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Most Ga. counties are distressed
Local economies considered in stimulus road projects
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Dawson County’s Local Option Sales Tax collections are down by 20 percent; its planning and zoning fee revenues are down by 50 percent; officials cut more than $4 million out of the county budget; and commissioners voted last week to furlough county employees. But it’s not economically distressed.


Dawson, Forsyth and Gwinnett counties are three counties among the few in the state not classified as economically distressed by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration.


The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act directs that recipients of federal highway stimulus funds — in Georgia’s case, the state Department of Transportation — give priority to projects located in economically distressed areas.


The bulk of Georgia, including Hall, Lumpkin, White and Jackson counties, is considered economically distressed. Of Georgia’s 159 counties, only 22 are not economically distressed areas, according to a state DOT map.


“It has its pluses and its minuses,” Dawson County Manager Kevin Tanner said of the designation. “It’s nice to say we’re not economically distressed, but it also would be nice to be eligible for some of that money we’re not eligible for.”


Dawson County is getting some stimulus highway funds. So far nearly $2 million has been devoted to resurfacing work on Ga. Highway 53.


But the county most needs work on weight-restricted bridges that limit truck traffic in some parts of the county, Tanner said. The work would be expensive, “and the county itself cannot afford to fix it.”


Being categorized as not economically distressed “does put us at a disadvantage,” when it comes to competing for federal highway dollars, Tanner said.


Tanner believes two factors have played a part in Dawson County being among a select 13 percent of the state: strong commercial growth that has provided jobs along the Ga. 400 corridor in recent years, and a higher per capita income as a bedroom community for metro Atlanta.


Counties that have a per capita income 80 percent or less of the national average or counties with unemployment rates higher than the national average can be considered economically distressed, according to guidelines in the federal Public Works and Economic Development Act.


The 22 counties not considered economically distressed in Georgia are in the top 25 in per capita income in the state. Dawson County is 18th with a $30,710 per capita income.