Depending on your point of view, Barrow County manager Jock Connell’s move to create two new management positions is either a good move toward professionalizing the county government, or it’s nothing more than adding another layer of bureaucracy. Connell has suggested the board of commissioners create a public works director position and an economic development position.
Of the two, the economic development position is the most interesting. That idea suggests two main points.
First, it is the recognition that Barrow County has not been very successful in industrial development efforts. Instead, Barrow has become a bedroom community for Gwinnett County, Athens and other nearby communities that have created jobs. A growing amount of retail has followed those bedrooms and those have created some new jobs, but the low-skilled nature of those positions has not created much affluence.
This is a problem for Barrow that is now becoming very apparent. Bedrooms bring in school kids that have to be educated, but they don’t bring in much in the way of a tax base. For example, last year it cost $8,300 per child to educate in the BCSS. Some $2,300 per child came in from local tax revenues. That means a house with two kids in school would have to pay $4,600 in school property taxes just to educate those two students. Not many houses in Barrow County pay that much in school taxes.
The difference has to be made up from commercial and industrial businesses and their tax base. But with an underbuilt industrial sector, Barrow is left to struggle for every tax dollar, especially now as house values have undergone a free fall.
The second aspect of the suggestion to create an economic development position at the county level is a recognition that the current structure of economic development isn’t working. Many consider it amateurish at best.
That isn’t too unusual and a lot of communities are now looking to bring those functions closer into the county government sphere for greater accountability. That is apparently what Connell is thinking, to give a more professional tone to the community’s economic development efforts and to hold people accountable for the results.
Should be interesting to see what happens as these ideas move forward.
The Barrow County School System continues to struggle with its budget. That’s true with many school systems in the state where falling property values and state budget cuts are taking a toll.
Many school systems are using up their reserves to stay afloat and others are making spending cuts. Barrow shortened its school year to cut cost this year.
But unlike some other school systems, Barrow is fairly efficient in its fiscal policies. It has historically been very conservative in its spending, so finding other ways to cut cost is difficult.
A lot of people may not believe that, but the numbers don’t lie. Barrow spends less per student than most other nearby school systems and has a lower overhead cost than some of the more bloated systems.
Here’s a dramatic example of just how efficient Barrow has become: The Barrow County and Jackson County school system have virtually the same size budget at around $88 million, but Barrow is educating 84 percent more students. Barrow has 13,800 students while Jackson has 7,484.
The BCSS has some problems, but one cannot accuse it of being very wasteful with its financial resources. It’s a pretty tight ship.
Can BOC member Steve Worley survive as a political leader after having been fired from a public position in Walton County?
By all accounts, Worley has been a good BOC member during a very difficult time. He did a lot of work behind the scenes on county budget issues to resolve some high-profile disagreements. And there has been no hint in Barrow County of Worley having done anything unethical or illegal.
But he left his public works position with the City of Monroe under a dark cloud. Although there doesn’t appear to be any pending criminal charges related to that situation, there was some kind of abuse of his position that led to his firing.
So how are Barrow Countians to judge him? Should he be evaluated only on his work connected with the BOC, or should the problems in Monroe also be part of a public appraisal?
The bigger question: Can he continue to be effective as a member of the BOC, or have the problems in Monroe undermined his credibility so much that he is now ineffective?
Mike Buffington is co-publisher of the Barrow Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.