Columbia County has had a long, tumultuous, history involving alcohol.
For instance, way back in 1881, a group of citizens that included such prominent names as Oliver Hardy (father of the famed comedian) and members of the Blanchard and Gray families fought to keep alcohol sales legal in the county. The national prohibition movement later outlawed liquor anyway, and nearly 100 years later, descendants of those same citizens switched sides, fighting to prevent alcohol sales from again becoming legal.
After a series of referendums in the past 20 years, alcohol sales are now legal for both on-premises and package sales. Coupled with the county's commercial growth, the result has been a recent boom in tax revenues from alcohol sales. Revenues have jumped by more than $20,000 per month - bringing in more than $600,000 already this year.
After The News-Times recently published those rising revenue numbers, some citizens rightly asked: At what cost? Have rising sales of alcohol come at the expense of public safety?
The surprising answer: No.
Columbia County Sheriff's Office Spokesman Steve Morris points out that the most visible barometer of alcohol problems - arrests for driving under the influence - have decreased in Columbia County every year for the past five years.
"And it's not due to lack of enforcement efforts," Morris says. "I think it's safe to say we have more officers on the street enforcing traffic laws than ever before."
Even with the rising number of residents and motorists in the fast-growing county, DUI arrests have fallen from 437 recorded by the sheriff's office in 2001, to 331 in 2005. That's an astounding 25 percent drop.
And how about this number, too: There have been six traffic fatalities in Columbia County this year, Morris says - and not a single one was alcohol-related.
Not only that, but on the recent Labor Day weekend, the sheriff's office didn't make a single DUI case. Validating that number, the Georgia State Patrol also reported its officers made no DUI arrests in Columbia County during that holiday period.
"Obviously people are getting the message" of the dangers - not to mention the tremendous personal expense - of getting caught driving drunk, Morris said. "We attribute the change in part to public awareness efforts. ... We're seeing more designated drivers."
Of course, there are other hidden costs associated with the abuse of anything, alcohol included: from family turmoil to unplanned pregnancy. And as Columbia County Chief Magistrate Judge Wade Padgett noted in his standing-room-only teen seminar on Tuesday, far too many of the teen cases coming through the court system involve alcohol or drugs, and an astounding number of teens are testing positive for illegal substances.
Besides: Just one drunken driver is too many. The sheriff's office this past year added two additional traffic officers, and with the rising tax revenue flowing into county coffers, commissioners can afford to be generous in funding additional traffic cops next year to keep pace with the growing population.
The combination of tough enforcement, public education and personal responsibility is proving to be a good mix for Columbia County. Keeping it that way as the county's population continues to grow won't be easy, but the numbers clearly demonstrate it's not impossible.
Those who forget history, the saying goes, are doomed to repeat it.
In Columbia County, we repeatedly forget it.
Historian Charles Lord made this clear the other day in response to the story noting that the area around William Few Parkway and Washington Road has taken the identity of "Greenbrier," a name that didn't exist until about 12 years ago.
When Preston Sparks researched the story, it was clear that the area has become synonymous with the school complex. That complex, according to School Superintendent Tommy Price, took its name from nearby (and differently spelled) Greenbriar Creek.
Developers would prefer to call the area Riverwood, after the area's housing developments. That probably won't happen; Greenbrier, it seems, has stuck.
But what if, long before the school complex or the subdivisions were built, the area already had a name - but we'd forgotten it?
Well, it does. For those of you who live in the exploding area you call Greenbrier, or Riverwood, welcome to Kiokee.
Yep. Kiokee - named, like Georgia's oldest Baptist church and the Kiokee Ridge subdivision, for a pair of nearby creeks.
This is more than just a name on an old map, too. There are plenty of endangered or extinct place-names in Columbia County, from newly-dwindling ones like nearby Hazen and Campania, to long-dead Central and Darbys.
Unlike some of those communities, Kiokee had its own post office. According to a U.S. Postal Service historical researcher, responding to an inquiry from Lord, the Kiokee Post Office was established exactly 153 years ago today: on Sept. 17, 1853.
The post office at Kiokee closed for good in 1907. Its mail was sent to Delph - another extinct name - and later to Appling.
The school system coined the area's name when it chose Greenbrier, even though the schools are closer to both Little Kiokee and Euchee creeks.
But it isn't the only time the school system chose a name other than one historically held by an area, and it isn't the only time that area also had come, in our historical forgetfulness, to be more associated with a living church than a dead community. It happened two years ago when River Ridge Elementary opened in the Oakey Grove area, a name now more tied Oakey Grove Baptist Church than to the former community.
These facts about our county are probably just dinner-table trivia. Still, it's presumptive, even a little arrogant, of us to go around making up names just because we've forgotten what places used to be called.
No one expects Kiokee to catch on as the name for the Greenbrier area, but we shouldn't forget it. Thanks to Charles Lord for helping to jog our memories.
Pandering tax break
Gov. Sonny Perdue may be overhyping the state's budget woes that he "inherited" from former Gov. Roy Barnes, but his financial proposals have generally been pretty good. He yanked his first one, a plan to raise the gas tax, about 10 seconds after proposing it; conservatives squawked and Sonny chickened out.
He won't chicken out of his newest idea. But it is a rotten egg.
Perdue on Wednesday made the pandering pledge to eliminate the state income tax on retirement income for senior citizens.
Nothing against seniors - I hope to be one someday - but anytime a group is singled out for tax favoritism, the rest of us pay more to make up for it.
The state would be better off with an income tax cut for all citizens, but one targeted to seniors allows politicians to crow to a reliable group of voters in an election year. And even though they know it's wrong, not a single politician will vote against it.
Why? Because they're all chicken, too.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 7067-863-6165, extension 106.
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