Just about the easiest thing any public official can do is to quietly ride the status quo.
Change is hard, as is having a vision and pushing it forward - especially when it takes money.
Columbia County has now seen a modest vision reap grand rewards, and our community will be receiving dividends for years to come.
We're talking about the Wildwood Park boat-ramps - a relatively small project with a big payoff for Columbia County.
This all started back in 2000, when voters approved that year's sales tax renewal vote. In the laundry-list of proposed items was a minimum of $800,000 for fishing-tournament-quality "mega" boat ramps at Wildwood.
A contractor built the ramps in 2003; two successive projects have since extended or repaired the ramps, including one repair project approved just a couple of months ago. The price for all the work actually has totaled up to less than the full bid back in 2003 - so, oddly enough, taxpayers got a better deal by repairing and extending the ramps than by building longer ramps to start with.
But the good news doesn't stop there. Commissioners approved spending just more than $400,000 for the most recent extensions and repairs. As it turns out, it won't cost local taxpayers a dime.
That's because, in the state's recent announcement of awards in the initial Go Fish Georgia project, Columbia County received a grant of up to $400,000 to improve the Wildwood ramps. The grant, like most state grants, requires matching funds; but the amount the county has already spent on Wildwood qualifies in advance as the match.
When the state approved the Go Fish Georgia initiative, we worried that Columbia County would be punished for its vision. We would have spent local dollars to create tournament-quality facilities, only to have the state give money to other communities for similar projects that would then compete with Columbia County.
By making Go Fish Georgia a matching-grant program, not only is Columbia County rewarded for its vision, but it also requires other communities to make a substantial local investment before receiving state funds.
All that is great news by itself. But there also is concrete proof that the program is paying direct, private-dollar dividends to Columbia County. Last year, revenues from hotel-motel taxes in the county rose 37 percent, for an all-time high of more than $426,000.
In addition, says Columbia County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Beda Johnson, direct spending in the county attributed to the fishing, archery and disc golf tournaments attracted by new county facilities was estimated at more than $771,000 for the past year. That number also is expected to rise in 2008, with more national and regional tournaments scheduled.
Commissioners and county officials are accustomed to taking their lumps when they stumble. In this case, for all the missteps along the way, the Wildwood Park improvements are something county officials got right.
County taxpayers ought to take the opportunity to applaud them for it.
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