FORT VALLEY -- Residents and local officials gathered at the Austin Theatre on Tuesday evening to discuss with state representatives pressing issues facing Peach County.
The state budget, tax reform and increasing state revenue were just a few of the hot topics highlighted for the area, as state Reps. Robert Dickey and Lynmore James, along with Sen. Cecil Staton, gear up for the 2012 legislative session, which begins Monday.
“There are some things we started last year that we didn’t get completed,” said James, the lone Democrat on the panel, singling out tax reform.
Dickey promised there would not be a state tax increase but more of a reshuffling.
“To cut one tax, we have to look at another,” he said.
Those in attendance soon turned the discussion to issues that were more specific to Fort Valley and Peach County, such as the immigration reform passed last year and state funding to Fort Valley State University, as well as talks of consolidating the college with other state institutions.
“Fort Valley State is huge economic engine,” said Peach County Commissioner Michael Dinkins.
James, who has represented the area for 19 years, assured attendees the state was matching federal land grant funding to Fort Valley State, and he didn’t believe Gov. Nathan Deal is looking to consolidate the college.
“I don’t think there are any current proposals to follow through with that,” said Staton, who if re-elected could begin serving Peach County under new redistricting guidelines.
Dickey, who is a peach grower, spoke to the immigration bill.
“We knew it was going to have some unwanted consequences, and it did,” he said, adding not only agriculture was impacted by the bill.
James said he saw immigration as a federal issue.
“Agriculture being the largest industry in this state, we lost billions of dollars in the field this past year because of the bill that we passed,” he said, adding that he hopes to be able to tweak the bill so “these people won’t be afraid and running off to other states like that.”
The event, hosted by the Peach County Chamber of Commerce, drew more than two dozen people.
“We wanted to have this town hall-style meeting with our legislators before the session, so we can send them up there with our instructions,” said Tom Morrill, chairman of the chamber’s board of directors.