They started the new year in a renovated structure from Columbia County's past, talking about how the previous year had gone and what the future year might hold.
Meeting Tuesday night for the first time since the Appling Courthouse had undergone a renovation project, the Columbia County Board of Commissioners discussed such issues as how fire service changes went in 2005, how there had been no millage increase in the past year and how they would prefer a vote on a consolidation idea sometime this year, preferably as early as July.
"They (the voters) can make the decision on what this county wants to do,'' said Commissioner Steve Brown, mentioning the July time frame for such a vote.
Commission Chairman Ron Cross said he would like such a vote to occur as soon as possible, adding that his top time preference also would be the July primary, but that a November general election vote would be good, too.
"It belongs to you, the people, and if you vote it down, then we'll move on,'' Cross said during the meeting.
Any such referendum, though, would have to first be presented in the state Legislature by the area's legislative delegation and then approved.
Members of the area's legislative delegation - Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans, Sen. Jim Whitehead, R-Evans, Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem and Rep. Sue Burmeister, R-Augusta - have said that although they are not opposed to the idea of incorporating the Evans/Martinez area and then consolidating it with the county government, they're not sure whether the idea can be presented this legislative session or next because they first want to have ample discussion about the possibility.
Before talk of consolidation was brought up, the commission also looked back at what they said were the past year's accomplishments.
Cross mentioned he was glad to see a balanced budget with no millage increase and progress made with some major county projects.
"Our library has progressed greatly,'' he said, referring to the Evans structure that will officially open in the spring.
Commissioner Lee Anderson said he agreed with Cross's assessment, adding that he also wanted to commend the county staff for the time it spent on fire service changes in the past year. Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue took over all of the county's unincorporated area with the exception of a small area outside Grovetown's limits, which that city will cover.
Commissioner Tommy Mercer said the passage of the county indoor smoking ban and the fire service change were among areas of progress in the county.
"The entire unincorporated area is getting much better service,'' Mercer said.
He also touted having no millage increase, adding "that's several years in a row.''
Commissioner Diane Ford commended the county staff and her fellow commissioners for their "willingness to work with each other.''
Looking ahead, Commissioner Steve Brown said consolidation is needed for the county.
"We have become too large now not to become one,'' he said.
In other action at Tuesday night's meeting, the commission voted for Brown to be the board's new vice chairman for the next year. It was a position Ford had held for the past two years. Ford made the motion for Brown to succeed her in the role.
The commission also unanimously rejected an application for an exemption to the Columbia County Smoke Free Air Act. The application, filed by Khalid Sarsour, requested that commissioners allow hookah pipes to be smoked at a new mediterranean restaurant/cafe that he is in the process of opening.
Sarsour told commissioners that 95 percent of what is smoked in a hookah pipe is fresh dried fruit and honey, while the remaining 5 percent is fresh leaf tobacco. He said a special room with a ventilation system would be installed for such smoking, but the commission denied the request.
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