It has been 18 months since the Upson County Board of Commissioners passed what is known as the “blue sign” ordinance, requiring all residential and commercial property in unincorporated Upson County to display their address numbers on a reflective sign at the edge of the road. The intent for this ordinance is to help emergency services, such as the police, fire department or EMS, be able to easily locate an address when responding to a call. After the county adopted the ordinance in November of 2013, the local volunteer fire departments began selling the signs in June of 2014 and citizens were given until January of this year to have their sign in place before penalties went into effect.
The County address ordinance only requires new construction in the unincorporated areas to have the blue signs. Existing buildings can have any contrasting colors, as long as the addresses meet all of the other ordinance requirements. According to Planning and Zoning Director Doug Currier II, who administers the blue sign program, the five participating volunteer fire departments have purchased 6,765 blue signs and 47,846 numbers and letters to go on those signs. Northside VFD has sold the most with approximately 3,020 signs sold, or 45 percent of the total.
County Commissioner Ralph Ellington has been there from the beginning of the blue sign program, working closely with the volunteer fire departments to plan and launch their sales programs. The initial materials were purchased with county funds; however that money has now turned over four and a half times. Commissioner Ellington says that the reactions he’s gotten from the public have been 99 percent positive, most citizens saying that the signs look good and are an asset to the community. He’s very proud of the response that the public has had to the program and how well the volunteer fire departments have done. Commissioner Ellington recently met with the fire departments and they seem happy with the program.
Salem Volunteer Fire Department Chief Reuben Holston added that his department has received only a positive response to the blue sign program. He thinks that overall, it’s been a very good program with an estimated 85 percent compliance rate. Word of mouth has been the best publicity. Employees of the County’s private ambulance service provider, Mid Georgia Ambulance, have expressed their appreciation of the higher visibility addresses. Assistant Salem Chief Ernest Wilder explained that Salem has received such a positive response that they have sold more than 40 signs in neighboring Crawford County. Volunteer Bernice Wilder mentioned that even the local mail carrier has had positive things to say about the new blue signs. They’re particularly helpful to substitute carriers. Ms Wilder said that the VFD had really pushed to have Allen Road residents well represented with blue signs to be an example to the rest of the community.
Of course not everyone is enthusiastic about the ordinance and the blue signs. Some citizens have expressed to the volunteer firefighters and others involved, that the whole address posting requirement is government overreach, too intrusive. Some have expressed that Volunteer Fire Department hours are not convenient and phone messages have not always been answered quickly enough; while others dislike the blue color of the signs sold by the volunteer fire departments. While it is a requirement that everyone in the unincorporated areas of Upson County are supposed to comply with the ordinance, if the choice of color is not appealing, you can choose to purchase your own in a different color. Currier stated the only buildings which must have the blue signs are new construction, for everyone else, as long as the sign meets the specifications of the ordinance, the color does not matter.
The ordinance states “Address numbers shall be reflective and contrast with their background. Address numbers shall be Arabic numerals or alphabet letters. Numbers shall be a minimum of three inches in height with a minimum stroke width of 0.5 inches. The numbers shall be visible to traffic approaching from either direction on the roadway.”
Patricia Mercer of Yatesville Highway and Dekota Riddick of Atwater Road are a couple of the homeowners who decided to “go green.” Neither homeowner objects to the blue signs, but they found out that Home Depot sells a kit with everything you need – a green sign and numbers for $11.47. Mr. Riddick followed the example of his neighboring grandparents who had bought their sign there earlier. He is all for the address requirement. His father is a retired firefighter and he recognizes the need for addresses that are easy to spot. Ms. Mercer read about the address posting requirement in the newspaper. She felt the Volunteer Fire Department was not convenient to go to, so she also bought her sign and her mom’s at Home Depot. Her mother, Margaret Boswell, is her next door neighbor.
Alicia McKinley wanted a “Bulldog red” sign, which she could get at the hardware store. Ms McKinley went on line and paid well over the $6 cost of the blue signs, but she has her red sign proudly displayed in front of her home, appropriately decorated with some well-placed Georgia Bulldog stickers. Even City of Yatesville and City of Thomaston property owners have scattered a few blue signs around those towns. Former Yatesville VFD Chief Ronnie Riggins encourages Yatesville residents, who aren’t affected by the County ordinance, to buy the signs anyway for the obvious safety benefits. City of Thomaston residents and property owners seem to have been swept up by the “blue wave” more by misunderstanding than by requirement or desire. Shanna Skipper of the Grand Oak Salon and Spa put a blue address sign up in front of her Thomaston business because she thought it was required in the city, too. She lives in the unincorporated county and her husband put one up in front of their house.
Active enforcement of the ordinance has begun in earnest by County Code Enforcement Officer Susan Morris. If she doesn’t see you personally, you may find a blue or orange hangtag reminder on your front door or mailbox, if there’s a problem with the posted address. The primary reason she hears for non-compliance is that the property owner was unaware of the address ordinance and its requirements. Sometimes proper address numbers have been posted, but they’re not in the right place.
“Most folks will do whatever it takes,” Morris said. “Everybody I’ve talked to thinks it’s a good idea. Overall it’s an awesome thing.”
Having addresses so much more visible now also helps her find homes for her other code enforcement responsibilities, saving her time and allowing her to be more efficient.
For more information on the Upson County address ordinance requirements and how the signs should be displayed, visit the County’s website at www.upsoncountyga.org. Once there, go to “Quick Links,” click on “Search County Ordinances,” and then go to “Chapter 70 – Roads and Bridges – Article V.” Questions can be answered by calling your volunteer fire department or the County Building and Zoning Department – 706/647-1297.
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1