Remember all the talk about county consolidation? Of course you do. Remember how franchise fees were going to be such an important source of revenue, bringing millions of dollars into the newly created city-county government? Sure you do.
Still think tapping into those fees is a good idea? I bet you won't after you read this.
And if you're a citizen of the cities of Harlem or Grovetown happy that consolidation was shot down, you might have less reason to be thrilled - and Columbia County has nothing to do with it.
Using money collected from customers, utilities pay franchise fees to cities in return for using rights-of-way for wires and pipes. With the exception of cable television fees, franchise fees can't be charged by counties. County and city customers pay fees to the telephone, natural gas and power companies, even though franchise fee revenues go back only to cities.
At least, that's the way it used to work. It was a great deal for cities, and one of the things that attracted Columbia County officials to seek incorporated status.
But now the equation has changed. In December, Georgia's Public Service Commission began requiring Georgia Power to charge 75 percent of franchise fees to their entire rate base, and 25 percent only to the cities that charge franchise fees.
In 2009, that split increases to 50-50. That means if you live in Harlem or Grovetown, your electricity rate is already slightly higher than county rates, and will go up even more in two years.
On Monday, the Georgia Municipal Association announced its appeal of the PSC decision in an attempt to regain an advantage cities held before the change. It sets up another city-county fight, but this one is statewide: The Association County Commissioners of Georgia filed the original petition with the PSC asking the cities to pick up a greater share of the fees, so you can bet they'll oppose the GMA appeal.
Even though the surcharge amounts to only a few pennies on the average bill, it takes a tiny bit more steam out of the whole consolidation thing - yet it never really had much steam to begin with, did it?
Planning the park
As Preston Sparks noted in a Chronicle story last week, my name made it onto a list of citizens on a committee to make recommendations for the Evans Town Center Park.
I haven't yet heard when the committee - which includes people like former county commissioner Steve Brown and attorney Alice Padgett - is going to meet. But this is one set of meetings I'm looking forward to.
What's gratifying to me is that commissioners agreed to appoint me to the committee even though I've been pretty outspoken about wanting as little changed as possible to the park.
I'm also looking forward to seeing the citizen comments compiled about a year ago. The one public meeting on the field's future brought in suggestions that were all over the map, but most seemed to agree with a minimalist approach.
Comments I've heard from readers since The Chronicle story also have largely called for "leaving the field alone," though it can be a little tricky finding out exactly what someone means by that.
To me, "leaving the field alone" preserves the free, wide-open nature of the park. At the other extreme is the county's conceptual drawing that cuts the field up into three smaller parks, plants trees all over it and puts a plaza and a fountain in the middle.
I'm certain other committee members have ideas for what they'd like to see, and I look forward to discussing it. And suggestions from readers are very much appreciated, and I'll be happy to pass them along.
Lakeside High School will hold a memorial service at 4 p.m. Saturday, April 21, for Ryan Clark, a 2002 graduate who was among the first killed in the shooting spree Monday at Virginia Tech.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.
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