Builds Solid Foundation for Progress in the New Year
The past year has witnessed a whirlwind of activity throughout the area — ranging from a movie premiere, to unrest over tax assessments, to leadership changes, to major construction and development projects. While there were issues that continue to present challenges and are still being addressed, overall 2023 was a year of great achievement and growth in community relations and development, academics, health care, and more that built a solid foundation for a new year of progress.
It was another year full of growth, change, and new sights, events, and even personnel in Vidalia and Lyons.
Hollywood came to the county early in the year, as Blue Lightning, which starred Quinton Aaron of The Blind Side, premiered at the historic Blue Marquee Theatre in Lyons. Aaron also became a familiar sight to those in Toombs County, as he remained in Vidalia for several months to record his very first album, which will be released at a later date.
The Toombs County Courthouse construction was completed, and offices are continuing to settle into the new facility. Also, the Vidalia City Hall moved completely into the Vidalia Municipal Annex, which 2023
BREAKING GROUND – Many members of the Greater Vidalia Chamber and Toombs County Development Authority came together to break ground on the Center on Monday, April 17. L to R: Senator Blake Tillery, Sean Moxley, David Sikes, Mayor Doug Roper, Matt Richardson, Kevin Palmer, Michele Johnson, Tim Truxel, Leesa Hagan, Mike Hagan, Steven McComas.
now houses all City Hall offices and the police department.
New events, such as Porchfest, and two extra nights of music at the Vidalia Onion Festival kept audiences rocking throughout the weekend of the festival and connected the community with an afternoon worship service to close out the event.
The Toombs County Development Authority continued to work to build the area’s economy, as ground was broken for the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, in Vidalia. This facility will house emerging businesses and help guide new entrepreneurs to success, as Director of Entrepreneurship Mandy Britt oversees these projects.
The Authority also acquired an over 600-acre lot to build a new industrial park this year – the largest industrial park investment in county history.
Local recreation facilities are receiving complete renovations, as Faison Park in Lyons and the Ezra Taylor Regional Sports Complex in Vidalia each received a $2.2 million grant to be reimagined. Both facilities intend to upgrade their fields and create soccer and football fields, as well as improve conditions for others who go to the parks to walk and play.
The Dr. Mark and Tonya Spivey Public Library had its grand opening and has become an afternoon hangout for kids of all ages and adults, who take advantage of all the facility has to offer.
The county’s youth succeeded through many awards and competitions, but two lifeguards became hometown heroes when they saved the life of a toddler this summer. Deuce Hightower and Brylen Goss were both honored by the Vidalia City Council for their heroics and learned the importance of jumping into action during crises.
Toombs Central Elementary School became a state Literacy Leader school because of the rise in students’ reading test scores, and State Superintendent of Schools Richard Woods personally presented the administration with the award.
It was an election year for the municipalities, and many of the same leaders are returning to office. Lyons City Councilman Rick Hartley announced earlier in the year that he would not seek reelection, and after an election between Drayton Oliver and Jency Jeffers, Oliver came out on top and will be sworn in during the Council’s first meeting of the year. Longtime Vidalia Board of Education Member Bruce Asberry was defeated by newcomer Brittany Black, who will be sworn in at the Board’s first meeting of the year.
Beloved Toombs County Sheriff Alvie “Junior” Kight announced he will not be seeking reelection, and will be retiring at the end of his term.
The city of Vidalia parted ways with City Manager Nick Overstreet, and former City Clerk Bill Bedingfield stepped in to serve as Interim City Manager until a replacement candidate can be found.
The future of Vidalia’s historic Pine Crest Cemetery was the focus of a gathering in the Charles Community on April 26. The event was sponsored by the Pine Crest Committee II to create awareness for its mission to improve and preserve Vidalia’s principal cemetery and to kick off Phase I of a fundraising campaign.
Memorial Health Meadows Hospital marked its 60th year in Vidalia with a festive event on September 26 in the hospital’s lobby. One of the highlights of the evening was a presentation to Dr. Benjamin Neely, who was surprised with an award for his contributions to the hospital and the community since moving to Vidalia in 1967. Montgomery County
For Montgomery County, the year brought waves of change, many new successes for youth in the area, and several discussions about solutions for growing issues within the county.
The year began with change and new beginnings, as longtime Montgomery County Board of Education members Jim Paul Poole and Debra Gay vacated their seats on the Board for the newly-elected representatives, John O’Conner and Fernando Rodriguez, to begin to serve.
Change continued throughout the county later in the year as well, when the Montgomery County Board of Elections and Registration made the decision to eliminate four of the county’s seven precincts, which was approved on a 3-2 vote. Because of that decision, voters in the county will now be divided amongst the Uvalda, Higgston, and Mount Vernon precincts.
Youth also found success throughout 2023 as the Montgomery County 4-H had its second candidate in county history to represent the area on the 4-H Junior District Board. Montgomery County Middle School 8th grader Hartley Williamson is currently actively serving on the Board and has had a wonderful time getting to know her fellow board members.
The Montgomery County High School Beta Club was Top Beta Club in the state for the number of logged community service hours. In fact, the club’s members logged so many community service hours that they were ranked 3rd in the nation for community service among Beta Clubs. Those statistics have since changed, but the club is continuing to log hours and donate their time to the community.
Tax assessments brought an uproar from the citizens, as increases of to 90% on property values caused many to speak out to commissioners. After a few meetings, the Montgomery County Board of Assessors Chairman Jesse Fountain led a vote to repeal the new assessments and base taxes off the 2022 property assessments.
Though this was a temporary solution for the tax issue, citizens soon began discussions with the Montgomery County Commission to put provisions in place to protect them from the effects of inflation and the skyrocketing housing market, which sparked the idea of a Floating Homestead Exemption. Commissioners discussed the possibility of the exemption for weeks, formed a citizens committee to gain opinions on the possibility, and voted to attempt to form a Floating Homestead Exemption, but tabled the motion after failing to come together on the required income of those who would be able to utilize the tool.
The Informed Citizens Coalition, a group of concerned citizens who desired to improve the county, filed a Citizens’ Petition for a ballot measure in the Probate Court, along with over 1,000 signatures of registered voters that would support the act. The petition is still awaiting a decision from the Probate Judge, who is currently researching into the appropriate procedure for this action, and will soon make an official ruling.
Photo by Makaylee Randolph