Members of Dawson County's state legislative delegation held a joint town hall meeting last week to highlight their goals for the 2013 legislative session.
"One of the things you hear a lot of criticism on about elected officials is the lack of direction or the lack of involvement they get from the citizens," said Rep.-elect Kevin Tanner.
"We wanted to give everyone the opportunity for us to talk to them in a town hall setting. And we've also been going out and trying to meet folks individually in different parts of our districts ... to find out what people's concerns are."
District 51 Sen. Steve Gooch, a Republican from Dahlonega, joined Tanner for the Dec. 18 meeting at the Dawson County Government Center.
Gooch, who ran unopposed this past election cycle, will begin his second term in January. His district includes Dawson and all or parts of Fannin, Forsyth, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Pickens, Union and White counties.
Tanner, who takes office Jan. 14, will represent House District 9, which includes all of Lumpkin County, most of Dawson and a small part of north Forsyth. He succeeds longtime lawmaker Amos Amerson, who is retiring.
Gooch and Tanner, both Republicans, said the top agenda items for the upcoming session include the state's budget, health care and ethics reform.
"The governor's budget people are nervous. There's a big hole in the budget and the hole's getting wider by the day," said Gooch, adding the state could see as much as a billion dollar shortfall. "That means more cuts have to be made somewhere."
He added that the national health care plan, which will make nearly 600,000 additional Georgians eligible for Medicaid, could be "even worse to the bottom line of Georgia taxpayers over the next 10 years."
"We don't have the money to pay it," Gooch said. "That's just the bottom line. Nobody knows where these funds are going to come from.
"It's not going to be a fun session. We may be there until April or May. Until that budget gets adopted and balanced, we're not going home."
Ethics reform is also expected to be a hot issue when the session resumes, though Gooch said legislating morality is not the answer.
"I can tell you a piece of legislation will not change the character or their reputation or whether they're a crook or not," he said. "You've got to elect good people that come back home and talk to you and listen to you. I think that's what me and Kevin are trying to do."
Tanner said he anticipates bills in both chambers will address ethics reform.
"Hopefully, they will be able to come together and get some meaningful ethics reform that allows the citizens of the state of Georgia to have faith and confidence in the people they are sending to Atlanta, because that is really what it's about," he said. "We have to rebuild that trust in our elected officials."
Also during the town hall meeting, Dawson County Tax Commissioner Linda Townley discussed the state's new ad valorem setup, which provides a new method of taxation on certain motor vehicles.
The law eliminates sales-and-use tax and the annual ad valorem tax on vehicles purchased on or after March 1. They will be replaced by a one-time fee imposed on the fair market value of the vehicle.
While the measure has been publicized since its passage during the 2012 General Assembly, Townley said details of the law likely will surprise folks who come to her office to pay their car tag fees.
"The biggest change is if you buy a vehicle from an individual, you're still going to have to pay that 6.5 percent in 2013, 6.75 percent in 2014 and 7 percent in 2015, and it can go up to as high as 9 percent," Townley said.
"The biggest problem I'm going to see for my office is when that person who buys a car from his neighbor comes in and they want their title and their title is today $18, and they come in and say it's going to be 6.5 percent of this value - not what they paid for it, but the value in the state's system.
"If we let people know, it will be better and they will be prepared to know that they'll have to come up with more than the $18 to get their title before they can register their car."
Townley encourages the public to call her office at (706) 344-3500 or visit the state department of revenue's Web site, at http://onlinemvd.dor.ga.gov/Tap/welcome.aspx, which features a title ad valorem tax calculator.