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What’s ahead for 2015 in Middle Georgia?

Even though 2015 is just getting started, there are plenty of news events to look forward to in 2015. They range from who will be chosen as Bibb County’s superintendent to which businesses are set to open in the midstate. Here is a snapshot of some of the news stories to expect in the coming year.

NEW LEADERSHIP IN BIBB SCHOOLS

After a failed search for a new permanent superintendent for Bibb County schools, Deputy Superintendent Kelley Castlin-Gacutin will take over from Steve Smith as the system’s interim superintendent for the rest of the academic year.

Castlin-Gacutin was approved 7-0 by the Bibb County school board last month after a two-year search for a new superintendent failed to produce a candidate the board could agree on.

After the Georgia School Board Association provided the district 44 candidates in the most recent search, the board recently6 decided to use an as-yet-undetermined local agent who will conduct a new search for candidates while working with the board. Board members Wanda West and Lester Miller will oversee the search committee.

Meanwhile, Castlin-Gacutin -- who was a finalist for the superintendent’s position in the Rome school district -- said her main goal is to lead the district through the end of the academic year, including putting together the next fiscal year’s budget.

“I’m just focused on the task at hand, to complete the school year,” she said recently.

WARNER ROBINS TO ADDRESS PARKS QUESTIONS

Warner Robins plans to put millions of dollars into park improvements but still has to figure out what improvements and at which parks.

Mayor Randy Toms said the City Council may vote Monday to create a recreation master plan, which over several months could help the city answer some of the questions. Should a big park be built near Elberta and North Houston roads? Or should the city’s Memorial Park, on Armed Forces Boulevard facing Robins Air Force Base, get a large expansion and significant upgrades? How much revenue could a recreation complex bring to the city?

Meanwhile, the city also will move forward with smaller passive parks: Walker’s Pond off Houston Road and a former landfill site at Horse Show Road near Corder Road and Russell Parkway. The city also has been asked to create trails and a natural amphitheater on land it owns near Watson Boulevard.

MACON-BIBB CONSOLIDATION TO FACE TAX TEST

Macon-Bibb County’s year-old consolidation will face a major test midyear as officials wrestle with the consequences of eliminating the remaining half of the property tax from residents living in the former city limits. Half of the tax was dropped in 2014, the first step in equalizing taxation countywide. But dropping the rest will take another $10 million from a budget that has already seen argument over whether to fund several social and cultural services.

PEACH VOTERS TO DECIDE ON E-SPLOST

In March, Peach County residents will vote on a new education special purpose local option sales tax.

The E-SPLOST, which would begin in January 2016 and replace the current penny-on-the-dollar tax, would fund the construction of a new Peach County High School if it’s passed. The proposed school with new athletic facilities would be centrally located in the county, between Byron and Fort Valley.

That could directly impact another big story for Peach County families -- the proposed Byron Peach Charter High School. With a new Peach County High School coming closer to Byron, how many families would feel the need to enroll their students in a charter school?

MACON-BIBB ANIMAL SHELTER TO OPEN

Macon-Bibb County Animal Welfare is scheduled to move into a new, larger facility early in 2015. It won’t hold any more dogs and cats than the old shelter near the city landfill, but the new building on Fulton Mill Road is designed to be far more sanitary and welcoming. It has cost $3.4 million to build and equip, and its supporters hope the new face of Animal Welfare encourages more pet adoptions.

HOUSTON’S STUDENT-TEACHER FIGHT TO BE DEALT WITH

Sometime in early 2015, the Houston County school board will need to take action on the fight between teacher Daniel Kelly and a student.

Kelly recently was arrested on charges connected to the fight, which has been widely publicized both in traditional media and social media outlets. Such a polarizing topic likely would bring increased attention to the board meeting selected for that action.

It is expected that Kelly would get a public hearing through the board before any action is taken.

NEW BUSINESSES ON THE HORIZON

There should be plenty of business news in the coming year.

Chipotle Mexican Grill is set to open a Macon location this spring, a company spokeswoman said in late 2014. But Chipotle, a Denver-based, upscale burrito and taco chain, has not disclosed where the Macon restaurant would be built.

Kumho Tire, which is building its first North American manufacturing plant in Macon, says it will begin its heavy hiring process this spring. Plans call for a 907,417-square-foot plant on 150 acres in the Sofkee Industrial Park employing about 450 people. It is slated to begin production in early 2016.

World’s Best Eggs of Georgia, a division of Texas-based Coyote Creek Organic Feed Mill and Farm, is expected to be fully operational in 2015. It bought an 88-acre farm on Ga. 83 North in Monroe County that will be converted into an organic pastured poultry farm.

Tyler Mobley, franchisee of Atlanta-based Uncle Maddio’s Pizza Joint, plans two locations in Macon and one in Warner Robins, and they should be open by mid-summer. The locations have not been nailed down, but Mobley said he is considering a site near The Shoppes at River Crossing for one Macon restaurant and a spot on Watson Boulevard in Warner Robins.

CHANGES IN STORE FOR BIBB SHERIFF’S OFFICE

The Bibb County Sheriff’s Office will be streamlining its crime-fighting operation when moving key divisions into the old downtown Sears building in 2015.

“It will certainly make it more efficient,” Sheriff David Davis said.

The violent crimes unit is currently in the old Macon Detective Bureau at the Government Center, and the gang unit is housed on Houston Avenue.

Other divisions will be shifting to the new annex near the corner of Third Street and Riverside Drive where county records will be stored.

Completion of the renovation has been delayed due to a leaking roof that needs to be repaired, so Davis does not expect to be moving in until about Labor Day.

EYES ON THE AIR FORCE

Congress rejected the Department of Defense’s call for a Base Realignment and Closure Commission, but it will likely remain a hot topic in the coming year. Even without a BRAC, advocates for Robins Air Force Base believe the Air Force could still move to reduce infrastructure.

The Department of Defense estimates that it has 25 percent excess infrastructure.

“The president has requested a BRAC in his last three budget cycles, and Congress has yet to support the measure,” retired Lt. Gen. Charles Stenner, president of the 21st Century Partnership, said. “The first few months of the new Congress will be telling as to where they intend to place their priorities. Regardless, the BRAC process is inevitable, and we need to continue to prepare in the best interest of our base and community.”

HOUSTON E-911 CENTER TO GET UPGRADES

Houston County’s E-911 center is expected to be able to receive emergency texts sometime in the first half of 2015.

“It could be quicker than that,” said Houston County E-911 Director Ricky Harlowe. “It just depends on when we can pull it all together.”

Also on tap for 2015 is an upgrade of the 800 megahertz radio-phone system for the E-911 center. This is a special purpose local option sales tax project.

“It’s an upgrade from our current platform that we have now,” Harlowe said.

PERDUE TO TAKE U.S. SENATE SEAT

Middle Georgia will have its own U.S. senator in 2015. Businessman David Perdue will take the seat being vacated by Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who didn’t run for re-election. Perdue was born in Macon and raised in Warner Robins.

A Republican, Perdue handily defeated his Democratic opponent Michelle Nunn in what had been forecast as a close race.

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