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Plenty on county's plate
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The Effingham County commissioners aren’t holding their usual first Tuesday of the month meeting on Oct. 2. Some are taking part in the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia fall policy conference in Atlanta. Commissioner Reggie Loper is vice-chairman of the ACCG’s natural resources and environment policy committee.

With that, they are holding their retreat in Atlanta prior to the ACCG meeting. On their plate for discussion are buildings and property, budget designations, human resources issues, zoning issues, water and sewer and transportation.

Commissioners were shown a proposed extension for the long-awaited Effingham Parkway earlier this month. They’ve also spent a great deal of time chewing on surface mining ordinances, vehicle use policies and insurance.

Prior to their Aug. 21 meeting, commissioners got 16 RFPs back and whittled them down to four presentations. Some county employees recited the problems with self-insurance, which the ACCG also does not recommend, but there was a push to delve deeper into self-insurance as an option.

With one commissioner unable to attend, there were two votes, each at 2-2, to pursue the regular group insurance and also to pursue the self-insurance path.

“I’ve never had self-insurance, and I’m willing to try,” Loper said.

What those tie votes led to was commissioners having to go to the 11th hour and a few minutes to adopt a new insurance package and another day spent getting presentations on self-insurance.

When all was said and done — and plenty was said after two lengthy presentations — commissioners voted 3-2 to pursue fully-funded insurance and renewed their insurance package with Guardian, with no changes in coverage and a reduction in premiums by a 5-0 vote.

At least that’s out of the way. What’s not listed on the agenda, but will be coming up again at some point for more discussion, is the county vehicle policy.

County staff is still trying to put the fine print and final touches on it.

The policy, once it’s put into effect, will cover all the county’s vehicles, including those assigned to county staff and personnel, fleet vehicles and those used by first responders.

The policy, as drafted by county staff, also covers safe driving habits, such as the use of seat belts and turn signals.

The sheriff’s department has its own vehicle use policy. For one thing, deputies may be involved in high-speed pursuits, which would run counter to any safe driving policy enacted by the county and no other county vehicles would ever be engaged in such action.

Yet the commissioners are looking askance at not having the sheriff’s department as part of the countywide policy.
“You have vehicles that are not first responders leaving the county every day,” Commissioner Hubert Sapp. “You see them with families in them. Who is going to be responsible if you have a problem with a family in them. They are using them as personal vehicles. There needs to be some kind of control. Something needs to be done. There needs to be a limit.”

County staffers have said that if anyone sees a sheriff’s car being used for personal reasons to let the sheriff know so he can address the situation.

Assistant County Administrator David Crawley said the sheriff’s office has a very restrictive vehicle use policy.

“They have to be able to monitor the radio,” he said. “They can’t carry passengers and they can’t run errands.”

Part of the policy would address the use of county vehicles by people designated as first responders to situations and if they live out of county and their ability to take vehicles home.

“The radios don’t work in Hinesville or on the other side of Brooklet,” Sapp countered. “If you need a first responder, are you going to call someone who is two counties over? The emergency is going to be over.”

County staff is continuing to work with the sheriff’s department to see where any differences in the vehicle policies can be ironed out.

That issue is probably close to resolution, but it’s only one of many ahead of the commissioners.