The forum was sponsored by the Spalding County Farm Bureau and Griffin-Spalidng Chamber of Commerce, with ice cream provided by Bruster’s. “We hope you able to collect information,” said Chamber of Commerce Chairman John Tidwell.
All the county candidates running in opposed races turned out to take questions. The questions were submitted and screened in advance by the forum’s hosts.
Candidates were seated in alphabetical order and questioned in a rotating order, with each were given the opportunity for opening and closing statements at either end of the questions per each race, The four candidates for Probate judge, Gerald Bailey, Jan Hunt, Kaye Norris and Cary Pope, were the first group to be questioned.
Their first questions was: Why do you want to serve?
Hunt said, “I love my job. I been there 23 years, I have the compassion needed for the job.”
Norris said, “I am committed to this community. This is my home. I know I can be the person to represent Spalding County.”
Pope said, “I have 43 years experience in estates, wills, bank covenants. All of that experience dovetails nicely with my choice for a second career.”
Bailey said, he wants “to maintain the relationship with the people of Spalding County, to give service to the people of Spalding County. It’s not just an 8 to 5 job. I’ll be ready.”
Next they were asked, what can be done to modernize Probate Court?
Norris said, “I’d like to see it modernized today. Currently they use manual book keeping. “I’d like to see accounting software purchased. The money for it could come from the court council.”
Pope said, “it’s difficult to say. Continued education of employees and cross training in use of technology.”
Bailey said, “the first six months, I will not make any changes. I feel like I need to see how the job is done. I believe Judge (DeWitt) Simonton, established a good office and has been sensitive to the needs of the community. After that I will see.”
Hunt said, “we do have computer bookkeeping and use a Quicken ledger, but maintain handwritten books as a backup. As for the court system, we are bound by the laws of Georgia and do what is necessary to serve the people of Spalding County.”
They were also asked about the criteria for gun permits.
Pope said, “fingerprint and background checks (for applicants) at the Sheriff’s Office. Let him do his job. Then issue permits if there is no problems.”
Bailey said, “make sure the person is ready to carry a gun, including metal stability, even if they pass the background check.”
Hunt said, “we are bound by the law. Permits are issued only after a thorough background check by the GBI and FBI. Sometimes people don’t tell us the truth. It’s just as simple as ‘they are a nice person’ or not ‘if they qualified or not.’”
Norris said “ditto to what my opponent said.”
The two candidates for Clerk of Court, incumbent Marcia Norris and challenger Edith Ray, each touted their experience in the office and the local court system. Their first of two questions was what improvement would ypu like to see in the clerk’s office.
Norris said, “the clerks need to brought into the 21st century. Mu budgetary request each year if for funds to do that. Last year it was cut again, do to budget constraints. I went with the judges to get a technology fee approved by the General Assembly. We can start collecting a tech fee in a fund set aside just for technology upgrades.”
Ray said, “there are things we can do now. Surrounding counties in the judicial circuit has websites – Fayette, Upson and even Pike County.”
When asked about the clerk’s role in property tax appeals, Ray said, “it was a new area for the clerk, the Board of Equalization is appointed by the Grand Jury to hear appeals.”
Norris said the clerk is given the responsibility for that board, with three members and three alternates. The board gets 40 hours of training, then appeals are scheduled through the clerk. Property owners have the right to appeal to Superior Court after the Board of Equalization hearing, but have to pay a portion of the tax bill, 85 percent, then once a determination is made, the get a refund or not."
The four candidates for District 3 County Commissioner are incumbent Bob Gilreath, fellow Democrats Rita Johnson and Greg McClarin, as well as Republican Michael Renew. They were first asked, if elected, what are your priorities.
Johnson said, “its important to have the meeting streamlined online, so residents can see what we do.”
McClarin said, “I want to be able to address any concerns they (the people of the district) have, which are within this office.”
Renew said, “In order for government to be good, it needs to return to the people, getting more involved and working together.”
