Barrow officials brainstorm over county's future

CARL - In the future, Barrow County might be one unified municipal government in which the six towns scattered across its fields are history. It also might be a corridor for high-technology industry where vehicles run on economical biodiesel fuel manufactured from chicken fat.

Those are some ideas proposed to about 100 business and government leaders in Thursday's Eggs and Issues breakfast at the Carl House, sponsored by the Barrow County Chamber of Commerce.

County Commission Chairman Doug Garrison suggested citizens consider consolidating Barrow's government.

Georgia has three consolidated governments, Athens-Clarke County, Augusta-Richmond County and Columbus-Muscogee County.

Consolidation would increase service delivery efficiency and stop annexation problems. Five municipalities provide water and full-time law enforcement, four provide sewer and two provide fire services, all of which Barrow County offers, too, he said.

"With six cities delivering services to our 60,000 citizens in Barrow's 162.8 square miles, many of our services overlap," Garrison said. "Barrow is the eighth smallest county and has 41 governing elected officials. Annexations are too often used to expand a city's tax base."

Auburn's Mayor Harold Money countered that cities are capable of providing services.

"When we annex, our citizens have to pay double taxes," Money said. "I'm in favor of reducing those double taxes. Don't say, 'What you done is wrong.' Give us a solution."

In November, Auburn annexed 17 land islands in a move ferociously unpopular with the property owners. Barrow County Commissioners voiced their official disapproval to the annexations in a written document delivered to Auburn's City Hall prior to the annexations.

Sen. Ralph Hudgens told Garrison to put the matter to a vote.

"You can see from the response that not everybody is singing off the same song sheet," Hudgens said. "If you can get public hearings close to the vote date, and people vote for it (consolidated government), then I'll move that legislation forward."

Education, impact fees

and fuel costs

School Superintendent Ron Saunders said extra money would raise the quality of education.

"We all believe in small class size, but where are you going to put them?" Saunders asked. "We have 100 portables (trailers) in Barrow County schools. Those are paid for by the local school system." Garrison said he would like to see that money come from impact fees, but state law currently does not allow that. Impact fees are charged on new construction to pay only for capital items related to new growth.

Barrow schools spent $1.5 million to hire new teachers and $600,000 for textbooks, all local money.

"Fuel is high and we spent 50 percent more than budgeted," Saunders said.

The Local Industry Council supports establishing tax credits for burning alternative fuels. Rep. Terry England said he believed that alternative fuel use will boom, once the refining process becomes cost-effective and efficient.

"Georgia has three ethanol plants, and we can grow the feed for them," England said. "Biodiesel development is running behind in our three plants because there hasn't been enough research done."

Water and transportation

Barrow County officials continue to look at ways to counter traffic issues, including reducing the timetable for the West Winder By-Pass construction.

England said that water could be the solution to North Georgia's transportation problems.

"When we run out of water, no one wants to come," England said.

Hudgens said that growth should go to the water, not vice versa.

"We have people stacked on top of people," Hudgens said. "But go on down the Savannah River and we have opportunities for growth. We are inviting growth there, and it will be a battle in the legislature."