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FORSYTH COUNTY — Billed as a post-legislative breakfast, a gathering of local state lawmakers Tuesday focused more on future goals than the events of the 2014 Georgia General Assembly.
Topics included water, transportation, education and taxes. The members of Forsyth’s state legislative delegation, all Republicans, were also asked if they would be in favor of a new city in the county.
District 25 state Rep. Mike Dudgeon of south Forsyth said the only way a new city would work is with major support from residents.
“I am open minded about it if my constituents really, really want it,” he said. “There are a lot of pros and cons.”
As chairman of the House Governmental Affairs Committee, District 24 state Rep. Mark Hamilton of Cumming said he saw first-hand that even with voter support, creating a city is no easy task.
“I voted seven times on the city of Dunwoody before it finally got through,” he said. “This past session, there were six proposed cities. Not a single one of them passed ... do not think that you’re going to form a new city without a tremendous amount of work, money, support, studies.”
Organized by the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, the post-legislative breakfast drew a crowd of about 85 to the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference.
Legislators were all in favor when asked if they supported the elimination of a state income tax. That included District 26 state Rep. Geoff Duncan of Forsyth, who said there’s heavy support at the capitol for the measure.
“It’s about, now, dividing the tasks up and figuring out who can do what to continue to move this,” he said. “[Some of] our neighbors don’t have a state income tax and therefor it creates a tougher environment for us to compete against.”
Dudgeon is vice chairman of the House Education Committee. Asked how Georgia could be a better leader in education, he said the state is starting by putting money back in the budget for local school systems, and working to increase digital learning.
District 9 state Rep. Kevin Tanner of Dawsonville said he values education, noting that his wife is a public school teacher.
“We as a state have to find ways to get state government out of the way and let local school systems and let local teachers do their jobs,” he said.
When talk turned to transportation, District 51 state Sen. Steve Gooch of Dahlonega, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, said a study committee will be touring about eight locations in Georgia to get feedback on priorities.
“We encourage all of you to get involved in the process,” he said.
The greatest transportation concern continues to be funding, Gooch said, adding the committee will also be looking for alternative funding options.
More than half of attendees said Ga. 400 was the biggest transportation concern in Forsyth. But Gooch said the largest bottleneck on the highway was at the I-285 interchange, a $1 billion project which would likely happen before widening by Forsyth County.
“There’s probably nothing more important, other than education, in the state than trying to fix some of the transportation needs,” Gooch said.
Legislators were also questioned about how they would prepare for future droughts. District 27 state Sen. Jack Murphy, said he’s been to Washington, D.C. twice trying to get the level of Lake Lanier raised by 2 feet. Both times he was told studies would need to be done.
“We don’t have to do any kind of studies to see what’s going to happen if we raise the lake two feet,” Murphy said. “The lake’s been up over two feet over 300 times since it’s been here.”
Murphy said getting enough rain also plays a key role, but in times of excess, officials “need to make sure the [U.S. Army] Corps of Engineers is managing that lake and managing the water properly, which a lot of times over the years, they haven’t done.”