Hogansville residents are, overall, satisfied with the city’s operations, but had the most complaints about high utility bills and dilapidated housing.
In a survey of about 200 residents, the police and fire departments had the highest numbers from residents who considered them strengths of the city. The police department specifically was rated three to four, with one being the least satisfied and five being most satisfied.
The small-town “quaintness” and safety tied with public safety as the city’s top strengths.
Though the police department scored as one of the city’s best strengths, there were almost an even number of complaints, mostly unhappy with the “friendliness” of the officers.
“We used to be a city of friendly people, but the police department is awful,” read one comment.
“Hire officers that actually care about the citizens, not how many tickets they can write,” another resident wrote.
The police department has been known for its programs and events that involve the community, but Police Chief Brian Harr said the department will push toward the “goal of being more approachable and accessible to businesses and people.”
“We’re successful based on how we interact with people, ” said Harr, who has been chief for a little more than a month. “I’m starting to figure out what we do well and what we can improve on. And I’m ready to get started.”
Of the complaints received in the city’s survey, 30 percent were regarding utility bills being too high, a topic that has been under scrutiny for many years in the city - the topic received a satisfaction ranking of 2.7.
According to the most recent survey by Georgia Public Service Commission, ranking electric service providers by rates based on total electric bill amounts, only three Georgia municipalities have higher utility rates than Hogansville.
Mayor Bill Stankiewicz said the city’s high utility rates stem from an early 1990s improvement project to the waste water plant, also known as the “Spray Field.” The bond financing landed the city $9 million in debt, according to Stankiewicz, and decades later the city is still paying off the bond, which expires in 10 years. Utility funds are being used to help pay off that debt.
“We’re looking at lowering the rates,” said Stankiewicz. “There is some room for adjustments. We’re working at refinancing all of our debt and roll it into one bond issue, to hopefully roll back utility rates.”
Stankiewicz noted that most of the complaints were skewed towards surveyors who identified themselves as renters. Most of them are likely renting homes that may not be well-insulated or up to code.
City Manager James Woods said the city is in the process of enacting a home inspection program that would permit a home to be inspected before renters move in.
On the topic of housing, dilapidated homes followed closely in complaints.
“Horrible homes beyond repair are allowed to remain boarded up and abandoned,” read one resident’s comments in the survey. “The city needs to fine these homeowners for not keeping up their rentals.”
Another resident referenced the homes as “eye sores” of the city.
Woods agreed that dilapidated housing is a major problem area for the city.
“When I came here three years ago, I rode through town and it was very quick to realize that dilapidated housing was one of the primary issues,” he said.
The city has recently been on a mission to acquire and demolish homes in disrepair. Two homes have been successfully prosecuted and will be torn down in the upcoming weeks, according to Woods, noting that there are a several other targeted homes in the city.
City council and staff will be touring the city next Thursday to locate more dilapidated homes to move forward with cleaning up the city’s appearance.
Areas of high ranking in the city included trash services, parks and residents being treated with respect.
Stankiewicz said the results from the survey were better than expected and the survey will be used as a starting point in the city’s efforts.
Woods was pleased with the amount of participants for the city’s second survey, which was mailed to residents in their utility bills.
“We’re tending to be viewed as moving forward,” he said. “We know what we need to work on and we keep pushing forward. Slowly we’re making great strides.”