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Legislators hear local leaders goals for 2008
In addition to money, changes in policy, legislation sought
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The wait was long, as were some of the lists of things wanted.

No, it wasn't a visit with Santa, but rather the members of the Hall County delegation to the Georgia General Assembly. The day of meetings took place at Lanier Technical College, where county and municipal agencies, school systems and other public entities came bearing memos, illustrations and even a few gifts.

Each group had between 10 and 20 minutes to make its case. Many took more than their allotted time, resulting in a wait of an hour or more for those appearing before the legislators.

Gainesville school board member Frank Harben objected to the legislators giving the school board only 10 minutes to talk about education issues, trimmed down from 30 minutes in the past.

"I don't think we can have a bona fide conversation about education in 10 minutes," he said during a school board meeting Thursday afternoon.

Board member David Syfan said there's a "bright side" to the short discussion. "In 10 minutes, we can't make them too mad at us," he said.

Harben chuckled, then said, "You might be surprised."

Friday's requests varied. Some wanted changes in state policies, others needed the state resource that is often scarce: money.

"We represent this county and we hear from those we serve," said State Sen. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville. "It's a long day, but it's a day well spent."

The dean of the delegation, Rep. James Mills, R-Chestnut Mountain, said the visits are often a communications channel. "It's not always about money," Mills said. "It's often about keeping the lines open between the legislative delegation and the organizations who meet with us."

Hall County School Superintendent Will Schofield said his top request is for state officials to give systems more flexibility with less bureaucracy. "We are getting mixed messages and unfunded mandates from Washington and Atlanta," Schofield said. "Many times they run in opposition to each other. What we need is the opportunity to work a local plan and do what's right for our boys and girls."
State Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, said the one day of meetings eliminates 25 individual meetings.
He said his local legislative priorities involve economic development.

"I've got some idea I'm working on that would help economic growth in this area," said Rogers, who did not elaborate on his plan.

For the agencies who need money, the answer is most often a maybe.

"The wish list is always a lot longer than the money supply," said State Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson. "You always want to put your district first, but you have to look at the whole mixture of the state's needs."

While some coming looking for fiscal assistance, others come to express their view on issues such as water, transportation and taxation. Delegations from both the Gainesville city government and school systems expressed concerns about the plan by House Speaker Glenn Richardson to replace ad valorem taxes with an additional levy of sales taxes on goods and services.

But members make it clear that they want the state to do what it can to help local agencies.
"This puts programs in perspective," said Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville. "Some of the needs of money are there and those who appeared before us wouldn't be doing their job if they didn't expressed those needs."

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