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Education, dredging top lawmakers to-do list
Glynn County commissioners and Brunswick city officials met with state legislators Tuesday to discuss the upcoming session of the Georgia General Assembly.

The 40-day session begins in January.

Two of the key issues discussed were the construction of a branch of Altamaha Technical College in Glynn County and dredging the Port of Brunswick.

County Commission Chairman Richard Strickland said funding for the technical college is critical to providing a skilled workforce to meet the needs of existing industry and future industry.

"This should be a high priority for our community and a facility in our community will be another key in our toolbox for industry recruitment and job retention," Strickland said.

A General Assembly's Legislative Conference Committee cancelled $14.3 million designated for the construction of a 50,000-square-foot building for Altamaha Technical College. The facility was to be built on 21 acres adjacent to the college's temporary home, Golden Isles Career Academy, during the end of the 2012 session.

The committee shifted the $14.3 million in bond money to Gwinnett Technical College on the presumption that Altamaha Technical College would have been unable to spend the money before having to return it to the state.

State Sen. William Ligon, R-St. Simons Island, said he spoke to Gov. Nathan Deal about funding for the technical college and was assured money would be in the budget for the new building.

Local elected officials also asked about maintaining the channel that serves the Port of Brunswick, said to be the third largest handler of vehicles in the nation.

"Our local port is a leader in the nation in both imports and exports and is a major contributor to the local economy," Strickland said. "For it to continue to be successful, the shipping channel must continue to be dredged and open. Failure to do so will result in current business going to another port, taking with it jobs and commerce."

Ligon said the port authority, which is based in Savannah, understands the importance of keeping the Port of Brunswick dredged, despite the bulk of state funding going to the port in Savannah. He said Brunswick will benefit from the overflow of business once the work is complete in Savannah.

But Strickland said if the port isn't dredged, ships won't be able to come here.

Commissioner Clyde Taylor pointed out that the overflow from Savannah won't be able to come to Brunswick if the channel isn't deep enough for the cargo ships.

Channel depth is supposed to be 36 feet, but tropical storms in the spring and summer have hastened the silting process to the point where Brunswick harbor pilots are warning shipping companies to expect delays. Pilots sometimes have to wait for high tide to get a vessel safely out to sea or in port.

"We're going to lose potential business if the channel isn't kept at the proper depth," Taylor said.

Port maintenance is a federal responsibility, but state Rep. Alex Atwood, R-St. Simons Island, said he and other local legislators will continue to push for increased funding to maintain the port.

"We're trying to work as a team to deal with this," he said. "It needs to be at an operational level."

Local and state officials also discussed a tier tax that offers incentives to poor counties to attract new businesses. The incentives punish prosperous counties such as Glynn, which cannot offer as much in incentives to prospective employers.

Atwood said there is a good chance of getting legislation to put Glynn County on equal footing with other counties in the state.

Nathan Sparks, director of the Brunswick and Glynn County Development Authority, said the uneven application of the tier tax is a huge issue.

"We've got to do something," he said. "We've seen this cost this county jobs."

State Rep.-elect Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, said emphasis in the 2013 session should be placed on the creation of new jobs.

"I think we have to live with what we have," he said. "Taxpayers have been squeezed to death. Cutting expenditures is the answer. At some point, you have to say no to somebody. If you can't afford it, you can't spend it."

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