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Hall County's Bell asks Gainesville's support on regional commission decision
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If Hall County chooses to withdraw its membership from a regional planning commission, it will need the blessing of the Gainesville City Council.

Tuesday, Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell asked the Gainesville City Council to consider the county’s plan to re-evaluate its membership in the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission.

The county commission has threatened to leave the regional commission over the fees it charges its members, namely Hall County.

"The reality is, we’re looking at all of our options, and we can’t leave the commission unless Gainesville does, too," Bell said. "This is one issue where we don’t have a choice but to be in lock step."

Bell told the City Council on Tuesday that county commissioners want to study other regional commissions that serve "cities the size of Gainesville and counties the size of Hall," and compare the services those areas receive to what the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission provides to Gainesville and Hall County.

"We decided we should look at our options," Bell said. "... Maybe the best solution could be just to try to request more from our current (regional commission), that way we can feel as though our citizens are getting every dollar that we’re spending since they won’t lower the fee."

The Georgia Mountains Regional Commission is one of the most expensive commissions to belong to in the state, Bell said. The state’s regional commissions charge according to population.

The Georgia Mountains Regional Commission has requested that the county pay a rate of $1.10 per capita for its 2010 membership — a bill that totals $147,617.

Hall County Commission Chairman Tom Oliver, who serves on the regional commission, made a motion at its last meeting to lower the commission’s fees to $1 per capita. He was voted down 46-1.

A regional commission like the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission offers counties individual support as well as regional planning. State law requires counties to belong to one of Georgia’s 12 commissions, but only mandates that the county be contiguous to the other counties served by the commission to which it belongs. Under the law, Hall County could belong to the Atlanta Regional Commission and the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission.

Councilman Robert "Bob" Hamrick told Bell Tuesday that joining the Atlanta Regional Commission may not prove beneficial to Hall County. Hamrick said one of the best things to happen to Hall County was its designation as a metropolitan statistical area independent of Atlanta.

"We have maintained our identity separate from the Atlanta metro area and this will be something that we can continue into the future and do our own planning rather than being influenced by the metro Atlanta area," Hamrick said.

But Hamrick agreed with Bell that both the county and the city should consider its utilization of the regional commission.

"I think this is one of our weaknesses also, that we do not call upon them as much as we should," Hamrick said.

After the meeting, Bell said addressing the council was an effort to discuss issues that were important to how taxpayers’ dollars are used.

"We could talk about something that’s pertinent to taxpayers ... we can begin to put aside some issues that I feel are kind of more politics than substance," he said.

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