviation maintenance in all levels of our schools – elementary to college! The airport also completed a major security fencing project around the airfield.
I challenge each and every leader in Douglas and Coffee County to take the time to volunteer in the community. We have several volunteer boards that we are seeking volunteers to serve on – step up and join a volunteer team. Do something about issues in our community. Share the good news about our community and always keep Douglas shining brightly!