FOLEY — Baldwin County has managed to deal with changes in one of the fastest growing regions in the United States, but officials are still working on some issues, County Commission Chairman …
FOLEY — Baldwin County has managed to deal with changes in one of the fastest growing regions in the United States, but officials are still working on some issues, County Commission Chairman Jeb Ball said Thursday.
During the annual "State of the County" discussion with the South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce, Ball said that the county has added more roads and bridges and worked to keep up with growth as Baldwin County's population increased 58% since 2000.
"We are one of the fastest growing counties in the state of Alabama," Ball said. "The last census got us up to almost 240,000 people."
Today, only about one in four Baldwin residents was born in the county. County surveys found that most residents feel that Baldwin is a great place to live and visit, but more than 13% feel that the county is too crowded.
Ball said that population increase, however, is continuing. In the current 2021-22 fiscal year, about 8,100 building permits have been issued by the county, including 825 single family homes.
Since 2005, the total amount of county-maintained roadway has increased from 1,429 miles to 1,584, Ball said. He said the number of bridges has increased from 136 to 162.
He said that while growth and infrastructure are among the county's top priorities, other issues include public safety, the economy and environment. Ball said that one lesson from the 2010 oil spill is that Baldwin County's economy is tied to the environment.
"If you've grown up here, we've always been protective of our natural
environment," he said. "It's not that we're tree huggers or whatever people call us, we have a valuable resource down here that if we ever let it get destroyed, people are going to stop coming here."
Ball said that during the current term, commissioners adopted a strategic plan to help deal with growth and other challenges.
"We finally adopted a strategic plan," Ball said. "That's important because it gave all of our department heads and anybody else in the community that was contributing to this basically a guideline to go by. We had to have a strategic plan in place to run a successful organization like the Baldwin County Commission. This was a huge step forward."
One challenge that commissioners are looking at is affordable housing. Ball said that when he graduated from college, homes were advertised in the $50,000 range.
"Now when you drive down the road, you see homes starting in the 500s in some places and I don't know anybody that can go to college and graduate and do that," Ball said.
He said the average price of a home in Baldwin County is $377,000.
"One of these days, we're going to have to find a happy medium and work along with the commission, our planning and zoning department, our building department and with developers and build what we call attainable housing to where somebody can actually go out and buy a house and have a comfortable living starting off life here in Baldwin County," Ball said.
Ball said transportation is another issue. In addition to building new roads and bridges, the county is also working to improve its public transportation program, the Baldwin Rural Transportation System, known as BRATS.
He said the county has developed an app that allows people to call up BRATS buses.
"One of our goals for the Gateway Initiative is trying to help out our workforce here on the south end of the county ... to re-up this service for workers at a good rate, probably get them back and forth to work when it's so hard to travel now with the costs," Ball said. "So, that's something else that we're looking into."
Ball said the county has also made other improvements, such as the new boat launch on the Intracoastal Waterway and improving facilities such as Live Oak Landing and Bicentennial Park.
He said cooperation between agencies and residents has helped the county move forward and deal with growth and other issues.
"It's a partnership in Baldwin County," Ball said. "Whoever grew up here knows we love each other, and we'll do anything for each other, and I can promise you that partnership is number one. I've never seen anything like it, working together like we do. I go to a lot of places, and this does not happen. People do not work together."