By Gary Pichon, former Dawson Commissioner
I read a piece in the paper the other day that was trying to imagine the future of the area and what might happen that could improve the lives of its citizens.
About 30 years ago I moved up here to Pickens because I liked the place and the people and their ways. I still do and I can just about live anywhere in the country that I want to. It suits me just fine.
Now, my wife and I live right on the county line and our house is just inside Dawson County. I was privileged to serve eight years as a county commissioner in Dawson County and I think I did more good than harm, maybe.
From that experience, I offer some things for the Pickens people to think about as the future continues to become the present.
The megapolis of Atlanta continues to grow and sprawl in every direction. No area in its growth circle ever anticipates the upheaval of that population growth and they are caught in a wave that washes over them.
The public services that population growth and higher density require are always behind. There are never enough roads, bridges, water lines, sewer lines, septic sludge treatment, schools, fire, emergency, or deputies to service the new people.
Most local politicians will promise that the growth will fund itself. That is not true. Manufacturing growth and even some retail growth may fund itself. But population growth leads to higher density and higher density always costs more for the services local governments supply.
Taxes always go up. If higher population density kept service costs down, then New York City would be the cheapest place in the USA to live.
There are two things that the people of Pickens County, including its towns, need to have. The first is a Strategic Plan and the second is a Comparative Service Cost per Citizen.
A good Strategic Plan can be made on two sheets of 8x11 paper. It will contain a Vision of the future, a Situation analysis, and a rough To Do list about how to make that future turn out like the Vision.
Likewise a Comparative Service Cost report can be made on one sheet of paper and that report will tell how many dollars per citizen the whole of the local governments spend on key services and it will compare that with other Georgia counties. The expenditure per citizen is really, really important because it will tell you where you are probably spending too little and where you are probably spending too much. No official agency publishes these comparative numbers. Someone will have to dig them out of public data bases.
You need both parts. A Vision tends to cause more government spending and the Comparative Cost forces everyone back to reality. The Situation Analysis forces people to look at strengths and weaknesses so that you play to your strengths and don’t spend to much time and money on weaknesses that you cannot afford to fix.
For example, the situation analysis for Pickens would point out that on the positive side the country sits on a major four-lane highway up to the mountains. On the negative side it has terrible east west transportation roads. Pickens has a county wide water system, but it has no water permit of its own and has to pump purchased water long distances. It has a railroad but it is a slow railroad and disconnected to a main line north. It has no college but it has a tech school.
It has a good hospital that is growing toward a regional type cluster but has not yet reached something like the Gainesville medical industry. You can go on and on with this but it should have the major strengths and weaknesses listed.
The governmental tools to effect the Plan already exist. The budgets, the future land use plan, the zoning map and ordinances, property tax incentives through the development authority, the millage rate, SPLOST, LOST, ELOST, impact fees, city tax systems, all already are in place in state law.
The real problem is getting the leaders and the people of the county to agree. By leaders, I mean the 50 or so elected officials and the leaders of the community that are not elected to agree to any of this. A significant portions of the people need to support the strategic plan. Leaders should not even try to implement a plan resisted by the majority of people. The comparative cost report will be resisted and argued about endlessly because it demystifies the annual budget food fight.
But even if a strategic plan is not accomplished the process is worth the effort because it will cause people to think about the future in specific ways. If Pickens chooses no plan, then Pickens will probably look like Gwinnett in 30 years. Is that what the people want? It may be.
If you don't have a strategic plan that you use, the future will unfold on its own. Many of the counties to our south are already regretting what they have become in spite of the things that did improve.
Change always come even if you don't want it. But change can be effected by what we do.
We are not condemned to repeat the past. We have some ability to steer the ship and people should at least make the attempt to make the future something worth having.