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County opts to join CORE MPO for a small slice
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Effingham County is set to get a seat at the table of the Coastal Regional Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Commissioners approved a memorandum of understanding with the CORE MPO and agreed to pay $1,470 in annual dues. Following the 2010 Census, the reapportionment process led to an expansion of the Savannah urbanized area ,and federal law requires the MPO boundaries stretch to include parts of Effingham County.

“We have to belong,” said county commission Chairman Wendall Kessler. “I think it’s worth paying it.”

The portion of Effingham now included in the MPO is a fraction of the overall area, encompassing fewer than 1,500 residents of what is deemed as an urbanized area. The total is .53 percent of the entire MPO-covered population of more than 276,000.

“It is the urbanized area only,” County Administrator Toss Allen said of the portions of Effingham included in the MPO.

The CORE MPO’s boundary includes Richmond Hill, portions of unincorporated Bryan County and all of Chatham County.

The MPO by-laws establish the votes and the membership of the MPO and its subordinate committees, such as the policy committee and the technical coordinating committee. Under the MPO by-laws, each member governing entity gets one vote, up to 25,000 in population, and can get additional votes for each 25,000 people served after that, with a maximum of three votes. Chatham County and the city of Savannah each receive three votes on the MPO board.

Other voting members on the board are one person each from Bloomingdale, Garden City, Port Wentworth, Pooler, Tybee Island, Thunderbolt and Vernonburg in Chatham County, along with one vote from Richmond Hill. The Chatham Area Transit Authority gets two votes, while the state Department of Transportation, Georgia Ports Authority, Savannah Airport Commission, Chatham-Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission and the chairman of each of three MPO standing committees all get one vote apiece.

“We will have a vote, as will all the other entities,” Allen said.

The county commission’s vote approved only the memorandum of understanding, not the by-laws, Allen explained.

MPO bases are figured on a base of $1,000, with a portion to be based on the population served. According to the CORE MPO, other entities previously had not supported the organization financially. Savannah and Chatham County had paid the local match needed for the MPO’s planning process. So that the area served continues to get about $180 million in federal assistance over a four-year period, it was proposed that members share in the cost of the planning process through dues.

Based on the populations and the pro-rata shares, the dues collected are expected to approach $280,000 from the various MPO members. Savannah and unincorporated Chatham make up about $230,000 of that total.

At $1,470, Effingham’s dues are the second-smallest, ahead of only Vernonburg’s $1,089. Through dues, according to the MPO, members have access to the staff for technical support, access to MPO funds for planning needs, continued access to federal funds and eligibility to federal money for design, rights-of-way and construction projects. The dues also are considered a match for federal funds.

“Part of where the dues come from is the MPO adopts a unified planning work program. It’s basically their budget,” Allen said. “It’s adopted by the full board and includes everything the MPO will do. Part of that is the matching federal dollars.”

Though the county isn’t required to pay dues, it must become a member of the MPO in order to use federal money for projects involving its urbanized area.

“We don’t have a choice to become a part of the MPO if we want to receive federal money,” Allen said.

While the vast majority of the planned Effingham Parkway is not under the MPO’s blanket, the portion that will be in Chatham County is. Allen said that part of the project is already in the CORE MPO’s transportation improvement plan.