History was made in Fannin County May 2 when Governor Nathan Deal signed House Bill 684 representing the fiscal year 2019 budget for the State of Georgia
Highlighting the budget was $5.5 million dollars for a stand alone University of North Georgia (UNG) campus in Blue Ridge. The new 13,000 square foot facility will be located off Highway 515, east of Industrial Park Road.
Speaker of the House David Ralston said, “My dream was to have a college campus here in this community, that was brick and mortar and wasn’t going to go anywhere, to serve the people of Fannin, Gilmer Union and surrounding counties.”
UNG initially opened in 2015 off Dunbarton Road in a shopping center enrolling 18 students and after just three years has more than 150 students. “UNG’s growth rate has far exceeded our expectations,” Ralston said.
The new campus will accommodate more than 500 students. “That’s 500 futures that will be made brighter here in our community,” Ralston said.
Deal said, “Since 2012 we’ve invested over $689 million in the university system, including over $123 million in this budget alone for residential instruction and research.
In addition, over the six years $2.2 billion in bonds for capital outlay projects has been set aside including $375.7 million for 2019. From this amount is the $5.5 million for the new campus, Deal said.
UNG President Bonita Jacobs welcomed the crowd that filled the Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association last Wednesday saying, “We are so proud of our campus in Blue Ridge, It’s wonderful how much of a difference our Blue Ridge campus is making. Your students are doing amazingly well.”
Per tradition of UNG she held up two books on waterfalls in north Georgia that the college donated to the Fannin County Public Library.
Ralston listed a number of other historic aspects in the 2019 budget that affect Fannin directly. Those items included:
•Fully funding Quality Basic Education for the first time in Georgia giving over $273,000 to the Fannin County Board of Education for elimination of austerity cuts in public education;
•Injects over $360 million into the state’s teacher retirement system;
•Designates $16 million to help fund secure public campuses allotting over $44,000 to Fannin County alone;
•Presents $45,000 in bonds to renovate the Epworth Community building; and
•Gives $277,000 to West Fannin Elementary School for a new roof.
When Deal first came into office almost eight years ago the state of Georgia was in a financial crisis, he said. State revenues dropped by more than 18 percent and the rainy day fund was depleted to two days worth of funds to run the government.
Leadership of Speaker Ralston and cooperation of members of the general assembly as well as the work of Theresa McCartnery, head of the Office of Planning and Budget and other team members helped turn the tide.
“In order to grow our economy we have to meet the needs of today and anticipate the needs of tomorrow,” Deal said.
The budget is now probably the largest in the state’s history at $26.2 billion dollars. “We are doing exceptionally well on many fronts,” Deal said.
“We appreciate and are grateful to the support we have received from the state legislature,” Jacobs said. “We are elated at this opportunity and know the educational impact UNG will have on this region will be felt in Fannin County and throughout this region for generations.”
“We know there are many students who will take advantage of these opportunities and when they do it will help us to retain them in the state of Georgia,” he ended before signing the budget in one of five stops he made Wednesday throughout the state.