Big picture: Baxter, Caterpillar among NEGRC discussion
By Stephanie Johns
Representatives from four counties gave their reports, as did several committees and a workforce program representative during the recent meeting of the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission (NEGRC).
Newton County Chairman Kathy Morgan said they have a 24-month plan in place to align their ordinances as well as a community master plan pertaining to the Joint Development Authority area, which includes Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton counties.
Baxter International has between 30 and 60 positions on its construction team. They are ahead of schedule for site cleaning.
They have $2.5 million in government funds to improve intersections, another $500,000 to build a pedestrian bridge over I-20, as well as new road paving and resurfacing.
Melvin Davis from Oconee County said that construction at the Caterpillar site is “moving along” and that the 800,000 square foot building should be complete by the end of the year. Equipment should be in place by January with their first prototype completed by March 2013.
Billy Pittard, of Oglethorpe County said JJ Chemicals used to be located in Athens but a fire prompted them to move to a warehouse in Lexington. There’s talk about expanding the warehouse, he said.
Roy Roberts reported that their budget is balanced and taxes are low in Walton County. He added that two new industries – Caterpillar, Inc. and Baxter International – have come to their area and that they are positioned to benefit from these industries.
Lamar Houston spoke on behalf of the Program of Work and noted that the city of Porterdale has received two recreational trail grants to connect county trail system. He added that Jackson County has received a $500,000 Regional Economic Business Assistance grant to expand business. Both of these actions were approved by commission members during the meeting.
Tommy Lyon gave the Planning and Government Services report, noting that the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy is complete and was available for public comment for a time. He asked the commission to pass along the strategy to the Economic Development Administration.
The Regional Rural Transportation Plan was reviewed in July. Its final review will be at the next NEGRC meeting in November.
Jim Dove began his Executive Director’s report by recognizing Bud Sanders from Greene County who has served on the commission since 2003. This was Sanders last time at the NEGRC.
Carol Rayburn Cofer gave the Workforce Development Program Yearly Review and Summer Youth Program update.
The NEGRC has been designated as the fiscal agent for the workforce programs, which benefit adults and the dislocated workforce as well as youth younger than 21 years old. Their goals or outcomes involve three questions: Are they working nine months later? How much money are they making? If a youth, are they in school?
She noted that 143 young people worked in Northeast Georgia and pointed out that they were covered by Workforce Development Division for worker’s compensation.
They are required to meet or exceed measures and are responsible for helping participants get jobs even if they do not finish their training.
As of July 1 they have a new entity overseeing them. Because of this, Cofer said they are in a position to meet the numbers next year but probably not to exceed them. She will send out papers to work sites in February.
Cofer added that they are using the mobile lab from Athens Regional Library System to offer collaborative training.
She pointed out that the Georgia Work Ready program works with Athens Technical College as they have a license for the ACT WorkKeys profiling program. The program at Athens Tech will allow businesses to assess potential employees as part of their hiring process.
Their Workforce Investment Act plan for program year 2012 is currently online at www.negrc.org under the Workforce Development Division section for public review and comment.
Terry Mathews of Mathews and Maxwell reviewed the Upcoming Legislative Session and Capitol Matters. Originally from Oglethorpe County, Mathews is a member of the Georgia Association of Regional Commissions at the state capitol. He is regarded as a top lobbyist in the state.
Mathews said that the budget is “a contentious issue” and that the one thing state legislators are required to do is pass a balanced budget every year. The $19.3 billion state budget is $1.1 billion less than the 2009 budget. Based on inflation, the 1994 budget had about 1,970 per capita while the 2013 budget has about 1,954 per capita.
“So the state budget hasn’t grown that much,” he said, adding that the biggest fights are about money.
He added that state agencies had to submit their amended budgets reflecting 3 percent cuts. Medicare and Peachcare had to reflect an additional 2 percent (5 percent total). Pre-K through 12 grade were exempt from this.
First quarter of FY 2013, which includes July, August and September, has revenue growth of 4.3 percent, an increase over first quarter of FY 2012.
The governor has set the revenue estimate at 5.2 percent; legislators can only appropriate up to the amount the governor sets. Mathews later noted that revenue can still meet expectations. If revenue does not meet the estimate, the governor has the leeway to decrease the estimate.
Mathews spoke about the renewal of the hospital provider fee and explained that in 2010 legislators passes a “bed tax,” a 1.4 percent fee on net revenue of hospitals. The money was used to draw down federal monies. This two-year program ends June 30, 2013.
The governor has more than $200 million in the budget from this program, so “he’s counting on this,” Mathews said.
The Fulton County hotel-motel tax is expected to bring in $300 million in revenue. There is also talk of a $1 billion price tag for a new Falcons stadium, which members of the Tea Party think we do not need, he said.
He said the Georgia World Congress Authority will exceed its borrowing capacity and so will seek to increase this.
Mathews then took questions.
The first question was about the changes in acquiring licenses and how it affects new applicants as well as renewal applicants. Mathews said that Brian Kemp is trying to amend the immigration bill so that only new applicants will be affected.
Regarding a new automotive tax, the so called “Welcome to Georgia” tax,” Mathews said that legislators are not typically willing to go back on that one.
As to the 30 percent cost to counties as a result of TSPLOST failing, Mathews responded that he does expect a bill introduced to repeal the penalty but that he would be surprised if they repeal it.
“I haven’t seen much options that you’ll get relief from that,” he said.
Printed in the October 25, 2012 edition