Haynes Johnson has driven by the Dawson County Government Center thousands of times, and yet, he's still awestruck by the structure.
"It's just an unbelievable building," the Big Canoe resident said Thursday evening during a courtyard ceremony.
A celebratory bond burning marked the county's last payment on the sales tax-funded building.
"The county doing the job of paying the bonds off so quickly, that's just superb management," Johnson said. "I probably shouldn't say this, but if we could send them Washington, maybe we could straighten out the budget up there."
Hundreds, including judges, county officials, dignitaries and citizens gathered for the ceremonial fire.
County Commission Chairman Mike Berg got the honor of lighting the match.
"The bond burning signifies that we paid it off," he said. "With that bond debt gone, we're less than $3 million in debt in this town, and that's a huge success for the financial, fiscal responsibility of county government to be able to...in very, very hard times be able to pay for the important services for this county and still maintain the budget."
Overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2007 as the top-tier project for SPLOST V tax sales revenue collections, the $139 a square foot cost to build the government center was one of the lowest in the state in more than a decade.
Berg credited the passion of county management, who guided and worked closely with designers, engineers and the construction crews, for that success.
"Kevin Tanner was county manager at that time and he had his pulse on this building. He made sure everything fit, worked right and was in constant contact with everybody to just to make sure that things went the way they were supposed to," Berg said. "Really, a lot of the success in all this goes to him."
Tanner, now 9th district state representative, recalled that there was not always agreement on the how to proceed with the construction.
"When I first came in as the county manager, the county had just borrowed $40 million on a bond," he said. "Right after that the economy tanked. We had citizens and even some elected officials at the time that were questioning what ... to do."
He told the group gathered that he was grateful for the select group of leaders with the "vision and willingness to step out on faith and a good plan."
"Mike and I and others knew that we wouldn't have to [raise taxes]. We had a good plan. It came to fruition," Tanner said. "The last payment has been made on the building and it now belongs to the citizens of Dawson County free and clear."
Echoing what was said when ground was broken on the property in January 2010 and then again when officials clipped the red ribbon for the center's grand opening less than two years later, Superior Court Judge Andrew Fuller reflected that the mark of quality of a community comes within its courthouse.
"The quality of life that is afforded to Dawson County must be very, very, very high when you see this fine building," he said. "Indeed it takes visionaries from every branch of government, but I think each of you would agree, the true visionaries here [are] the citizens that voted for this project that live in this community that enjoy the quality of life every day that Dawson County offers."