Originally created 01/13/02

Augusta's issues

Georgia's 2002 legislative session hasn't started, but it already has everyone seeing green.

When the gavel pounds Monday morning, local legislators want to focus on money.

"(The budget talks) will be tough," said Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Martinez, who spent the past week in appropriations meetings in Atlanta. "(State officials) are already talking about all kinds of cuts. The economy is making everything a struggle."

In Richmond County, Augusta commissioners are asking legislators to support more than 20 bills, including one seeking money for everything from security and fire protection to automation and structural improvements of Augusta's library facilities.

Officials also are asking the state to provide financial incentives that would help the city recruit industry to the area, which Mayor Bob Young said he considers to be the city's most critical request of state legislators.

Other General Assembly requests being made this year ask for permission to raise court fees, which would increase city revenues and help decrease the need for higher property taxes.

Columbia county officials also want to see changes made to the state's law for the selection process of ambulance services.

In 2001, local officials battled the Region VI EMS Council after the county commission approved a contract with Gold Cross ambulance services.

The battle focused on one issue: The council had to agree to allow the service to handle 911 calls in the county. That approval - called zoning - took more than a month to receive and officials were concerned that the council might not pass Gold Cross' selection.

"It is kind of anti-free trade," Columbia County Administrator Steve Szablewski said.

Basically, county officials said, the state EMS office has the power to select - or not select - the ambulance service providers for counties, even though it's local governments footing the bill.

"It's the theory, they know what's best," Columbia County Emergency Management Services Director Pam Tucker said.

What officials would like to see is simple: They want the selection power in the hand of county leaders.

Members of the county's legislative delegation see a few main issues: the move to an at-large elected chairman, improved school bus safety requirements and efforts to stop the push to allow Atlanta-area counties to pull water from the Savannah River.

"(The water issue is) something we are very wary about," state Sen. Joey Brush said. "They've got more votes up there than we do down here."

Reach Heidi Coryell Williams or Jason Smith at (706) 724-0851.


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