PORTERDALE --For three decades, Bobby Hamby has served the city of Porterdale, and in December, he stepped away from his most visible role as mayor.
"I have spent the last 30 years serving the citizens of Porterdale, whether as fire chief, councilman or mayor," Hamby said.
In November, Hamby lost his bid for reelection to former City Councilwoman Arline Chapman. He presided over his last meeting on Dec. 22.
Looking back over his tenure that began in 2005 when he was elected to fill the unexpired term of then-Mayor Paul Oeland, Hamby said without hesitation that funding was the biggest challenge he faced as mayor.
"There is a lot that needs to be done here and trying to secure those funds to do it has been the challenge," he said. "In the economic downturn, we actually lost revenue and it's been more difficult to get things done."
Hamby said that in addition to losing property tax revenue, Porterdale suffered other financial hits, such as from a readjustment to the way sales tax was distributed to the cities from Newton County.
He said the city has made some deep cuts, particularly in personnel, to make up for those losses.
"We had to make some big cuts just to maintain the city's budget," Hamby said.
For example, he said the public works and police departments remain short-staffed since the city has not been able to replace employees who left. He said much city-owned equipment, such as sanitation trucks, is in need of replacement, but there is no money to buy anything new.
"It's taken a toll on the city. Our employees are doing an excellent job, but they are doing more with less," Hamby said.
Even with the dire economic situation, Hamby said he believes he was a successful mayor.
"The job for the mayor of Porterdale based on our charter is basically to be a spokesperson for the town, to represent the city, preside over meetings and sign official documents," he said. "I have had some visions for this town for a long time to make it better. Some have taken place and some are starting to take place now and hopefully will continue and come to completion at some time in the future."
For instance, Hamby said he has worked since serving on the Porterdale City Council to develop the area around the Yellow River as a park.
"Since then, we've been able to get the conceptual design done for the park and the old train depot through a transportation enhancement grant," he said. "We got the exterior done several years ago, and we just now received another transportation enhancement grant to finish out the inside to make a trailhead for our trail system down here."
He said he is also proud of the work done in the development of the Mill Lofts and is hopeful that after more than 16 years a traffic light at the intersection of Ga. Highway 81 and Crowell Road will soon be a reality.
But perhaps he takes most pride in improving relationships among elected officials in the region.
"When I was first elected, the relationship between Porterdale and the county and other cities and the state was not what it should have been. I actually received a phone call from a state senator when I was first elected and he said that he hoped now the state and Porterdale could work together. It kind of surprised me," Hamby said.
He said he spent a lot of time trying to strengthen those relationships and believes as a result that Porterdale is on more solid footing than it had been.
"I organized a mayors' meeting in the county that meets every other month where we talk about issues and how we can benefit each other," Hamby said. "I worked closely with the commission chairman with the Leadership Collaborative. I think we have a good relationship now with the county and the other cities and also at the state level."
For 30 years, Hamby has taken an active role in Porterdale, serving 25 years with the fire department -- 21 of those as chief -- eight years as a city councilman and six years as mayor. Also during this time, he and his wife, Debra, operated the Teacher's Toolbox on the Square in Covington for 15 years. Hamby said his community involvement is not coming to an end. He will continue serving on the board of directors at the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority and with the Leadership Collaborative.
Looking forward, Hamby predicted that strengthening code enforcement will be a challenge facing the new mayor and council, particularly in light of ongoing budgetary constraints.
"My wish is the new mayor and council will continue things that have been started, and the park is the main one," he said. "If the park is developed, it will be a tremendous economic boost to the city. It will bring people in not just from the county, but also the region. There are not many places in the region that have access to a river like we do. If we bring in tourists, it will entice businesses to come in to accommodate more people."