The calendar has turned to 2019, and that means it's time to reflect on the year that just passed - another successful year in Hall County.
Hall County celebrated its 200th birthday in 2018, and what better way to celebrate a Bicentennial than a calendar full of events, built in partnership with the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau and the University of North Georgia.
Events included the Bicentennial Sculpture Exhibition at the Hall County Government Center, a series of historical videos produced by TV 18 and a Bicentennial Concert at the Mule Camp Market in Downtown Gainesville featuring Atlanta-based folk rock band Drivin' N Cryin'.
TV 18, the government access channel, was phased out in 2018. Hall County and the City of Gainesville chose a new public information model after jointly surveying citizens. The new model focuses on on-demand video content, making it that much easier for residents to find out more information about their local government.
On the development front, two major projects, the Hall County Courthouse Annex and the Hubert Stephens Bridge replacement, both finished up this year, under budget. Another road project, the Jim Hood/Odum Smallwood Road intersection improvements project, was completed over the summer - again under budget.
And with all the development continuing to boom in Hall County, it only made sense for the County to roll out a new one-stop shop for developers in need of permits and approvals. The Hall County Planning Department underwent a name change to "Hall County Planning and Development" in response to the new, streamlined process.
Hall County's Financial Services Department had a good year in 2018 as well, as it was awarded the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada's (GFOA) Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for its Fiscal Year 2018 budget. To be awarded, Hall County had to meet nationally-recognized guidelines for its presentation, assessing how well the budget serves as a policy document, financial plan, operations guide and communications device. This is the second straight year Hall County submitted its budget, and received the award.
That wasn't the only major honor bestowed upon the Financial Services Department, either. GFOA awarded the County the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence for its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for Fiscal Year 2017. Hall County has received the award, which requires a "spirit of full disclosure" as judged by a panel of impartial judges, for 26 consecutive years. It is the highest form of recognition in governmental accounting and financial reporting.
Hall County Parks and Leisure re-opened Platt Park in South Hall. The newly remodeled park includes a remodel of the pavilion, playground, landscaping and basketball court, plus the construction of a new pickleball court.
Restoration efforts continued at the Healan's Mill project, wrapping up Phase 2 and Phase 3 of the restoration plans. Phase 2 included the purchase of 96 additional acres of land, and Phase 3 included the restoration of the water wheel and flume at the historic grist mill.
But that wasn't the only restoration effort the team at Hall County Parks and Leisure took under its proverbial wing in 2018. Parks and Leisure also finished the restoration and preservation of the Colonel James Roberts cabin at Cherokee Bluffs Park, not to mention the addition of a playground and dog park to the picturesque park in South Hall.
Parks and Leisure entered into a partnership in 2018 with the Elachee Nature Center and the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, providing a facility and resources for the Lake Lanier Aquatic Learning Program at River Forks Park. That project officially opened in August.
Speaking of River Forks Park, Hall County Parks and Leisure also completed its remodel of The Retreat at River Forks, an event and meeting space located inside the 112-acre park on a beautiful lake surrounding.
Meanwhile, the Hall County Tax Commissioner's Office moved its tag renewal kiosk to a new location in 2018, allowing residents to renew their tags inside the Kroger grocery store on Jesse Jewell Parkway - a convenient place for residents to keep their tags up-to-date.
As for public safety, Hall County named a new fire chief in September, selecting Chris Armstrong to head the department. Armstrong brought three decades of firefighting experience to his new role, which took effect Oct. 29.
A new Engine 1, Engine 4 and Squad 7 were delivered this year, and every thermal imaging camera was replaced on each Hall County apparatus.
At the Hall County Sheriff's Office, it was a year of upgrades, rollouts and additions. Officials retired the 25-year-old dive boat, purchasing a new one with SPLOST dollars that is not only safer for the Dive Team, but more effective in serving the community.
To that end, the Sheriff's Office also created a full-time marine patrol, with one officer specifically assigned to coordinate patrols on Lake Lanier and maintain the patrol boat.
But it wasn't just the marine vehicles that got upgraded in 2018. The Sheriff's Office continued its rollout of its land-faring vehicles as well, replacing aging vehicles with newer models - creating what is, to this point, the safest and most modern fleet the department has ever seen.
And while officers are enjoying the new equipment, they're also seeing new ways to train with it. A new electronic targeting system was added to the shooting range, allowing for double the capacity at the existing range. Out in the field, officers will soon be using new body cameras and Tasers, approved in 2018 as means of not only boosting transparency, but protecting deputies who continue to follow the proper protocols out in the field.
And to help keep those positions staffed, the Sheriff's Office hired a full-time recruiter, helping to minimize the number of deputy and jailer openings.
Officials rolled out a new Records Management System and Jail Management System, the culmination of two years' worth of diligent work. The Sheriff's Office also purchased the VINE System, helping deputies and staff better work with members of the public who are hearing impaired.
This list only scratches the surface of the many great achievements Hall County saw in 2018. Hall County's elected officials are looking forward to another banner year once again in 2019.