The state Senate passed a $25 billion version of the state budget this week that could lead to a few good things. At the same time, it omits at least one item for which some folks in Coastal Georgia have been waiting.
The good includes pay raises for 200,000 teachers and state employees. It needs little explaining that teachers are deserving of a raise, even it is only a 2 percent bump. Teachers are important cogs in the wheels of education. They are mostly a dedicated lot who work long hours, put up with miles of red tape and bureaucratic wrangling and pour their efforts into impacting young lives. A small raise may mean a few more good teachers stay in the profession a little longer.
Other state employees like child protection workers could see a 19 percent raise. This could go a long way in attracting and retaining quality employees in positions that are taxing and see a lot of turnover. The pay hikes, including a 3 percent one-time bonus for retired state employees, are set to cost the state $360 million.
Another nice addition in the budget is the inclusion of $485,000 to live-stream state senate committee meetings on the internet.
Then there is the glaring omission that will no doubt leave many people in Camden County with a sour taste in their mouths.
Two years ago, $1.1 million was approved to design a new technical college campus in Kingsland. The college is needed, folks like Camden Partnership Director Sheila McNeill say, to produce a skilled people who can support the mission at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay.
Despite being told since then that the campus was a high priority, Kingsland will have to wait at least another year to get its tech college. Meanwhile, Hall County, Gov. Nathan Deal’s home county, is getting $73 million for a technical college, a price nearly three times higher than the proposed $25 million for a Camden campus.
“I think it’s been eight years since we’ve been asking for a technical college,” McNeill said this week. “It’s disappointing, but we’ve got to keep doing this.”
Members of the local delegation like including Sen. William Ligon, R-St. Simons Island, and Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, feel the same way.
“We will have to stress to the governor’s office in the off-season how important this is to workforce development, just like the technical college in (Deal’s) home county of Hall,” Spencer said. “We have waited long enough and it’s time to get more vocal.”
McNeill and Spencer are correct. Camden County is the largest county in the state without a technical college and the only one with a military base that has no technical college to support its operations. This is not to say that Hall County is not deserving of what it could get, but considering its proximity to metro Atlanta and the implications locally for Camden County, it seems a wiser choice would have been saving $50 million in this budget to get things moving in Coastal Georgia.
This feels like another instance in which the metro area gets what it wants to the detriment of the coast.
But what is done is done. Now, as they say they plan to, our local delegation must continue the fight for a technical college campus in Camden County with the hopes that next year will finally be the year.