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Well-informed electorate equals good government
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I’ve been ending my weekly columns for the last eight years with, “The secret of good government is a well-informed electorate.” 



One of my jobs is to inform you about the constitutional amendments and tax relief referendums that will be on the Nov. 4 ballot so you can make an informed decision. 



Early voting started on Sept. 22 and runs through Oct. 31.  You don’t need any excuse to vote early.  Lumpkin, Dawson and Forsyth counties all have an early voting location.  The lines are a lot shorter than on Election Day.



I will limit my comments in this column to the proposed constitutional amendments and special election tax relief referendums.



There are three proposed constitutional amendments. 



Unfortunately, the ballots do not explain what the amendments do to you or for you.  Proposed amendment number one has to do with the preservation of forest and timberland. 



Back in October 2007, I wrote that, “We lead the nation in the amount of property taxes we require timberland owners to pay. Timberland owners and farmers pay two to six times more taxes per acre in Georgia than in any other state.”



I consider myself to be a conservationist. I was raised on a middle Georgia farm, and my parents instilled in me the philosophy that we must always look after the land and animals. I was a proponent of HB 1211 (The Georgia Forest Protection Act). It is cheaper to reduce the taxes on timber, so that property owners can keep their land in conservation, than it is to purchase additional land with taxpayers’ money to provide the same amount of greenspace.



If proposed amendment number one passes, more forest and timberland will be placed in conservation, and we can reduce the amount of land needed to be purchased with your tax dollars. I encourage you to vote “yes” for number one.



Proposed amendments two and three can be best explained by your local officials.



Both amendments allow local governments to establish taxing districts. 



Amendment three specifically allows local governments to establish community improvement districts (CIDs). Currently, CIDs must be established by the


General Assembly through local legislation. HB 1489, passed in the 2008 Legislative Session, allows Dawson County to establish CIDs.



I strongly recommend a “yes” vote on all special election tax relief referendum issues. They will give ad valorem property tax relief in the form of increased Homestead Exemptions to senior citizens age 65 and older and the disabled in both Lumpkin and Dawson counties. 



In Lumpkin County, the Homestead Exemption applies to school, county and city ad valorem property taxes. In Dawson County the Homestead Exemption applies to school and county ad valorem property taxes.



Every vote in the General Election counts.



Here are a few important events in our nation’s history that were decided by only one vote:



One of the most important and least-cited single-vote decisions took place shortly after the American Revolution. One vote gave America the English language instead of German. The purchase of Alaska from Russia was ratified in 1867 by just one vote. In 1916, one vote won Woodrow Wilson the presidency by carrying California. In 1923, one vote gave Adolf Hitler leadership of the Nazi party.



Last Wednesday, I had the privilege of spending the morning with school superintendents, principals, graduation coaches and others who came to the Northeast Georgia History Center. 



They came for a presentation on the success of NGCSU’s Georgia Appalachian Center for Higher Education (GACHE) - sounds like “gotcha,” a good Southern word. The mission of GACHE is to, “be the leader in providing resources to schools to increase the number of students continuing their education beyond high school.”



The presentations by GACHE Director Shirley Davis and Pioneer RESA Director Sandy Addis were outstanding. They clearly showed that high schools participating in GACHE programs had dramatic improvements in their graduation rates and the number of students going on to college. What makes the difference? Here are some suggested reasons:



GACHE funds and activities: Grants to schools funded primarily by One Georgia Tobacco money, a lot of which comes from Georgia tobacco products being sold in Asia. 



College involvement: Most of the colleges in our area offer scholarships ranging from $500 (technical colleges) to $4,000 (NGCSU) for GACHE supported students. 



Involvement by administrators, counselors, parents and communities: This is a total school buy-in. 



Awareness of “at risk student” needs: Economic, social and emotional.



Teacher/student relationships: This increases awareness of students needing encouragement and support. 



And finally, low administrative turnover. 



Commissioner Mike Beatty, Department of Community Affairs, presented checks to GACHE high schools totaling $98,000, including a $5,000 check to Lumpkin County School Superintendent Dewey Moye. 



Beatty is a self-proclaimed “No. 1” fan of GACHE.  He has a plan to implement a GACHE-like program in the 91 poorest counties of South Georgia.  Beatty praised Director Davis and told her that he would be drawing on her expertise to help with the South Georgia programs. 



I want to congratulate NGCSU and the entire GACHE team.



If you have any questions about the constitutional amendments or senior tax relief referendums, contact me. 



Amos Amerson can be reached at 689 N. Chestatee Street, Dahlonega, Georgia 30533, (706) 864-6589, e-mail