Albany businesses worry sign ordinance will cost workers' jobs
Tatina Tucker, Liberty Tax General Manager
Jason Williams, Liberty Tax Waver
Paul Forgey, Albany-Dougherty Planning & Development Director
ALBANY, GA (WALB) -
Albany and Dougherty planners say attention-grabbing signs such as digital billboards and costumed characters pose hazards to drivers. Now, some of those sign-waving workers worry stricter regulations could put them out of a job.
Jason Williams has been donning a statue of liberty costume for the last three tax seasons and dancing up a storm. "I look forward to this every year," he said.
Williams spends about four hours of shuffling under the sun along Slappey Boulevard with a smile each day. Managers say all the effort he and other wavers give is paying off for Liberty Tax. "I would say about 70% of our people come in because they saw our waver on the side," said Tatina Tucker, Liberty Tax General Manager.
But Williams, who manages 15 other wavers for the company, could soon be out of a job. "There's a few people that don't like the wavers," said Williams. "They feel it's a problem. But I feel that everything ain't what you do, but how you do it."
Thursday, the Sign Task Force recommended a ban on attention grabbing signs to promote safety behind the wheel. Flashing billboards would be prohibited, and wavers would be banned from sidewalks and street corners. "They want to be where they're visible of course, but sometimes that's a little too close to the street," said Paul Forgey, Albany-Dougherty Planning & Development Director. "And when they're out there with signs, spinning signs, waiving flags right on the street, it's very distracting."
Forgey said he hasn't heard complaints from the public about people holding signs on the side of the road. He said some members of the sign task force have strong feelings about the wavers, who don't believe they're aesthetically pleasing to the community. "We need to balance the ability of a business to advertise for themselves versus them being a nuisance or being in someone's way, or being a danger, for motorists. The last thing we want is for someone to get hurt," he said.
Wavers would instead dance on away from the roads, on their company's property. Businesses worry pulling reliable advertising away from passing customers will hurt their bottom line, and may force them to lay off their wavers.
"That's crazy! Especially as high as unemployment is here," said Tucker. "I mean, we really help a lot of people that aren't able to get jobs at other places employed here. So that's their way of giving back to the community."
Tucker said her employees visit nearby schools to teach children about the statue of liberty in addition to dancing on the side of the road. "The people of Albany seem to love the wavers," she said. "Especially the children in the afternoons, the school buses coming by, they love it!"
Williams holds two jobs, and said working with Liberty Tax is a fun way to earn some money. He said he understands safety concerns of working next to the road, but said getting pulled away from the street will change how he does his job. "It gonna take a little energy out of it," he said. " really get motivated off the trucks feeling the wind, and feeling the vibrations on the horn, the pipes of the cars, you know? It really does something for me."
Williams isn't the only one with a love for his job. His manager said the position is the number one sought after position at the Liberty Tax stores. "We have a stack of applications," said Tucker. "I probably have 200-300 people apply at each office every year for that job."
While certain forms of signs will likely be regulated for being too distracting, planners said balloons and streamers at car dealerships won't fall under regulations. "They loosely fall into that category, but I don't think they're on the same level as something that's on the roadside and actively moving," said Forgey.
The Sign Task Force will meet again in two weeks to discuss proposals before sending them to the planning commission, who will tweak suggestions before later passing it to city commissioners. Planners are seeking public feedback through the city's website. They said they hope to have a final ordinance by July.
Meanwhile, Williams and the other wavers will keep Albany smiling while bustin' out the moves to attract customers.