Two things are happening in Georgia government right now that would seem to have nothing to do with each other. But I believe they could have everything to do with each other.
The first was the annual proposal to carve out Milton County from a portion of north Fulton County. The other was the notice from Gov. Nathan Deal that he doesn’t intend to fund a grant designed to help smaller counties’ schools.
Here’s why those two things are related.
As things stand, Milton County can’t be created because the state Constitution limits Georgia to 159 counties. Thank goodness; that ridiculous number is exceeded only by much-larger Texas. Georgia already has as many counties as the law allows, so the only way to get another county is for an existing county to merge with a neighbor.
Two likely candidates for such a merger are just down the road: Taliaferro and Greene counties. (If you’ve ever had a ticket on that part of Interstate 20, you’ve probably helped provide most of their funding.)
There is a little precedent for the counties to combine in that they merged, and un-merged, high schools years ago. Taliaferro County now operates one school, pre-kindergarten through 12, with about 225 students – nearly 200 students fewer than Columbia County’s smallest elementary school.
Now, that sounds educationally interesting, but it’s not very cost-effective. That’s why Columbia County is building new, larger elementary schools and gradually phasing out smaller ones. For Taliaferro, a tiny county with a shrinking tax base whose school is fueled by federal Title 1 money, the prospect of losing more state funding could be devastating.
And that’s just with the school. In addition to funding a school superintendent, the county of barely 2,000 people also operates a court system and pays a sheriff and coroner. Surely that’s not very cost-effective, either.
But when you consider those tax-funded positions and the jobs they create are major employers in a county that size, it’s no surprise they aren’t feeling the urge to merge with their neighbor.
I like the idea someone else has posed: To get their new county, the Milton boosters could pay the citizens of one or two of those small counties to consolidate. Milton would get its county, and those other counties would gain more-economical government.
And as a side-benefit, we would no longer have to remind outsiders to pronounce it “TOL-iver.”
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimes online.com, or call 706-868-1222, ext. 106. Follow at www.twitter.com/