There's one constant in local leaders' visions of 2002: Money.
Whether it's the county commission's plan to avoid higher taxes by stifling budget growth, cities' concerns about the distribution of sales tax dollars or the school board's struggle to pace growth and meet the requirements of the education reform act, the concerns revolve around the green stuff.
Board of education
Opening the new Grovetown middle school, planning a new elementary school, strengthening the county's vocational education program and meeting the requirements of Gov. Roy Barnes' education reform package are just some of the challenges facing the Columbia County school system in the coming year.
Schools Superintendent Tommy Price said beefing up the county's vocational offerings will be the first item on his 2002 agenda.
"We want to work closely with local businesses and industry to make sure we are preparing students to fill the jobs those people have," Price said. "We think we need to make our students and counselors more aware of what these job are - what they pay and how many of those jobs are available."
One challenge is making vocational courses available to students who want or need them. Some schools, such as Evans High School, have a wealth of offerings, while others have few. Price said the county can fill the gaps by working with Augusta Technical College and by letting students travel to other schools to take classes.
The final piece of the vocational puzzle, Price said, is having students and counselors focus on career goals - blending vocational and academic courses to develop a "career pathway" for students.
Accountability will continue to be a buzzword as the school system works to implement the governor's A-Plus Education Reform Plan. Price said the county will continue to examine testing data to develop plans on how to best help pupils who are not performing as well as they should on standardized tests.
"We will be developing strategies to bring all students to a minimal level of performance," Price said. "The tendency in the past was to look at average scores. We've got to move beyond averages and start looking at individuals - identify which students are not achieving, why aren't they achieving and try to change instructional opportunities for them."
High schools will add new classrooms, a new school will be built and another elementary school is in the planning stages. New office space for school system staffers also is being planned. A new central office complex will free up space at the administrative building in Grovetown, and the school system plans to use that space to expand Crossroads Academy, the county's alternative education program.
The new year also will bring a new budget. Class sizes will continue to come down under the governor's reform act, requiring the school system to hire more teachers.
"We've got some big ticket items this year," Price said.
Another requirement of education reform is school councils. Three were started last year, and by law 50 percent of schools should have them by next year. About 10 more councils will be started this year, Price said.
Perhaps the most important event in the new year for Harlem will be a new community center, Mayor John Bentley said.
Bentley said the city was set to close the deal for land Friday. Once that happens, officials can write a grant application that is expected to net $500,000.
Harlem also could have a new mayor pro-tem. According to the city charter, at the first regular meeting in January, council members must elect the mayor pro-tem.
Failure to do so will automatically give the position to the member who received the most votes when elected. According to newly appointed City Administrator Jean Dove, Scott Dean would get the job. Dean received 316 votes when he ran two years ago.
Current Mayor Pro-Tem Robin Root said she is happy with the job but reserved comment until council members have a chance to discuss the matter.. Bentley wasn't sure whether the matter would come up for vote.
Council members last year approved a new organization chart that will create a chairperson and co-chairperson for city departments. Council members will fill those positions.
"Instead of them having to micromanage, they can get into committees and hit specific issues," Bentley said.
In Columbia County's largest city, Grovetown, leaders will deal with growth.
There's a new 265-unit subdivision planned near Old Berzelia and Harlem Grovetown roads, and a 500-unit subdivision planned off Robinson Avenue near Gordon Highway. There are plans to widen and improve certain roads, including the widening of Robinson Avenue to Fort Gordon's Gate 2.
Those projects could mean changes to the city's infrastructure, including wastewater lines.
But that takes money, and Mayor Dennis Trudeau is worried about how the nation's recession - and the negotiations about the distribution of sales tax dollars - will affect city coffers.
Board of commissioners
Much of the discussion - at least for the early part of the year - will focus on three issues: the budget, sales tax dollars and consolidation.
The 2003 budget year begins July 1, and commissioners want to have a budget that does not include a tax increase approved by mid-June.
Officials have said they want to have little or no increase in the 2003 budget package, but they are also facing paying for more staff at the county jail and the opening of the courthouse annex in Evans. Couple that with sales tax revenues that are slowly beginning to reflect the national recession, and the potential budget headaches loom large on the horizon.
In the midst of the budget battles, county leaders also will be in a fight with representatives from Harlem and Grovetown over the distribution of sales tax dollars. They have until the end of 2002 to work out a plan - or they lose will the money altogether - but county officials want an agreement soon so they can include the revenue numbers in their 2003 budget package.
The negotiations also could signal the county's move toward consolidation. The cities' leaders have said repeatedly that distributing the money strictly along a population basis - as some county officials have advocated - would cripple both Harlem and Grovetown.
Currently, Harlem receives 6 percent of local option sales tax dollars - about there times its current population percentage - and Grovetown receives 10.7 percent, about 4 percent more than its population percentage.
Informal discussions about the sales tax negotiations - and the prospect of nearly $5 million in franchise fees that an incorporated government could collect - got commissioners talking about consolidation in early December.
They've already taken the issue to the local legislative delegation, which has promised not to act on the issue unless it is approved by voters.
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