In the movie The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the wizard Gandalf gives the young hobbit Frodo advice for dealing with difficult circumstances. We cannot choose the times we live in, he says; all we can do is decide how we will face them.
With the events of Sept. 11 still fresh in our memories, and with our economy suffering at many different levels, our only choice is to go forward with plans of action that will lead to a better future. My objective during the coming session, therefore, is to follow through with legislative efforts that will meet the needs of the people of Columbia County, and the state of Georgia in general.
In keeping with the expressed will of the voters of Columbia County, your delegation will introduce legislation this year that will restore the right of the voters to choose the County Commission chairman on a county-wide basis, and will maintain the same size Commission that is now in place. This change will take effect during this current election year, with the new chairman taking office in January 2003. I believe this form of government will best meet the needs of our growing county for many years to come.
The state budget will, of course, be impacted by the downturn in our economy, and we must be careful in the allocation of state dollars. Certain projects, however, should be regarded as investments we must make if Columbia County is to maintain its reputation as the premier place to live and build a future.
For that reason, we will continue to pursue full funding for the proposed new technical college in Columbia County, as well as the new library. Both of these are examples of the sound use of state funds to enhance the quality of life, and they will provide additional support for attracting the right kind of business investment in our area, returning dividends to our community in the form of human capital, the most valuable kind.
While it appears that no new efforts are on the horizon to tap into the Savannah River - the primary source of water for Columbia County - to meet the ever-growing water needs of metro Atlanta, we must remain vigilant against such plans.
Statewide, the ongoing drought has severely depleted our water reserves, and we are approaching some hard decisions about the proper management of water and other natural resources. Finding the right balancing point between economic development and environmental protection will become much harder in the future.
Additionally, state Sen. Joey Brush and I are working together on legislation designed to strengthen our childrens safety while on school buses. We cannot afford to accept low standards in this area, and this bill will ensure adequate training for drivers.
The purpose of our schools is to educate our children, and we must ensure their full protection while they are in the care of public facilities. We anticipate tremendous support for this, as bus safety has become a front-burner issue for the legislature. This action will allow our teachers and school administrators to focus on their primary mission: education.
Finally, much has been said recently on the subject of consolidation or unification for Columbia County. This idea, which was studied a number of years ago and then shelved, has returned as a subject for debate. To be quite honest, I do not have a clear sense of the immediate need for such a change at this time, but I am willing to discuss it with those who believe it is necessary.
I understand the financial dilemma facing our municipalities of Harlem and Grovetown, but we should explore all possible avenues of meeting that need. There may be good economic justification for the county as a whole to evaluate this course of action, but I believe careful study will be required before moving ahead.
I pledge to you that no action will be taken by this delegation on this topic without seeking the input of all the voters of Columbia County, by way of referendum, just as we did with the Columbia County chairmanship.
As always, I welcome your input and I appreciate you letting me serve you in the Georgia Legislature.
(State Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, represents Georgias 113th District. The 2002 session of Georgias Legislature convenes Monday.)
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