Inspired by input from local business leaders and residents, the chamber's Governmental Affairs Committee hosted the political forum for public awareness.
Mayors from each Bartow County municipality, with the exception of White's Chris Allen, who was unable to attend, addressed chamber guests on the future of their respective cities.
Each mayor noted the challenges still facing local governments as the economy slowly recovers, but Bartow's leaders were optimistic about the future and opportunities that lie ahead.
The largest topic of the night was Emerson's heavily anticipated LakePoint sports complex. The project -- estimated to cost approximately $1 billion over a 10-year build-out and create 2,000 to 4,000 jobs -- took center stage.
Emerson Mayor Al Pallone presented the challenges facing the city despite hopeful future revenues. An aging infrastructure plagues the city in the face of rapid growth. Despite obstacles that remain, Pallone and other presenters were grateful for the windfall.
"We started talking to LakePoint Properties and Perfect Games back early summer, June, of last year and just saw that their business model was incredible. ... What they're talking about is turning Emerson into a major sports complex," Pallone said. "We recognize this is incredible for the county and really incredible for the city of Emerson.
"Emerson really has entered a new paradigm. This is not going to be the same Emerson."
Alluding to Emerson's news of future growth, Cartersville Mayor Matt Santini commented on the ability for municipal leaders to come together for such discussions. Comparing the relationship between cities and the county, Santini noted that the contrast seen in other counties is a benefit for Bartow.
"One of the big reasons I think, among others, that LakePoint is coming and the reason why other companies are attracted to this area is all the local governments get along with each other," Santini said. "The fact that we are sitting in the same room and getting along, smiling and meaning it. On the horizon for us, the growth of Emerson -- what's good for Emerson is good for all of us. We're going to benefit, I'm hoping, as much as Emerson, as well as everyone in this room will."
County Administrator Steve Bradley spoke on behalf of Commissioner Clarence Brown who was unable to attend due to a prior commitment. Bradley noted that several challenges lie ahead for the county in the face of diminishing property taxes and a demand for county services, including an expanding county jail. He did, however, point out that sales tax revenues were slowly gaining ground.
"On the positive side, for the first time since this recession started, we saw growth in our sales tax in 2010. It wasn't a lot but it was growth," Bradley said.
Evan King, mayor of Adairsville, spoke about the management of growth while retaining historical character. King also looked forward to the expansion of the city with the possibility of annexing land for a growing industrial base as well as the desire for a widened Highway 140.
Dexter Jones, mayor of Kingston, was direct with his depiction of the city's challenges. His emphasis was on the need for a sewage system, noting, however, that the city's water system was producing much-needed revenue.
"As far as the infrastructure needs of Kingston we, to be honest about it, we're just about as rock bottom as we can possibly be. We're sitting without a sewer delivery system, and until we can get that in place, we're going to be honestly struggling," Jones said.
Cary Rhodes, mayor of Taylorsville, explained his city's unique location incorporated in both Bartow and Polk counties. Describing Taylorsville as rural and quiet away from major roadways and high-growth areas, Rhodes commented that remaining a small town is "not all bad."
Steve Worthington, Euharlee councilman and mayor pro-tem, spoke in lieu of Mayor Kathy Foulk. Proudly noting that the city came in well under the 2010 operating budget, Worthington expects to do the same in the coming year.
The city looks forward to creating a community master plan and breaking ground on the Joe Cowan Recreational Complex, a 53-acre recreational site behind city hall.
Santini expressed Cartersville's position as poised for growth when it returns. Currently he looks forward to a Gateway Beautification project breaking ground in the spring to aesthetically improve Main Street. He also felt optimistic with the addition of Opportunity Zones and the confident outlook of the city's largest utility customers.
State Rep. Paul Battles, R-Cartersville, followed the mayors and Bradley with a presentation of upcoming needs and challenges facing the county. He spoke on the issue of Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax legislation and the votes that will determine their fate. Two SPLOST referendums would be presented, one for local use and the other for regional transportation funds. Specifically mentioning the possible need for a water treatment facility to be added in south Bartow, Battles urged the audience to vote in favor of upcoming SPLOST to fund such projects.
"I believe we will be mandated and we will ultimately have to build this treatment plant and provide for that sewer capacity, especially on the southeast [of the county]," Battles said. "If we fail to plan for this now, then our plan right now is to fail. We only have a very short time frame to make a decision."