King Cotton or 21st Century Growth?

Lee County Commissioner Dennis Roland is a farmer who apparently still thinks Cotton is King in these parts.

He says in this article from Sunday’s Albany Herald that “Farming always has and always will be the No. 1 industry, the No. 1 employer and the No. 1 tax producer in this county”.

I’ll admit, I’m a recent transplant to South Georgia. I first moved to the area in July 2006 and first moved to Lee County in September 2007. And it is only recently – within the last couple of months – that I’ve really started paying attention to Lee County politics. I even went to my first Lee County Board of Commissioners meeting two weeks ago, and I’ll be going back tonight. (6pm in the building to the left of the courthouse when looking at the courthouse from the railroad tracks, for those that don’t know).

But believe it or not, I DO have some experience with this kind of thinking. You see, growing up in Bartow County, there were many who felt that way about our small town. In my childhood, Bartow County was about the same size – both in area and population – as Lee County is right now, with similar demographics in terms of people and land use.

And while I still criticize my home town for its sole commissioner system – particularly when that sole commissioner has been in power for most of my life – at least he has been somewhat forward thinking in many ways. Rather than getting stuck on the memories of King Cotton, he looked around to see what was coming in the future, and he made plans accordingly – somewhat.

You see, like Lee County, Bartow County had a neighbor to the south that was getting pretty crowded even then, and even in my early childhood the southern end of the county was beginning to grow much more rapidly than the northern end due to the massive neighbor to the south.

So Clarence Brown – the Commissioner – directed quite a bit of resources to the southern end of the county. Roads were widened, pipes were laid, and new roads were built. As the population came, so did new schools, including several new elementary schools in the southern end of the county and even – in my teenage years – a new middle school and a new high school.

This, even though at the time Bartow County was very much agriculture dominated as well. But guess what happened? Within just a few years, the southern end of the county began to RAPIDLY grow – necessitating those schools I mentioned. With this population came more businesses, which served to begin to change the tax digest of the county. Even now, I go back to the town of my birth every few months, and every time I go back something new has sprung up – even in this economy. Cartersville now sports many of the things that northwest Albany and southern Lee County have, and even a few more things that we don’t have here.

But here’s my overall point: I completely agree with Commission Chairman Ed Duffy and Vice Chairman Rick Muggridge that what is good for southern Lee County is good for the entire county – and I say that as a resident of the Leesburg District who lives within a mile or two of the Smithville/Chokee district. I want my Board of Commissioners to be realistic about future growth, and in Lee County that means that you cannot ignore the white elephant in the living room that is Albany and Dougherty County.

As more and more people and businesses leave DoCo – for whatever reason – we must have the forward thinking to try to attract them to Lee County. Not only will it benefit our own county, but by keeping these people and jobs at least in the same region, we also help the entire region.

But pitching a fit over discretionary funding not going to your pet project and trying to scuttle other projects that WILL benefit the entire county is not conduct I expect to see in a sitting County Commissioner – particularly when discretionary funding is so severely curtailed due to the economy and the rest of the Commission’s desire to not raise taxes.

Or does Commissioner Roland support raising taxes to pay for his pet project?

2 Replies to “King Cotton or 21st Century Growth?”

  1. Without getting into Lee County’s business, I find most south Georgians don’t realize the importance of agriculture in the economy of our region. While only a small segment of the population are farmers, producers, or ranchers, the taxes on their farmland support many county governments and school systems (I think.) Rural area families involved in farming come to Albany, Tifton and Valdosta (regional hubs) to shop, eat and spend—check the car tags at the malls. We often forget about the processing and distribution parts of ag: cotton gins, labor-intense poultry processing plants, ag trucking. In Georgia, many high school dropouts got their first jobs deboning and processing chicken. While cotton is important yet non-edible, every person in America enjoys our safe and affordable food supply and the biofuel possibilities could help end our dependence on foreign oil and involvement in the Middle East.

    Come to think about it, the health care debate indirectly involves eating smarter. I read the article about an ag pavilion in Lee County; we have a nice one north of the high school in Worth County.

    On certain issues, the Georgia congressional delegation natural differ but I will give them credit for generally working together on the Farm Bill and Ag Appropriations.

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