Because of the conservative leadership and fiscal responsibility of the elected officials and Board of Commissioners, Columbia County continues to prosper and keep on a steady course in spite of the tragic events and resulting rapid economic downturn which occurred in 2001.
One of our major accomplishments each year is to establish a budget and then provide quality services while staying within its budgetary constraints.
For the past several years, we have accomplished this without raising taxes and, at the same time, have built a fund balance which has raised our bond rating to Aa - our highest rating ever. Investment grade ratings range from Baa, A, Aa, to Aaa; only five counties in Georgia are rated higher than Columbia County!
With the help of the improved rating, the county refinanced several series of outstanding water and sewer bonds while interest rates were at their lowest levels in 30 years. As a result of the refinancings, the county will realize savings of more than $2.2 million over the next 15 years.
Our top 10 accomplishments for 2001 are inseparably linked with the countys vision, mission, values and pledge statements, which are:
Vision: To be a premier community in which to invest, live work, and raise a family. In 2001, we:
Implemented a greenspace program with state and SPLOST funds.
Completed the preliminary architectural design for the new main library.
Completed expansion projects at Animal Control and the Senior Center.
Improved code enforcement capabilities and processes.
Mission: Consistently providing efficient and cost-effective services in a professional and courteous manner. In 2001, we:
Expanded Clarks Hill Water Treatment Plant and Little River Waste Water Treatment Plant, which greatly increased our water capacities.
Completing 1996-2000 SPLOST program, with 24 more dirt roads to be paved in 2002.
Values: Pursuing new horizons while retaining time-honored traditions. In 2001, we:
Restructured the Board of Commissioners into four committees: Management and Financial Services; Planning and Development; Public Works; and Community and Emergency Services; to provide for a streamlined operation.
Analyzed and re-bid more contracts using the Requests for Proposal (RFP) process enabling the county to obtain superior performance/products at the best possible cost.
Initiated the first annual Memorial Day celebration and County Christmas tree.
Pledge: Serving as stewards of the publics assets, interest, and trust. In 2001, we:
Initiated compliance with GASB 34, which will bring the county to the highest levels of financial accountability.
Began work on several storm drainage projects to correct flooding problems in the county with funds from the newly instituted Stormwater Utility.
This year, we initiated a Memorial Day celebration which brought our community together to honor all those that serve and have served in our armed forces. And a few weeks ago, we lighted the countys first official Christmas tree with the help of many area school children.
Columbia County, like the rest of the country, is anticipating and preparing for the long-range economic impact of Sept. 11. From this tragedy, the Board of Commissioners and I have gained an even greater appreciation for this county, its citizens and its leadership.
America is stronger and more determined than ever, and Columbia County is leading the way. The year 2001 was good for Columbia County, and we expect 2002 to be even better.
(Barry Fleming is chairman of the Columbia County Board of Commis-sioners.)
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