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Officials grilled over spending
NAACP has State of Community forum
John McIver2
John McIver - photo by Courier file photo
Most of the public may have missed out, but state and local officials seemed more than ready to provide status reports to the sparse crowd during the NAACP’s second annual State of the Community forum Friday night at the Midway Civic Center.
“Of course, this is not election time so it’s not a hot-seat kind of Q and A session,” NAACP president Liston Singletary III said.
Singletary and Meredith Devendorf, who moderated the forum drilled officials. Questions about the recent $780 billion federal stimulus package were first up.
“The litmus test for stimulus money is does it create jobs,” state rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, said.
Anna Chafin, representing the Liberty County Development Authority, noted recent expansion at Hugo Boss creating 75 new jobs and Target is to be opening about 100 new positions.
Chafin’s slide presentation included other developments to attract big business to the 5,300 acres of Tradeport East and West.
“Of all those projects…how much bargaining power do you have of asking the company to recruit local folks,” Singletary asked.
But all the industries are encouraged to look within the county for employees, Chafin explained.
But LCDA’s efforts were not enough for Devendorf.
“I understand regional growth and regional economic development, but we’re supporting them…why are our people not getting the jobs,” Devendorf asked, accompanied by applause from several in the listening audience.
“A company cannot be require to hire local, but one of the things you try to do is improve the workforce,” said Williams, who also has a LCDA seat.
Construction took the biggest single hit in the country’s economic crisis and Williams rationalized putting stimulus dollars to transportation projects would help jumpstart the industry.
The lawmaker explained “shovel-ready” was the buzz phrase at the Capitol.
But even in an effort to have projects ready to start, Williams said “we got shafted and ended up holding the shovel.”
Williams “hit the nail on the head,” according to county commission Chairman John McIver.
“Local government got hit pretty hard when it comes down to getting our fair share,” he said.
McIver explained uncertainty around county reimbursements for the homeowner tax relief grants.
Submitted questions from the audience included some qualms with county spending and new capital projects, namely the justice center.
Questioning operations and maintenance costs when the $19-million center is complete, Devendorf asked McIver what would happen if people voted against the project in the next special purpose local option sales tax referendum.
“I think any good-thinking citizen would realize if we don’t pass [it], the county has no other choice than to go to the general fund,” McIver said. “It would behoove citizens to go to the avenue of the SPLOST, where the tax is on everyone.”
The school board’s spending was also questioned. BoE Chairwoman Lily Baker reported the board had trimmed about $7 million from its budget.
“We had to look at whether we wanted to decrease teachers, and that was no for us, or get rid of some programs,” Baker said of the school system with about 11,000 students and 600 teachers.
Driver’s education was one of the programs on the chopping block and Williams was disappointed to see it go, citing lower auto insurance for families.
Baker explained the class is only big enough for 22 students a semester.
“Driver’s ed is an iffy thing,” Baker said. “But how do you justify to a parent that we’re not getting new textbooks, but we’re going to have driver’s ed?”
On another topic, the chairwoman said she expects Bradwell versus Liberty High football games to restart, saying they usually bring high community interest and could increase revenue for sports programs.
“Next year, we’re going to open the floodgates up and let them play each other,” Baker said.
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