WARNER ROBINS -- Middle Georgia leaders like to talk about regional cooperation, but on Friday they put their talk into action.
The county commission chairmen of Bibb, Houston and Peach counties signed an agreement that spells out how each will allocate funds toward resolving encroachment.
Thats the term for residential properties in the area north of Robins Air Force Base considered at risk for crashes and high noise levels. Officials are looking to buy 250 parcels to clear out the homes.
Brad Fink, chairman of the 21st Century Partnership, said encroachment is the top reason bases are closed. The partnership is a community organization that works to promote the military value of Robins, particularly during a BRAC.
As we sign this today, we will start looking at encroachment as an issue in the rearview mirror, which is great for Robins Air Force Base, Fink said.
Bibb and Houston counties will contribute $6 million each, using special purpose local option sales tax dollars, while Peach County is putting up $400,000. State and federal dollars also are being used.
Thus far, 93 parcels have been acquired, and officials expect to have all of the properties purchased within two years.
State Sen. Ross Tolleson, R-Perry, said the agreement is a good example of different government agencies working together to resolve an issue.
I deal with a lot of things in politics, and one thing I cannot stand is when we dont play team ball, he said. We can move the ball down the field when we are all working together.
Bibb County Commission Chairman Sam Hart said leaders can use the same approach to other projects of mutual interest.
There are other opportunities out there, and I hope we will look at opportunities beyond this to make this a better area of the state, he said.
Chuck ONeal, chairman of the Central Georgia Joint Development Authority, also signed the agreement. The authority is taking the point in buying up the properties.
Houston County Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker said the agreement was needed because the previous one covered only the $100,000 per year Bibb and Houston counties had agreed to contribute toward encroachment for five years. Since that time, voters in the two counties approved sales tax referendums putting money toward the project, and Peach County also agreed to contribute. The new agreement replaces the previous one.
Col. Mitchel Butikofer, 78th Air Base Wing commander, thanked the local officials for resolving the encroachment issue.
Its phenomenal to see the cooperation and team work that has come together for the Department of Defense, to help us provide a safe and secure environment, and thats what its all about, Butikofer said.
The Houston County sales tax referendum actually called for $7 million for encroachment and base initiatives, Stalnaker said. With state and federal contributions, it was decided that $6 million will be enough, and the remaining funds can go toward other base-related projects, such as an east-side access road, Stalnaker said. The funds could still go toward encroachment if needed, he said.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.