Before Columbia County’s legislative delegation could get to work Monday morning, they had to set a few ground rules. That applied especially to one of the new members of the delegation, State Rep. Tom McCall, R-Elberton.
“I’ve been (in the Georgia Legislature) for 20 years, and this is the first time I’ve been in a delegation,” said McCall, whose previous district layout made him the sole representative in his counties.
Columbia County’s six-member delegation, which also now includes state Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, re-elected state Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, as chairman and newly elected state Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, as secretary.
McCall gave other members a cue for dealing with local issues from the counties that make up the lawmakers’ districts.
When handling local legislation, brought by county commissioners or city councils, he requires those bodies to first vote unanimously.
“If they can’t convince four people, how are we going to convince 91 (a House majority)?” McCall asked.
The rest of the delegation agreed, and intend to file such rules with the House and Senate when the state’s legislative session begins Jan. 14. Other members of the delegation are state Sen. Bill Jackson, R-Appling, and state Rep. Barbara Sims, R-Augusta.
Columbia County commissioners had no dissent in issues, including asking the lawmakers to avoid sending unfunded mandates to local counties and helping keep an eye on transportation spending.
They also asked lawmakers to look out for the county in cases where health care providers seek certificates of need for new facilities, such as those recently requested for emergency care facilities in Columbia County by Doctors Hospital and University Hospital.
“We really need something like that in Columbia County,” said Commission Chairman Ron Cross. “We almost need two.”
When Columbia County school officials met with state legislators, they expressed concerns about funding and asked for more flexibility with spending education sales tax.
Schools Superintendent Charles Nagle fears that local budgets next year will have to come up with $1.5 million to pay for additional state mandated costs for non-certified staff, such as custodians.
County schools lost nearly 70 paraprofessionals in the 2012-2013 school year to make up for previous increases, primarily in health insurance requirements from the state.
Nagle said he anticipates adding just four teaching positions next year, even though the county’s growing school population normally would call for adding about 20 educators.
School officials also asked for greater flexibility with the 1 percent education sales tax, or E-SPLOST.
“I’ve always thought that if times get tough we ought to give a little flexibility with the E-SPLOST,” agreed state Rep. Barry Fleming.
Officials from the county’s two cities also spent time with the delegation Monday, primarily bringing them up to speed on development issues.
Grovetown Mayor George James asked lawmakers to keep a close eye on spending for the tranportation sales tax, particularly when the city is counting on the money to help ease traffic flow to Fort Gordon’s Gate 2.
Harlem officials explained plans to create a walking trail along a creek through the city. The $180,000 project would create walking trails along Sandy Run Creek on city-owned property.
“It would be a fairly easy thing for us to do,” Mayor Bobby Culpepper said. “This is a project we feel like the citizens of Harlem will really take hold of.”
Officials from both cities expressed support for the proposed Downtown Renaissance Act, which could help revitalize downtown areas in smaller communities.
Staff writers Valerie Rowell and Jenna Martin contributed to this story.