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Ralston Speaks to Mountain Patriots About Library, State Budget & Legislative Session

By Bree Collar, Sentinel Staff Writer

Over $1 million dollars is set to funnel into Fannin County from the State of Georgia to aid in building a new pubic library.
Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston spoke to the Blue Ridge Mountain Patriots Jan. 2 at their monthly meeting, telling them of the $1.3 million
that was officially awarded to Fannin County just hours before last Thursday’s meeting.

Local and state projects, passing a state budget and issues in the upcoming 2020 legislative session discussions preceded questions that came from audience
members Jan. 2.

“Just today, how’s this for Happy New Year news, $1.3 million dollars was awarded today to Fannin County for its new library,” Ralston said.
It will be located in the former Whitepath manufacturing building. Ralston  said he was there to assist with facilitatingthe need and further decisions will be in the hands of the county.

After the meeting in a discussion with County Commission Chairman Stan Helton he said, “It’s a great opportunity, and a lot of people had a part in this. I want to make sure everybody gets credit for being part of the opportunity to make this happen.”

The grant actually appropriates $2 million for the project with 70 percent  or 1.3 million coming from the state and 30 percent locally funded.

Along with support from Ralston, getting this done started with Vince Stone, Interim Regional Director Claudia Gibson, MLS, with the Mountain Regional Library System, and the local library board, according to Helton. “The state library folks came up and looked at the Whitepath building and thought this would work because they love to refurbish old buildings,” Helton said.

The grant requires an approximate 15,000 square foot space but Helton said the first steps are sitting down to determine how the 30 percent will be locally funded. “The Board of Commissioners haven’t seen anything official yet to vote on,” Helton said but he thinks it will come along soon.

He said options for funding could come from the county general fund, monies remaining in the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) fund allotted for administration and parking, other legal frame work or raising of private funds.

Currently the county is planning on moving its administration offices, including the commissioners office, land development, inspection service, water authority, tax commissioner, tax assessors and elections offices into the former White Path location that will also alleviate parking problems at the downtown county court house.

After a series of meetings with the library board to go over details, a set of solid plans will provide a clear path to achieving a longtime goal of the community. “It’s the first real opportunity to move into something better and more spacious,” Helton said.

Besides being one step closer to a new library for Fannin, Ralston also said work continues towards the widening of Hwy. 5. Acquiring right-of-way land continues and plans are in place to start moving dirt by March or April of 2021.

Work is on schedule or slightly ahead of schedule of the permanent University of North Georgia campus in Blue Ridge. The higher education campus for North Georgia will open its doors in August 2020.

Statewide, Ralston said Georgia has been rated number one in the nation to do business for the past seven years. “That means businesses here are excelling, businesses are moving here. And what does that mean? It means jobs and opportunity for young people,” Ralston said.

Record job growth in the private sector for the past eight years is just another factor in a growing Georgia economy. Unemployment today is at historic lows, down to 3.2 or 3.3 percent, he said.

“We are mandated by law to pass one bill every session, just one, and that is passing a state budget,” Ralston said.

The upcoming 2020 Georgia Legislative Session begins Jan. 13 and lawmakers will try to cut 4 percent out of the amended budget and 6 percent our of the larger budget at Governor Brian Kemp’s request.

The first year Ralston was Speaker of the House, 20 percent was cut from the budget to keep the state afloat during a much worse economic period. Today, the House faces requested budget cuts to support a proposed $5,000 pay raise for school teachers that was part of Gov. Kemp’s platform during his campaign.

During the 2019 Legislative Session, $3,000 was earmarked for the pay raise so the additional $2,000 will be discussed in the 2020 session.

Ralston said, “So we have had some good things happen in terms of taking care of your money, and we always have to remember and we always do remember, it’s not our money or the government’s money. It belongs to the people of Georgia because they pay taxes to put it there.”

Other proposed legislative program cuts Ralston said the House may face include taking a look at Meals on Wheels, domestic violence shelter funds, and a program instituted two years ago that aids in processing sexual assault rape kits.

Ralston made a personal connection with the benefits of the Meals on Wheels program identifying with individuals he knows benefits from the program. “We can talk dollars and percentages but these programs affect real people in their lives, and we have to be very mindful of that. We take our constitutional duty in that very seriously so we have a lot of competing priorities,” he said.

Bills on regulations for vaping and e-cigarettes, more legislation on the opioid crisis and initiatives to develop rural Georgia by delivering quality healthcare and bringing high speed broadband to more areas are also items to be discussed.

“As far as liberal gun control measures, let me assure you that is not the case and will not be the case,” Ralston firmly stated. Political hysteria misinformation in the form of organizations sending out emails to scare people is growing at alarming rates. Ralston said they will not be passing red flag or gun registration bills or taking away assault weapons.

Audience members later asked if Ralston had considered an anti-commandeering law that could prevent any governor or agency from enacting gun control. The Second Amendment Preservation Act legislation information was passed along to Ralston for him to further study.

One audience member brought up the issues Virginia is facing with its governor trying to remove weapons from homes. He asked Ralston if he thought it was unlawful.

“I would think that would be unbelievable illegal,” Ralston said. “That’s why we have a second amendment.” He agreed the issue also deserved some deeper study and discussion in aiding to protect citizen gun laws.

Ralston ended his talk by urging supporters to pay attention to all Georgia political races. “The balance of power in the House is in jeopardy,” he said. “Follow races, support the president, and get involved locally. The best power is informing yourself of what’s going on,” Ralston said.

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