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State legislators mum on countys budget debacle
Rogers says state business kept him from the hearings
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When the Hall County Board of Commissioners first called a public hearing on a plan to reduce an $11.5 million budget shortfall, state Rep. Carl Rogers signed up to speak.

But when County Attorney Bill Blalock called Rogers' name to stand before the commission at that June 9 hearing, Rogers was no longer in the room.

It was the most anyone heard publicly from the local delegation of state lawmakers about the county's budget crisis.

The commission voted June 30 on an $85.6 million spending plan that bridged the budget deficit with cuts that promise to transform county recreation services, dismantle public works, planning and building inspections departments and close two public libraries at the end of the month.

The cuts allowed commissioners to avoid raising taxes.

Though all said the county's budget deliberations over the past month were a general topic of conversation over the last several weeks, the state lawmakers who spoke to The Times this week said they weren't going to second-guess what they called tough decisions on the local level.

In the past, select members of the local delegation have interjected themselves into the local political ring. Others have steered clear.

When Gainesville's school system encountered a $5.6 million deficit in 2008, Rogers showed up at board meetings suggesting they merge with Hall County's school system. Rogers also put forth a nonbinding ballot measure in 2009 that surveyed voters about Gainesville's City Council structure.

State Rep. James Mills, R-Chestnut Mountain, has showed up at Gainesville City Council meetings to oppose increases in water rates.

Neither of the two took part in public discussions of the county's budget this year, however, and Mills did not respond to requests for comment on the issue Friday.

Rogers said he left the June 9 hearing because he had another appointment to attend before the hearing started.

He said he didn't show up at the remaining three county budget hearings because he had other state business to attend.

Had Rogers stayed at the June 9 meeting, he said he would have warned the commissioners that property values will continue to drop as residents' home values are reassessed, and next budget year could be worse.

"I had warned the commissioners three years prior that the train was coming down the track," he said. "It's the same financial train we've had to deal with on a statewide level."

But Rogers said he did not envy the decision board members were faced with this year, though he did say he had "many concerns" about the county's spending plan.

One of those concerns was cuts to the Hall County Community Service Center, the umbrella organization for the Red Rabbit bus service, the Senior Center and Meals on Wheels.

The commission's budget for this fiscal year cuts about $120,000 from the center, which will result in a cascade of cuts from other funding partners from the local to the federal level, whose spending on the center's services depends upon the county's participation.

"The priorities were set by them and they have that right to do that, so they're accountable to the voters of Hall County," Rogers said. "...That's their doings."

Some of the state lawmakers from Hall County, like Rep. Doug Collins and Sen. Butch Miller, have for the most part left local politics to the local elected officials.

"They need to be left to their own decision-making for the most part," Miller said. "... I could express opinions, but those decisions are theirs. And we need to not be second-guessing them or looking over their shoulders. They have some difficult decisions to make."

Collins had no comment for this report.

 

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