2006 Cities of Excellence – Jesup
Fiscal Fitness Award - Small City Winner
Things are dirt cheap in Jesup, and that’s just the way city officials want to keep it. In fact, Jesup lays claim to being the cheapest place in Georgia for purchasing municipal basics. By providing inexpensive services – and a little fun – to its citizens with a dash of small town eccentricity, Jesup charmed the judges into awarding it the top Trendsetter Cities prize in the Fiscal Fitness category for cities with populations of less than 10,000.
The city is stretching every municipal dollar through partnerships with its host county, Wayne, to give locals what they need and what they want. For example: One October night last year a few Jesup mothers had difficulty identifying their children – only the kids’ bright smiles were visible as they emerged from a three-acre mud pit on the grounds of a county recreational facility. The biggest grin belonged to the kid clutching a $50 bill.
“It was quite a sight,” says City Manager Mike Deal. “That night 3,000 people had just about as much fun as can be imagined for a $10 ticket.” The occasion was a bog-in, an event in which truck owners compete to see who can take a vehicle through a sea of mud to the finish line. During breaks in the action, kids competed to see who could grab a $50 bill from a rope strung across the center of the big hole. Bog-ins are big around Jesup and attract huge crowds.
The Jesup Bog-In is also an example of how city and county combine resources to stretch taxpayer dollars and deliver services so inexpensively that Jesup has become the most economical municipality in Georgia for the purchase of such basics as water, sewage treatment and garbage pickup. For the bog-in, the county provided the recreation land and the city dug the hole; 250 trucks entered the contest in several classes, competing for prizes that ranged from $300 to $1,000.
The kids, of course, were looking for a way to get really really dirty.
“We just do what we can for each other,” Deal says of the city-county relationship. “Nobody keeps track of who gets what. It’s more like the give and take in a big family.” From the proceeds of that muddy night, the city gave its citizens a recreational opportunity; the county got new goals for its soccer fields and the community made a little money. “The motels and restaurants really benefited,” Deal says, “because that night we became the biggest tourist attraction in these parts.”
Jesup also is gaining a reputation for having some of the most interesting landscaping around, thanks to the city’s innovative method of processing part of its solid waste. The city maintains a state-of-the-art recycling center and provides curbside and commercial pickups at no cost. Jesup also has the state’s only glass pulverizer, a machine that takes empty glass containers and churns out small glass balls that have become a big hit as fillers in flower beds and around trees and shrubs.
“You do get some really neat colors in the beads from this process,” Deal says. “We’ve not started marketing them yet but they are very popular, especially among local caterers who use them in their banquet table centerpieces.”
In the 1990s, when the Environmental Protection Division told the city to clean up sludge in a holding pond at a cost of $1 million, cash-strapped local leaders looked for more innovation. The city cut a deal with Rayonier, a paper products producer that was already processing industrial sludge into compost, and the big plant now handles the municipal effluent, saving the city an estimated $250,000 annually.
A major challenge to Jesup’s partnering practices came in 2004 when it became apparent the town needed a new hospital. “Our current hospital was built in 1951,” says Jesup Mayor Herb Shaw. “And although it has been upgraded through the years, it is still a 1951 facility. We had to have the latest up-to-date medical facility and equipment.” And that would mean a new hospital, at a cost of $43 million, an amount neither the city nor the county could afford.
So the two governments agreed to share in the cost of the new hospital by tabling other projects and plans. “We both had to make sacrifices,” Shaw says. Those sacrifices added up to somewhere between $10 million and $15 million in improvement projects. “We felt that when both are sacrificing, it is less painful for each.”
The facility will be paid for with a mix of taxes, bonds and government revenues. “You have to try new things or you’re going to be left behind,” Deal says.