The assertions of the editor to the notwithstanding, there are no "tricks hidden" among the list of projects to be financed by the Columbia County Capitol Improvements Bonds on which the citizens will vote Nov. 7.
The process of selecting these 42 projects could not have been more open to public access and participation. Every meeting of the Board of Commissioners, of which there were many, was open to the public. There were numerous public forums for citizens to express their views and suggest other projects and a poll conducted on the county's Web site, for citizens to indicate support of specific projects. All of this public input had a significant impact on the composition of the final list.
The list of projects has been readily available from numerous sources. There have been three public meetings over the last five weeks to answer questions posed by interested voters. The commissioners believe it is imperative that voters be well-educated about these projects and the role they play in meeting the county's needs, because they are so important to the county's efforts to deal with the challenges of its growth.
It is encouraging that out of the list of 42 projects the editor found only two projects about which to quibble. The scope of this list reflects the magnitude of the needs. I doubt that there is a driver in the county who has not recently been held up in and complained about our traffic. Patriots Park on most evenings is filled to capacity, with not an empty parking place to be had. Grovetown and Harlem comment regularly about water or sanitary sewer needs. The county struggles daily with a plethora of storm water runoff and land disturbance issues.
The project list represents the vision of the commissioners and the people in our county who cared enough to participate as to steps that must be taken to address these pressing needs.
The Evans Town Center Park and Bowen Pond have been used as punching bags by some who have leveled criticism based on incomplete facts. There was overwhelming public support for the county's acquisition of the land for the Town Center Park, but financing the purchase price was a challenge. In December 2005, the board adopted a resolution stating its intent to use these bond proceeds to fund the purchase. Not a single complaint was heard regarding that action.
However, it was necessary to use reserve funds on an interim basis to cover the time period between the closing of the purchase and the availability of the bond proceeds. By financing the purchase of the land with the bonds, the board can preserve the status of its reserves and provide a mechanism for the people moving to the county over the next 12 years to participate in paying for this land rather than making only today's taxpayers bear the full burden.
Bowen Pond is critical as the last point at which silt is caught in the Reed Creek basin before it flows into the Augusta Canal. As such, it is an essential element in the county's storm water drainage system that benefits the entire Reed Creek basin and which the county is obligated to keep open and properly functioning.
This maintenance obligation of the county existed even before it acquired title. Liabilities arising from depositing silt in the Augusta Canal, or flooding privately owned land, could exceed any maintenance costs of Bowen Pond. Failing to maintain Bowen Pond is not an option available to the county. This pond is not suitable for or intended to provide recreation for the general public, and is but one of many county properties that does not permit access by the general public. Any ancillary benefit that private property owners who have a view of Bowen Pond might receive as a result of its cleanup is no different than the benefit that property owners on the dirt roads to be paved or on the water and sewer lines to be installed, or on the stream banks to be stabilized will receive.
There are similar benefits to be derived by the people who use the parks that will be built or improved, or drive on the roads that will be expanded or enhanced, or who will receive better fire protection services. No special treatment here; benefits of the bonds are spread countywide.
Hopefully, voters will grasp the importance of these projects in dealing with our growth and contributing to the preservation of the quality of life that we in Columbia County enjoy. This Halloween season lets all give each other the full bag of treats by approving all four of the bond questions on the ballot.
(Doug Batchelor is the Columbia County attorney.)
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