Originally created 01/04/06

Consolidation vote is sought



The Columbia County Board of Commissioners started the new year Tuesday night by making public its hopes for a proposed consolidation in Columbia County to go before voters this year.

Meeting in the Appling Courthouse for the first time since its major renovation, board members said voters should be given the chance to decide on the issue and that they would like to see such a referendum occur as early as the July primary.

"They (the voters) can make the decision on what this county wants to do,'' said Commissioner Steve Brown, mentioning the July time frame for a vote.

Commission Chairman Ron Cross said he would like the vote to occur as soon as possible. He said his top preference also would be the July primary, but a November general election vote would be good, too.

"It belongs to you, the people, and if you vote it down, then we'll move on," Mr. Cross said during the meeting.

Any such referendum, though, would have to first be presented in the state Legislature by the area's legislative delegation and then approved.

Members of the legislative delegation - Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans; Sen. Jim Whitehead, R-Evans; Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem; and Rep. Sue Burmeister, R-Augusta - have said that although they are not opposed to the idea of incorporating the Evans/Martinez area and consolidating it with the county government, they're not sure whether the idea can be presented during this legislative session because they first want ample time for discussion of the issues involved.

Mr. Cross said Tuesday night that the commission has not received an official word on whether a consolidation referendum will be presented during this legislative session.

In other action, the commission voted to install Steve Brown as the board's new vice chairman - a position Diane Ford has held for the past two years. She made the motion for Mr. Brown to succeed her in the role.

Commissioners also unanimously rejected an application for an exemption to the Columbia County Smoke Free Air Act.

Reach Preston Sparks at 868-1222, ext. 115, or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.