Columbia County enjoyed a year of relative calm in 2002, as voters made minor changes in elected leadership and saw two of their tax dollars biggest projects to date come on line.
For 2003, the tea leaves foresee a year of changes - and, as expected, more growth for one of Georgias fastest-growing counties.
Here are some of the events of the year gone by, and a few thoughts on their effects in the coming year:
In 2002, the new Detention Center addition in Appling and the Justice Center in Evans opened their doors. Outgoing County Commission Chairman Jim Whitehead was fond of saying wed rather not need such facilities at all - but we do. Columbia County is a clean, safe community, and that can be directly attributed to the efficiency of our criminal justice system. For 2003, taxpayers will begin to feel the effects of staffing both facilities in full.
In 2002, voters elected Ron Cross as the first elected chairman in more than 20 years, chose Steve Brown to replace Frank Spears and Jim Whitehead (see editorial above), and elected Barry Fleming to replace the retiring Bill Jackson. In 2003, the all-Republican legislative delegation will serve under a Republican governor. While the state budget is expected to be tighter than ever, at least Columbia Countys requests will get a fair hearing.
In 2002, Republican primary voters strongly backed a straw poll seeking a switch to an elected school board chairman rather than one selected from among board members. In 2003, the school board - which hasnt warmed to the idea - is expected to study the concept in time for lawmakers to possibly bring it back to all voters.
In 2002, the school system reached a settlement in the bus-accident death of a kindergartner; a Harlem woman died in a collision with a train at a rail crossing; and an elementary school student died in an Interstate 20 crash. As a result of these tragic deaths, in 2003 we can expect stronger bus-safety laws; further improvements of rail crossings; and a continued push for median barriers to prevent cross-over crashes on interstates.
In 2002, the Georgia Department of Transportation, facing criticism from citizens and elected officials, stalled a plan to widen North Belair Road. In 2003, the project will likely fade away as state and county officials work out an agreement to speed up improvements to the congested Washington Road corridor in Evans.
In 2002, school officials opened expanded campuses at several existing schools and prepared to open the new Grovetown Middle School, while construction crews worked toward completion of a new elementary school. In 2003, new mega-developments in the Evans area will speed the growing need for classrooms.
One thing is certain in Columbia County: No matter what the outlook for the coming year, there will be more people living in our community in a year than are here now. Coping with that growth is a perpetual challenge, and should remain the primary focus of those new elected officials.
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