State representatives meet in Dougherty Co., discuss storm relief funding

State representatives meet in Dougherty Co., discuss storm relief funding

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - State representatives will decide how much funding Southwest Georgia counties will get after Hurricane Michael.

Dougherty County commissioners told five state representatives their main concern is getting enough funding for the storm recovery efforts. Millions of dollars in funding they’ve been trying to get since the January 2017 storms.

County commissioners are faced with a difficult dilemma, how to get more funding for Hurricane Michael relief efforts when they’re still trying to get funding for storms that happened almost two years ago now.

“We most definitely were the most impacted area with respect to those 2017 disasters,” said County Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas.

The tornadoes tore through the county in January 2017, ripping through homes, leaving disaster in it’s wake. A disaster the state had already agreed to give $64.9 million in aid. But that aid is set to be split between three zip codes, with 31705 being right here in Dougherty County.

“We know objectively, from looking at the data and the numbers, that our needs are the greatest from those disasters,” said Cohilas.

But State Representatives said that it’s not that simple.

“Several different concerns, especially monies that are owed to the counties from disasters we had previous to Michael,” said District 151 Representative Gerald Greene.

Commissioners told state representatives about all of their financial needs as far as storm recovery efforts go. Representatives will now take those concerns back to Atlanta with them for the start of the year’s General Assembly session in January.

“It’s going to be a tough session as far as monies go,” said Greene.

The state agreed to give $270 million during its special called session last month. But there’s an agreed upon consensus that that’s not enough money, and a main concern, if homes can’t be fixed soon, people are going to start to leave and not come back.

“Some of them will maybe settle in other communities. But more than likely, they will probably leave South Georgia all together,” said District 154 Representative Winfred Dukes.

With the next General Assembly session coming up in January, state representatives met with groups throughout the county that rely on state funding. They’ll have to take into consideration all of their requests, discussing them with other legislators and the governor in Atlanta next month.

School board members also met with state representatives on Thursday to ask for money to create a larger pre-K program.

Dougherty County School Superintendent Kenneth Dyer said the school system needs more state funding because half of the students in the area who are eligible for pre-K can’t go because there aren’t enough slots.

Dyer wants to turn the old Sylvester Road Elementary School into a center for pre-K classes. He said doing so would help them close the education gap they’re seeing in the county.

“Some kids come in who have been in pre-K, they know their numbers, they know their letters, they know how to spell their name, they know their colors, they can count. And some kids come into first grade who haven’t been in pre-K or kindergarten and they’re trying to learn how to hold a pencil. That’s very difficult to close that learning gap when it starts so wide,” explained Dyer.

Dyer wants to get 10 new pre-K classes.

Funding decisions will start to be made at the General Assembly session, which will start on Jan. 14.

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