You might have missed it if you blinked, but an almost-secret idea recently got its first official airing buried inside a story about county growth.
In Preston Sparks' Chronicle story about the county's population, County Commission Chairman Ron Cross said officials next year will explore the possibility of an impact fee on new development to pay for public safety.
So, with the cat out of the bag, what does it mean? And didn't the county's impact fee study committee say the fees aren't a good idea for Columbia County, that what is really needed is change in state law to allow the fees for schools?
State lawmakers should make the change this coming session to allow the school fees. It's almost a no-brainer: New housing developments put an immediate impact on school systems. Yet the state doesn't allow local communities to levy impact fees to provide funding to help pay for the effects of that growth.
But public safety impact fees? Those are already legal. Unlike the money from impact fees for such things as sewer systems and transportation, which often are already funded by developers anyway and must be used in a specific area, the money from a public safety impact fee can be used in very general terms in the area impacted, allowing existing money to be spent on the entire county.
In short, it makes more money available for police and fire services. Good accounting makes sure it's all done correctly.
Cross, who has done more to start the dialogue on impact fees than any other county official, ever, yet has gotten virtually no credit for it from the public's anti-everything cynics, says the public safety fee could come up as early as February.
The super search
Long before February, we should know who will be the next superintendent of Columbia County schools. Will it be Charlie Nagle, the former Claxton, Ga., educator who came to Columbia County in 1989 and now serves as associate superintendent? Or Steve Wilmoth, the current superintendent in Liberty County?
Nagle is naturally assumed to have a leg up in the process because of his familiarity with the system. But Wilmoth has an impressive tenure in Liberty County, even though that system is significantly smaller than Columbia County. Back in March, Wilmoth also was a finalist in a superintendent search for a school system near Chattanooga, Tenn.
The biggest surprise in the final list is that there aren't more finalists named from the list that started with more than 20 applicants, and that none of those finalists are from systems larger than Columbia County. Because of the county's fast expansion, there is probably a lot we can learn from other systems that have "been there, done that" in coping with rapid population growth.
Whomever the next superintendent is, he'll take over next year in a school system expected to hit 22,000 students for the first time. As incoming board chairman Regina Buccafusco found in the recent campaign, it can be difficult to talk about academics when so much of the discussion is dominated by just finding enough classroom space to teach everyone.
This time of year, there seems to be an unofficial competition to see which home can light the most Christmas decorations.
I love looking at them all. But my favorite decoration of the year isn't even lit.
The Penney family, who owns the small horse farm at the corner of Deerwood Lane and North Belair Road, in Evans, has a large wreath with a red bow hanging on the end of their barn, creating a beautiful pastoral scene.
For a holiday that got its start in a manger, the image seems just about perfect.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barrypaschal at newstimesonline.com.
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