Vidalia Fire and Police Departments Introduce New Members
Vidalia Fire Chief Brian Sikes and Vidalia Police Chief James Jermon informed the Vidalia City Council of recent updates in each department at the Council’s regular meeting on Monday, April 10.
Chief Sikes began the meeting by bringing in the Fire Department’s new mascot, Blaze the Fire Pup, who was accompanied by the Department’s newest full-time firefighter Jamie Byrd.
“Blaze will be used for a lot of things in our education program. You will [also] see him during the Onion Festival – he will be out on the sidewalks and at the park,” Sikes told the Council.
The Chief said of Byrd, “She has been a volunteer with us for two years and she came on full-time with us three weeks ago. She is a certified firefighter, and is doing a great job. She worked her first full-time shift with us on Saturday [April 8], so we’re excited.”
Sikes noted that not only is Byrd the first female ever hired full-time to the Vidalia Fire Department, she is also a recent nominee for the American Red Cross Volunteer of the Year award. New Police Additions
Chief Jermon introduced two new certifications and a promotion in the Police Department.
Jermon commented on the difficulty the Department has faced to find employees, and reassured the Council that improvements are being made. “It is a struggle to hire who we feel fits the mold to protect our city. It’s not easy [to be hired with us] – it is a 14-step process that we send these men and ladies through,” he explained. “We sent three future officers to the Academy (Georgia Public Safety Training Center) last week, and we are continuing to grow.”
According to Jermon, Communications Operator Jasmine Sharpe recently graduated from her 40-hour course to become a certified communications officer, while Officer Andrew Williams finished 408 hours in a 12-week state training course to become a certified officer.
Officer Scott Howard was recognized for rising to the rank of corporal on March 17. Jermon commented, “He came all the way from Colorado. He answered an ad while still in college and working at Subway because he decided he wanted to be a police officer.”
During the meeting, the Council approved Summers Concrete Contracting (Hahira) to complete the runway 7/25 slab replacement phase 2 and the terminal apron Eexpansion at the airport. These projects will cost $5,406,849.89 combined ( $2,007,036.51 – slab replacement; $3,399,813.38 – terminal apron expansion) and will be funded through federal, state, and American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding.
These projects will not begin until later in the year when the Airport is not at its busiest. Also, according to City Manager Nick Overstreet, because the projects are being completed by the same company, the project’s mobilization cost could decrease, which would decrease the overall cost.
Adjustments were approved for the reported expenditures and revenues in the 2022 end of year budgets for each City fund in preparation for the annual audit, which could begin as early as April 20.
Downtown Master Plan
The Council agreed to contract the Heart of Georgia Regional Commission for services provided in the development of the Downtown Master Plan. This contract costs $7,000 and will be funded through the City’s General Fund Hotel/ Motel monies.
The request from Clay Thomas to rezone a parcel of land on Maple Drive from office/residential to commercial to build storage units was denied by both the Council and the Planning & Zoning Board on the basis of Zoning Ordinance Section 203, Paragraphs 6, 15, and 20.
Council members approved paying Simpson Law, PC, a total of $18,637.50 for the Pinecrest Perpetual Cemetery Trust. The current Pinecrest funds, which total $12,009.40, will be allocated in this payment, along with $6,628.10 from the City’s general fund.
ARFF Truck Tires
The Aircraft Rescue & Fire Fighting (ARFF) Truck will receive four new replacement tires from Georgia Tire Company. These tires will cost $18,514.40, which will be funded through the Airport Fund. This expense was included in the approved 2023 budget.
Two events permits were approved — one for Thursday, April 20, through Saturday, April 22, which was submitted by Ann Owens and Heather Davis, and another for “Sweet Saturdays,” to be held on the second Saturday of each month.
The “Sweet Saturdays” event permit was requested by Downtown Vidalia Association Director Tonya Parker, who also requested that the Downtown area be designated as an “Entertainment District” from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. each day of the monthly event. Downtown roads will also be closed from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. during “Sweet Saturdays.”
Vidalia Convention & Visitors Bureau Director Alexa Britton’s request for an alcohol beverage license for the Vidalia Onion Festival was approved.
The Floating Axe’s alcohol license was approved by Council pending the signature of City Marshal Chad Phillips, who has not yet approved the license.
Council members approved the burning of natural wood at the Vidalia Regional Sports Complex. The date of the burn was not announced.
Several first readings and one adoption of ordinance change were conducted during the meeting.
A city ordinance allowing barber shops and other unconventional businesses to gain a license which would allow the sell and consumption of alcohol on their property was approved by the Council. This ordinance was first proposed at last month’s regular meeting after several downtown businesses had inquired about the possibility of this ordinance addition.
