Chatham County swears in change

CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - It was a long awaited day in Chatham County for no fewer than four new Chatham County Commission members and a new sheriff who spent the last 40 years working toward this day.

For most, the ground is already moving quickly under their feet. Agendas have been set, projects started, philosophies of leadership built.

To say the least, 2017 will be a year of great change for Chatham County.

Battered and bruised may not describe your surroundings any longer, but it still describes the state of Chatham County's finances after fronting itself millions for Matthew clean-up. Some call it waiting on a government check.  While FEMA's payback is in the mail, it's state policy that needs adjusting for the next storm.

South Carolina has a no-fault policy for private property clean-up. We don't and it was a major headache.

"Sort of a no-fault, harmless declaration which is required by FEMA," explained Chatham County Commission Chairman Al Scott.  "And that meant that if they go on private property or a gated community, they cannot be sued or anything else."

Scott smiles when he talks about a new headquarter for storm response organizers that is also part of the 2017 plan.

"We're going to build a new CEMA headquarters, Chatham Emergency Management Agency. We've got it narrowed down to two sites and we'll be making a decision about that hopefully by the end of the first quarter."

A few months ago, the county also got into golf business, taking over the Henderson Golf Club. This year, it may get out.

"What we're planning on doing is getting it up to par, perhaps turning over to another management company and even during the study determine whether or not we should even be in that business," says Scott.  "Who knows, we might declare it surplus and sell it. We don't really have anybody out there who really understands the business of golf."

The commission will be paying equal attention to certain things that are out of their control.
"I have a real concern about indigent health care and what's going to happen the Affordable Healthcare Act," Scott says referring to Trump's plan to repeal Obamacare. "It's impact on the hospital.  It's impact on the citizens of Chatham County."

Healthcare was a major issue for Sheriff John Wilcher as well.  A new contractor is already providing inmate care at the jail.

His next priority is caring for his own. 2017 will likely be a year of raises at the jail now that the deputy roles are all but filled.

"Thankfully when I came there in April of last year we were 72 people down," Wilcher recalls. "We're down to 18 today, so I think we've done excellently."

Wilcher wants nothing left to chance when it comes to the highest standards of inmate treatment, jail conditions, or deputy behavior. He's already shifting policy to gain American Correctional Association accreditation.  But he wants more.

"I'm also working on NSA, which is the National Sheriff's Association for the streets and the courts, which have never been done in my whole career, 40 years at the Sheriff's Office.  So I want to get the courts and the streets accredited along with the jail."

The wheels of change are already spinning and these folks were just sworn it a few hours ago. Also sworn in today were the Superior Court judges, the Court clerk, Tax Commissioner and District Attorney.

Chatham County is also finalizing plans for a new Memorial Stadium and will soon begin debating several new SPLOST funded projects.

All of this and the grand hopes for a county-wide master plan putting every municipality on the same page for future growth is on the menu for 2017.

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