Talks between local and state government officials ran the gamut during an annual, informal meeting Monday morning at Fire Station #2 in Dawson County.
Topics included state budget reductions, potential water solutions and local education.
A representative for House Speaker David Ralston told the group of about a dozen that a $1.5 billion budget cut can be expected in the coming year.
Incoming District 51 State Sen. Steve Gooch said an increase in tax revenue is unlikey, because “nobody who got elected in November is going to raise taxes.”
“I think everybody’s going to have to do more with less,” he said. “... How do you cut $1.5 billion without eliminating some jobs?”
Gooch said local school boards “have a tough job.”
“Their only source of income is property tax and the money from the state of Georgia,” he said.
Dawson County School Superintendent Keith Porter said salaries in the local district make up 89 percent of the school board’s budget.
District 9 state Rep. Amos Amerson said one of the biggest state education issues involved the HOPE scholarship program.
“The program is not only in danger, it’s totally broke,” Amerson said. “We’ll be out of money [for the program], including reserve funds, before the end of 2011.”
He added that 55 to 60 percent of students who enter the university system lose HOPE in the first year, “which means the high schools are not being a good filter system.”
Porter said the numbers were not a good indicator of the issue.
“I don’t want the conversation to take that turn,” Porter said. “We don’t have any choice in the public school system regarding what kids come to us. We take 100 percent of them, then we try to graduate them.
“Postsecondary [systems] have the opportunity to choose those kids, yet they’re still not being as successful as they want, and we’re hearing back that it’s our fault they weren’t prepared.”
Amerson fielded questions from others, including Dawson County Commissioner Gary Pichon.
Pichon touted a Dawson Forest project still in the planning stages as a revenue generator, recreational area and water solution.
“I support [the 2,000-acre lake ] because we have to conserve and impound water in north Georgia. It needs to be done,” Pichon said.
Brooke Anderson, general manager of Etowah Water and Sewer Authority, also referred to the potential reservoir on the 10,000-acre city of Atlanta-owned tract.
The proposal would pair the local government and a private company in the construction of a reservoir as a possible future source of drinking water.
“We have the money available, and we have the partnership available,” Anderson said. “We just need a little help to get there.”
Amerson addressed the matter.
“I don’t think your largest obstacle is the state legislature, other than how it is motivated or unmotivated by the environmentalists,” Amerson said. “You have these groups that are screaming bloody murder over the possibility of building this.”
The event, sponsored by the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce, also included representatives from the city council and development authority.