Georgia’s long history in regional planning and organization is made possible largely through an established regional-organizational structure. The state’s regional commissions (RCs) serve Georgia’s city and county governments by functioning as multicounty planning and development agencies. Their role as regional planning organizations (RPOs) is not, however, unique to Georgia. More than 500 RPOs exist in 47 states nationwide and serve 90 percent of the nation’s counties and municipalities. While they are called RCs in Georgia, comparable organizations in other states are commonly known as area development districts, business development corporations, and councils of governments.
Role of Regional Commissions
Georgia’s RCs are involved in a broad range of activities related to coordinated and comprehensive planning, land-use development, historic preservation, aging services, revolving loan funds, business retention and development, affordable housing, tourism, workforce development, coordinated transportation, geographic information systems, and disaster-mitigation planning. In 2014 twelve RCs covered the state, with individual headquarters in Athens (region 5), Atlanta (region 3), Augusta (region 7), Camilla (region 10), Columbus (region 8), Darien (region 12), Eastman (region 9), Gainesville (region 2), Griffin (region 4), Macon (region 6), Rome (region 1), and Valdosta (region 11).
Staff members in each RC serve as resources for their respective local governments, area businesses, and communities. They provide expertise in federal and state programs and grants-in-aid, public policy and fiscal accountability, and technical assistance to local and state agencies. In many ways the RCs exist as extensions of every city hall and courthouse in the state, offering specialized staff assistance and services unavailable on a local level.
History and Organization
Created in the early 1960s, the state’s RCs began as area planning and development commissions (APDCs). At the time, Georgia was one of the first states to allow local governments to voluntarily join together and assess themselves local dues in order to hire professional staff for their mutual benefit. By 1969, 153 of Georgia’s 159 counties had joined one of the state’s eighteen APDCs, making the state a national model for regional cooperation. The APDCs were later reconstituted as regional development centers (RDCs) in 1989 with the passage of the Georgia Planning Act, which gave the agencies the responsibility of coordinated and comprehensive planning statewide as part of the Regional Preservation Services System (RPSS). In 2009 the RCs were again reconstituted, which changed their organizational structure and service areas by combining eight of the sixteen RDC regions to form the current twelve RC regions.
An executive director oversees each RC, supervising staff and facility operations. The executive director reports to a governing regional council, comprising the following members as required by state law:
- Chief elected official of each member county (county chairperson)
- One mayor from each member county
- Three residents from the region appointed by the governor
- Two non-public members, one appointed by the lieutenant governor and a second by the Speaker of the House of Representatives
Each RC council provides commission oversight and approval in work programs, annual budgets, and committee structure. The twelve RCs meet regularly throughout the year, as determined by each region.
Statewide collaboration and coordination among the twelve RCs is provided through Georgia Association of Regional Commissions (or GARC). This organization serves to promote the RCs and represent their collective, regional interests before state and federal partners.
Funding and Programs
The RCs depend on a variety of funding sources to support their regional services and operations. State and federal administrative contracts and per capita dues, which are paid annually by member local governments, are the primary source of funding. The revenue from these local annual dues is used to match state and federal administrative grants, leveraging larger sums with local sources. These contracts programmatically enable partnerships with state and federal agencies that benefit local governments. Examples of these partnering agencies include:
- Appalachian Regional Commission (planning, development, and services)
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (hazard mitigation planning)
- Georgia Department of Community Affairs (planning)
- Georgia Department of Human Services (aging services, coordinated transportation)
- Georgia Department of Labor (workforce investment)
- Georgia Department of Natural Resources (water planning and historic preservation)
- Georgia Department of Transportation (planning)
- U.S. Economic Development Administration (economic development strategies)
The RCs also offer other forms of specialized assistance to their local governments, such as geographical information systems mapping, meeting facilitation, and technical research for the preparation of special reports or studies. It is similarly not uncommon for RCs to respond to special requests or needs of member local governments when they are confronting unique issues. RCs, more broadly, offer a forum for “neutral ground,” where cities and counties convene to discuss regional issues and initiatives while determining policies for solutions. This collaborative function remains central to the agencies’ mission and has been unchanged since their inception.