First readings were conducted for three ordinances: “Sip and Stroll,” “Shopping Carts,” and “Small Cell Antenna.” These ordinances will be voted on during the meeting on Monday, May 8.
Jake Cleghorn, Chairman of the 2023 Vidalia Onion Festival, provided Council with a final update on the festival, explaining that the Vidalia Police and Fire Department Mobile Command Center will be in place again this year, ensuring safety for all patrons.
He also explained that the Atlanta Braves had reached out to the Vidalia Onion Festival Committee and requested to return to the Festival this year with their Braves Country Road Trip, as Vidalia had the second most number of visitors to the Braves World Series Trophy tent out of the entire tour last year. The Road Trip will be set up in the Meadows Park area on Saturday, April 22, from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. During this time, memorabilia will be available to view, and patrons will have the opportunity to create their own customizable baseball card.
Greater Vidalia Chamber President Michele Johnson told the Council that the Chamber has been very busy in recent weeks hosting a number of official ribbon cuttings and grand openings, including the Dr. Mark and Tonya Spivey Public Library Grand Opening, which was held on Thursday, April 13, and the groundbreaking of the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, which occurred on Monday, April 17.
In addition to these events, Johnson revealed that the Chamber and Toombs County Development Authority have been speaking with several potential investment projects, including four Korean and one Australian project.
The annual Earth Day Appreciation Recycling Event will be held at the Greater Vidalia Chamber office on Thursday, April 20, from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. At this event, desktops, tablets, flat screen monitors, cable and wiring, power strips, cell phones, hard drives, DVD players, and more may all be recycled at no cost. Flat Screen TVs will be accepted, but have a disposal fee of $10 per TV. Hard drive data may also be erased on-site for a fee of $5 each.
Chief Sikes told the Council that out of the 37 car seats that were checked at a pop-up car seat check, a total of 34 were discovered to be installed incorrectly. He emphasized that this statistic is what drives the Department to continue to work to educate the public on car seat safety; to help with these events three more firefighters have gained their Car Seat Technician certification.
The Department participated in the promotion of drunk driving awareness and prevention at two events at Vidalia High School and Toombs County High School.
Around $2,000 has been raised through a fundraiser partnership between local businesses and the Fire Safety Council, according to Sikes. He said it is these funds that pay for amenities, such as the Department’s new mascot.
Chief Jermon informed Council that the Police Department has also taken part in several community events, including the Teen Maze drugs and alcohol awareness event, and a local Spring Break Party event at Preferred Labs.
He also shared that the Department’s K9 unit is continuing to complete training and gain hours of experience.
Downtown Vidalia Association Executive Director Tonya Parker reminded the Council and attendees that the traditional “Sweet Onion Rings and Things” event, which is held on Friday and Saturday during the Onion Festival, will feature a new menu item, fresh pork skins, and live music this year.
She also stated that the annual “Sweeten Your Ride” decals are still available for purchase. The decals may be purchased at the Downtown Vidalia Association Office for $10 each, and proceeds go to benefit the Sweet Onion Christian Learning Center.
The Downtown Vidalia Association will now host monthly “Sweet Saturdays,” which feature sales and live music on every second Saturday of the month.
The next community input session for stakeholders will be held on May 25. The next “Coffee Before Hours” will be held from 8 a.m. until 9 a.m. at Farmers Insurance – Moon Agency on May 3.
ESG Project Manager Tony Hall told the Council that his Department had received 12 complaints regarding brown water in the past month. According to Hall, these brown water issues come as a result of the McNatt Street water line repair and will work themselves out.
Hall also stated that less than 3% of the water meters being read by hand in the city were completed inaccurately.
Recreation Director Scott Strickland shared that the baseball and softball season for the Recreation Department will close out during the first week of May. The Allstar District Meeting will be held on May 10, during which Strickland will find out for which age groups the Department may have allstar teams.
Lifeguard training will be held on May 13 and 14, and the Vidalia Aquatics Center will officially open on Memorial Day weekend.
Vidalia Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Alexa Britton shared that tourism is at its height for the Sweet Onion City, as it normally is around this time of the year. She reminded the Council that there will not be a board meeting for the Bureau this month.
According to City Manager Overstreet, the bids for the water line replacement project have closed out, and a decision will soon be made to move forward.
The water meter replacement project continues to move along schedule, and the City department heads will receive customer service training from Chick-Fil-A Vidalia Owner Britt McDade in the coming weeks.
Sweet Onion Golf Authority Chairman Andy Woodruff reflected on the new golf course’s groundbreaking and thanked the Council for all of its support. According to Woodruff, the groundbreaking for the golf course was one of the largest which the Greater Vidalia Chamber has had.