DALTON, GA. - A morning breakfast allowed Whitfield County leaders to talk about positive changes in their communities, but leaders also brought up budget difficulties they expect to face in the next year.
"This is going to be a busy year, with a lot to be done, but not much money to do it," County Commission Chairman Mike Babb warned the crowd attending "Good morning, Dalton" on Thursday morning.
Dalton Mayor David Pennington, Varnell Mayor Dan Peeples and Tunnel Hill Mayor Kenny Gowin also spoke at the event hosted by the Dalton-Whitfield County Chamber of Commerce.
A county budget shortfall in 2012 could require staff and expenditure cuts of 20 to 25 percent for the county to maintain a balanced budget, Babb said. He hinted commissioners may consider raising property taxes to bridge the gap.
"We have some hard decisions to make," he said. "We also need to remember that we have the second-lowest millage rate in the state of Georgia."
On a more positive note, Babb said county personnel hope to begin working on Westside Park in the next year, building it on land the county bought between Highway 201 and Mount Vernon Road.
The park will feature a "Miracle Field" to allow special-needs children and adults to play sports. Private fundraising has raised $240,000 to build the field, and the county has a $100,000 grant to use for construction, Babb said.
Pennington talked about how Dalton is addressing the needs of the homeless, recently released prisoners, abandoned animals and lower-income children.
"A community is only as strong as its weakest links," he said. "Dalton provides some of the best safety nets I've seen."
Pennington said he has pledged to work with advocacy organizations to provide homes for residents of "tent city," the area in southern Dalton where many of the city's homeless live.
Since being elected mayor, Pennington has leveled some criticism at school officials for what he called their "bloated" budgets, but on Thursday he praised their work with low-income children. A community center being built will provide much-needed health care and educational opportunities for children before they reach school age, Pennington said.
Gowin noted that Tunnel Hill council members voted to place Sunday package sales of beer and wine on the ballot in November, joining Whitfield County and Dalton in that measure.
Varnell Mayor Peeples elicited some laughs from the group when he asked for dry cleaners, insurance agents and "small-scale" lawyers to consider setting up shop in the town. Recently opened businesses have done well in the growing community, he said.