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By Tia Lynn Ivey

managing editor

Local and state leaders gathered in Morgan County Tuesday morning for the annual State of Morgan County Forum to update the public on latest happenings in the community.

The Morgan County Family Connection facilitated the event, which featured reports from Morgan County Commissioner Chairman Donald Harris, Madison Mayor Fred Perriman, Georgia Senator Burt Jones, State Representative Dave Belton, School Superintendent James Woodard, Morgan Memorial Hospital CEO Ralph Castillo, President of the Madison-Morgan Chamber of Commerce Bob Hughes, Madison Police Chief Bill Ashburn, and County Sheriff Robert Markley.

Velde Hardy, coordinator for Family Connection, explained the goal of the event was to bring all “the movers and shakers together” in order to work on behalf of the community.

“At Family Connection, we gather data on our community and then connect our partners with that data on our children and families in our community so we can make a difference,” said Hardy. Hardy listed the three main strategies of Family Connection is to enhance Youth Development, Education and Working Communities, and Children Safe and Families Strong.

“All of our programming comes out of those strategies and goals,” said Hardy.

State leaders Senator Burt Jones and Representative Dave Belton spoke to the crowd about progress in Morgan County within the context of state trends.

“Not all Georgia counties are as lucky to have such a great school system,” praised Jones. “Madison is a great a community and is a model for other communities all across the state.”

Belton focused on statistics and figures to demonstrate the current condition of Morgan County and the state of Georgia as a whole.

“We are working hard for you,” said Belton.  “A lot of the news today is pretty negative, but things are actually going pretty well in Georgia.

According to Belton, the state’s budget is balanced and passed for $25 million, which is a 5 percent increase from last year.

“That’s without tax increases. Revenues are coming up and we are making money in Georgia. Belton noted the vast majority of the budget is spend on education, healthcare and transportation.

“Fifty-four percent goes to education, 13 percent to healthcare, and 7 percent to transportation,” said Belton. “Georgia taxes are the second lowest in the nation, and we are the best state in the nation to do business in for the fourth year in a row.”

Belton noted a boosting economy, decreased unemployment rates and growth increases throughout the state.

“We are doing well in all those areas, but there are areas we need to work on to,” said Belton.

Belton noted that Georgia is ranked 35 in the nation in K12 education and fifth worst in the nation for poverty.

Both Jones and Belton emphasized the need for educational reform and skill training programs to develop a better workforce throughout the state. Jones noted that while education system needs improvement throughout the state, Morgan County is ranked the 8th best school system in the state.

Local leaders updated the public on current projects within the community.

Dr. James Woodard gave an update on the construction of new school campus, anticipating that the new high school and college and career academy should be completed in December 2018 and the new middle school being completed in 2019.

“By January 1, 2020, we will have our “20/20 vision” for education in Morgan County with a brand new school campus,” said Woodard.

Ralph Castillo announced a groundbreaking ceremony has been slated for next month to start construction on the new facility for Morgan Memorial Hospital.

Bob Hughes reported on expanding industries in Morgan County and in the surrounding areas. Donald Harris and Fred Perriman gave reports on efforts to revitalize the City of Madison and Morgan County to ensure a high quality of life for its residents. Bill Ashburn and Robert Markley spoke about local law enforcement’s efforts to involve themselves with the community in positive ways.

“We want our kids to see us in a positive light so they know that we are not the bad guys,” said Markley.

Both the city and county law enforcement agencies partner with the school system and other community organization to interact with children and families, such as participating in the annual Back to School Rally and Health Fair, the annual Antibullying Rally, the Empty Stocking Fund.

Hardy hopes these kind of events encourage community leaders to work together to make Morgan County an even better place to live, especially for children.

“Every child is important,” said Hardy. “We want to see them safe, we want to see them educated, and we want to see them be successful so we can see Morgan County grow.”

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