Brought together last week by the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, members of the countys legislative delegation provided a perfect example of the good fortune our community enjoys even as others fall on hard times.
Business leaders in the audience at the chambers annual Pre-Legislative Breakfast heard grumbling about the recent reapportionment fiasco in Atlanta and received insight into next years still-cloudy session of the General Assembly. But one thing they didnt hear is gloom and doom predictions for our community.
Sure, the hyper-partisan reapportionment session slashed the state apart worse than a B-movie monster victim. But even after the states Democratic leadership finished, Columbia County is intact. State Sen. Don Cheeks, D-Augusta, now holds a sliver of the county in his district, but Cheeks has represented Columbia County before and makes a welcome return.
The maps, then, are favorable to Columbia County even as they are ruinous to the state. A session Monday at 6 p.m. at the Sheraton Augusta Hotel will show off those maps, and Republican legislative leaders will offer their views on pending court challenges.
Though the outcome of those challenges is uncertain, last weeks breakfast meeting provided an opportunity for local lawmakers not only to applaud their county, but to offer a glimpse at what their plans hold for the next legislative session.
That session begins Jan. 14, 2002. Among the issues topping local agendas:
A change in county government. The delegation intends to alter the County Commission from five district-elected commissioners who select a chairman from among their ranks, to four districts plus a countywide-elected chairman. I think the chairman gives us a focal point for someone who can lead the community, says state Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans. Perhaps a similar change to the School Board - changing to an elected chairman - deserves parallel consideration.
Better economic development incentives. Counties on the border suffer when using Georgias anemic incentives to compete with those of nearby states. Local chamber officials have long pursued state help in leveling the playing field.
Savannah River protection. Atlantas voracious appetite continues to endanger the future use of the Savannahs waters through what are called inter-basin transfers. I will never vote to transfer water out of our basin to another, promises a defiant Cheeks.
Sales tax exemptions. State-wide, there may be calls for a tax holiday for back-to-school shoppers; a recent study shows such holidays help stores that get more business, but they dont actually benefit consumers. However, an unrelated idea advanced by Martinez Fire Chief Doug Cooper deserves passage: it would allow small, private emergency operations to enjoy the same sales tax exemption as municipal services.
One thing is certain to occur in the 2002 General Assembly: State Rep. Bill Jackson, R-Appling, will serve his final session. Hes stepping down after having served more than 30 years in office - initially as a member of the countys school board, and later serving in the Legislature.
Jacksons veteran guidance will be missed - and his replacement will have big shoes to fill.
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