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Hall officials weigh the benefits of a lobbyist
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Hiring a lobbyist might help Hall County get action on its issues and secure state funding, county officials said recently.

Commissioners are considering hiring a lobbyist to fight for the issues they care about at the Capitol, and the position could be earmarked in the fiscal 2014 budget.

Commissioners Craig Lutz and Billy Powell are scheduled to meet with a lobbyist during the Association County Commissioners of Georgia conference later this month in Savannah. The Hall Board of Commissioners discussed the idea during its retreat in late March. Commissioner Scott Gibbs said commissioners have already met with lobbyists for Gwinnett and Cobb counties.

Commissioners gave a list of priorities to the Gainesville-Hall County state delegation in December for the 2013 term, including killing forced annexation, requiring the Public Service Commission to take an active role in setting utility rates for noncity residents and allocating funds for water safety issues for Lake Lanier. These issues, however, didn’t gain much traction.

House Bill 41, which would have changed the criteria for water and sewer fees, never made it out of the state House of Representatives. While boating safety legislation was passed by both chambers, it doesn’t allocate any additional funding. The term ended on March 28.

The county commissioners association lobbies state lawmakers for the counties, but Gibbs said it spends most of its time on small counties, which make up most of its membership.

“I just don’t think what they (do) works for us,” he said.

This is a delicate conversation, Lutz said, because he doesn’t want the public to think the local delegation isn’t representing Hall County well. Hall County representatives didn’t sit on committees where they were in a position to help on those issues, he said. A lobbyist can bring more resources to the table in the Capitol.

Gainesville Rep. Lee Hawkins said Hall County hiring a lobbyist would be premature because it’s the first term of a session when all the major bills come through. Legislators work more on local issues in the second term, which starts in January of 2014. The local delegation supports all of the local entities, all of which have lists of items they want the legislature to pass.

“We look at all the requests,” the Republican said. “We don’t disregard what they say, but we prioritize.”

Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, said he planned to work on some forced annexation legislation during the rest of this year.

Commissioners also discussed having an agency lobbyist, who would help make sure county projects, such as in transportation, get funding and stay on track.

A lobbyist would charge about $5,000 a month just in transportation, Lutz said.

Forsyth County has really seen the benefit of its lobbyist with the Georgia Department of Transportation, he said. The county could hire both legislative and transportation lobbyists.

Hall County has transportation needs it doesn’t have the money for, such as the Sardis Road Connector. The road would connect two major arteries, Ga. 53/Dawsonville Highway and Ga. 60/Thompson Bridge Road in northwest Hall.

Hiring a lobbyist for legislation would only be for about three months, Lutz said.

Another way to limit the expense would be to share with another county, Gibbs said. The best situation would be to go in with another large county with similar needs, he said.

The conference is scheduled for April 27-29.

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