By Joel Hall
A sour economy, the school system's loss of accreditation, and the effects of Atlanta's gentrification on Clayton County were concerns community leaders said the Clayton County Legislative Delegation should put on their agendas for 2009.
Local government heads made the expressions to the delegation in a four-hour legislative forum Thursday at Clayton State University.
Represented at the forum were CSU, the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS), the city of Jonesboro, the District Attorney's office, all county courts , the Board of Commissioners (BOC). and the Board of Health (BOH).
With state resources cut thin, legislators said they expect few resources from the state.
That declaration did not lessen the requests.
Steve Stephens, vice president, external relations, at Clayton State University's Office of the President, asked the delegation to help secure $2.1 million to pay for the design plans for a new science complex. He said with only seven student labs, and no research labs for professors, CSU struggles to attract talented science professors.
"We graduate more minority nurses than all other schools [in the University System of Georgia] combined," said Stephens. "Our problem is we don't have enough labs. If they can get can get the construction money, they can move the numbers of labs from seven to seventeen."
Jonesboro Mayor Luther Maddox asked support of a proposed annexation of county properties south of the Hwy. 138 Spur. He said the annexation would give the city a more robust tax base and improve emergency response times by "straightening up" the city limits.
"The spot zoning around the city of Jonesboro has been erratic," said Maddox. "There is a great need to expand the commercial tax base." He said many of the buildings in Jonesboro belong to churches, and are not taxable.
Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro), said the BOC and Jonesboro need to reach agreement before the delegation would support the idea.
"It is better for us to have a resolution," said Glanton. "If not, it then becomes a battle between the delegation, and the board."
"I hope that it doesn't become a matter of taking sides," said Maddox. "Unless I have missed my count, there are only 24 houses in this proposed annexation. I believe this is a win-win situation for the city and the county."
Cephus Jackson, assistant superintendent of Clayton County elementary schools, said as Atlanta continues to gentrify its public housing units, more low-income parents have relocated to county. He said their children have added burden on the schools system's resources, through programs like free and reduced lunches.
With the school system losing $17 million in full-time equivalency (FTE) funding and another $6 million in austerity funding, the school system needs help from the state to continue to deliver adequate services, he said.
"If there is nothing else done, we want you to hold us harmless and keep our state funding at current levels," Jackson added.
A call for help came from the county's courts too.
Within the last year, some courts have experienced work furloughs. Some expressed a need for additional staffing in order to address the county's exponential caseloads.
"The District Attorney was the first department to voluntarily cut their budgets," said Tracy Graham-Lawson, District Attorney-elect. "We have cut our budget 6 percent. We can't survive an 8 percent cut.
"Do we need to fish, or do we need to prosecute," asked Graham-Lawson. "I'm asking you to prioritize which organizations are the most important for the safety of the county."
Rep. Darryl Jordan (D-Fayetteville), chairman of the legislative delegation, said the county will have to work more efficiently in 2009.
"There are some legitimate needs we have in the county," said Jordan. However, "everybody realize that it's not a good idea to ask for money right now. We are going to have to look at what we have, and use what we have."