Gilreath said, there have been a lot of changes good for this county. The board backed me up in taking vehicles away from employees (who been allowed to take them home) and I’ve been told, so far we’ve saved $100,000 in just six months. Thank goodness we have a board working together.”
They were next asked their opinion of the transportation sales tax or T-SPLOST.
McClarin said, “the thing is a great idea. Anything that brings revenue to repair bridges and streets and brings jobs is good, It will cost a little, but it’s worth it. Anything to make our community better.”
Renew said, “I’m against it. The economy is down and this is a tax increase.” He said he also opposed, “the strong arming by the state,” with the increased required matching funds for the regions that don’t pass it.
“I’m not against jobs,” Renew said, “but there’s no guarantee the jobs will be given here. Let’s do it for our county instead. The money stays in our county.”
Gilreath said, “I don’t like tax increases, and I was initially against it. but this is probably the easiest to get the roads and streets back in shape they should be. With the T-SPLOST the local sales tax goes up to 8 percent, but will go back to 7 percent when the school SPLOST expires in three years.”
Johnson said, “I walked the streets during my campaign. I see why it’s needed. We need business and jobs which bring revenue. By building bridges and fixing roads, I believe Spalding County will be the place to be.”
They were next asked about the future of the Griffin-Spalding Airport.
Renew said, “it’s been argued it will bring jobs here. I’m researching it. It’s a tough gamble, a risk in this economy. They tell us a plane on the tarmac is like a building for tax purposes. I think there’s a better use for the money than an airport.”
Gilreath said, I’ve been very adamant about this. I don’t like the way it was presented and money spent. If this is a success, it’s good.”
Johnson said, “I think it’s great. It will create more jobs. It did not raise property tax or cause one job layoff. Something is needed to be the county we want to become.”
McClarin said, “I’m in favor of it. Yes, it will likely cost. but any revenue we can get coming in our county can help us through this process.”
The two District 4 county commission candidates are incumbent Eddie Freeman and challenger Bart Miller Jr. They two were asked about the airport, priorities and T-SPLOST.
Miller said “we need an airport like I need to be on the moon, I think the people should have had the option to vote for it. It’s a terrible, bad location with two schools there as they are going out. They should have let the people vote on it. There’s no rush to spend $70 million on it.”
Freeman said he was a member of the airport board. “The money’s state and federal, with 90 percent federal and 2.5 percent state. It’s going to be expensive to open, but will have all industry coming in. It’s a win-win situation.”
When asked about priorities, if elected, to improve the county, Miller said, “there needs to be cut in personnel in the county. We study it, we study it to death with all these studies.”
As an example he cited the Senior Center. “We’re spending $3 million. It wasn’t that much whe it was first sold to us in 2005, and now it’s $3 million and not open yet.”
Freeman said, “I felt we have the best job we could. We’re in the process of moving now. If it’s not broke don’t fix it.”
Regarding the T-SPLOST, Freeman said, “I have specialized in transportation. This is a good fit. We get the money we need for the projects on the list, and it gets us matching funds to more projects we need in Spalding County like intersections, road paving and dirt roads.”
Miller questioned the projects on the list, including the airport and bicycle paths, and who would pay for it. “Who wants to come here. they tax you to death and take three days away from the dump.”
Those at the forum also heard from city and county transportation planner Anthony Dukes on the TSPLOST and were given a brochure from Transportation Progress for Spalding, the local T-SPLOST supporters. Dukes said the sales tax, over 10 years would raise $946 million across the 10-county Three Rivers region, which he said, “doesn’t go to Atlanta it stays in the region.”
Dukes said $74.9 million of that goes to projects on the list, which have a regional impact. There’s another $22.9 million to address local needs and matching funds.
“We are one of the few communities to include a bike pedestrian component,” he said, “with a sevem mile stretch from Heron Bay to UGA, which gives access to recreation and growing residential areas.”
He took questions, and in response, explained that all 10 counties vote and passes if carried by a majority of voters of all 10 counties in Three Rivers Regional Commission. “If if fails in Spalding County, but passes in Troup, Coweta and Carroll, the three largest counties, it still passes.”