The pavilion at McCaysville City Park was filled long before Rep. David Ralston arrived Tuesday. Young and old were there to hear what the Speaker had to say. Most had only heard that he “was going to talk about the budget.”
Some wondered if it was about the new road; others worried that it meant more taxes…
It wasn’t long before their worries were put to rest. After a short introduction by McCaysville Mayor Thomas Seabolt, the Speaker greeted the audience and began.
“I’m really excited about the future of McCaysville. There’s so much going on. Hwy 5 is more and more becoming a reality. They’re about to finish all the preliminary engineering and survey work; then it will be the right-of-way acquisition. So, I’m looking forward to a project that’s been talked about since the 1980’s of finally becoming real. It’s going to mean so much to this community and the county. And I’m really excited about that.
“But I’m here today to talk about things that I want to share with you here—in McCaysville.”
Ralston paused and looked around the crowd, seeming to make eye contact with each one, then talked about how every year the General Assembly goes through a budget process and appropriate about $25B based on revenue that is taken in. Then they allocate that money.
He said, “I will tell you that 62 percent of your state budget goes to education. And (looking at the Supt. of Schools) Mr. Gwatney, I think that says a lot about our priorities at the state.
“I’m also happy that we balance the budget every year—and we do it without raising taxes. Now, so what’s the big deal? Well about 5-6 states (at last count) can’t balance their budgets this year. Some of them are raising taxes. Illinois just raised personal taxes and corporate taxes to have a budget—some don’t have one so they’re driving jobs out of their state. And other states—like Mass. and Calif. can’t do what we’re doing here–which is keeping our financial house in order.”
Ralston said didn’t take credit for the budget, he said, “It’s not just my work on that—we are one of only eight states in the nation that has a Triple A bond rating. What that means is if we have to incur bond-related debt, for building projects such as new schools, facilities on college campuses, and things of that sort—we can almost borrow money interest-free because of that bond rating. That saves YOU tax dollars. That shows that—it’s your money—and we handle it in a responsible, conservative way and we try to be good stewards of that.”
Reminiscing, Ralston talked about when he first came to Fannin County–in 1983. He said when he got here, he began hearing that Fannin County always got left out of things that are going on in the state of Ga.
“I think we’re changing things,” he said. “And I’m happy about that. And I’m happy to be here today to tell you about three or four things that are going to matter to this community and to the county because they were put in this year’s budget.”
Turning to Mayor Seabolt, Ralston continued, “First of all, Mr. Mayor, we have $500,000 for a new street and park enhancement project for the city of McCaysville. (loud applause) That will include drainage and trail work to maintain and enhance the park and contribute to overall economic development for tourism and recreational use here in downtown McCaysville. I know that money will be put to good use and I’m excited that McCaysville was included in the budget. I wanted to come down here and be at the park to tell you all that good news.”
Ralston told the crowd they didn’t have to look any further than Blue Ridge to see enhancements they’ve been doing.
“And they do matter. So I think that is going to mean a lot to McCaysville,” he added.
“The second thing—education-wise—we were able to include in this year’s budget, $75,000 designated for a ‘Young Farmer’ program for Fannin County High School. So Fannin County will join in all the surrounding counties in having what I believe is a very important part in vocational agriculture education.
“Supt. Gwatney, I’m sure you already know about that; but I’m glad you’re here and I want to point out that agriculture is still the #1 part of our economy in Ga. and it’s still important in Fannin County. This will improve educational opportunities that we give our young people in agriculture. And I am very happy about that. I want to thank him (Gwatney) and Ms. (Rhonda) Mathews on that.”
Reflecting a moment, the Speaker looked over the group then said, “The final thing I want to mention is this. Sometimes things happen kind of on the spur of the moment. Late in the Session, I got a text message one day that there was a big brush fire somewhere between here and Mineral Bluff and they had been waiting for several hours to get a unit from Georgia Forestry to come and put it out—and it was getting bigger by the minute. I found out that over the years, that our assets at the Georgia Forestry Commission at our location here in Fannin County, had been diverted to other places. So, I went in on Monday morning and I said, “We’ve got to fix that…and we did.
“Here’s what happened. We are going to utilize (primarily) existing funds to expand the Fannin County District Office of the Ga. Forestry Commission and renovate that office. We’re going to have an additional Transport and Tractor unit. Two new units have been relocated here to Fannin County. And we’re going to hire another Ranger position that will bring staffing levels to a Chief Ranger Supervisor and three Rangers to improve response time and oversight to protect property owners and the forests here in our community.
“Three things that I think are going to mean a whole lot—in addition to Hwy. 5—so I wanted to come down here today and share that news with you. And I figured you’d be happy about that. I appreciate the cooperation of the cities, the school system, the Chamber of Commerce, that all do such a great job. And the law enforcement officers—we thank them for being here.”
Ralston said he would be happy to take questions “as long as they are not about Health Care and Washington.”
He thanked Mayor Seabolt, “My door is always open to you and everyone here in this community.” After a few minutes of visiting and posing for pictures, the Speaker walked over to the new park for a symbolic ground breaking.
Read The Fannin Sentinel HERE.