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Commission hopefuls talk taxes, new ideas

POSTED: November 5, 2012 12:23 p.m.

Eyes may be glued to the national stage for Tuesday’s election, but two Liberty County Commission races will be decided.
They are District 4 and District 2, the latter to fill the seat vacated by Donald Lovette, who is the presumed BoC chairman after winning the July Democratic primary.
Polls will be open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday at Liberty County’s 13 precincts.

Bowen v. Eby for District 4

District 4 is the only local cross-party race. Republican Ted Eby is challenging Democratic incumbent Pat Bowen.
Both men report taxes are the No. 1 issue.
“They’re always concerned about the taxes, and I think that the board as a whole, we’ve been pretty good about being responsible with their money,” Bowen said.
Eby is more critical.
“We have 159 counties in the state, and we are the seventh-highest in paying tax money,” Eby said. “They’re wondering where this money’s going.”
Bowen said the BoC has not discussed raising the millage. He recalled a recent discussion on designating funds from the Department of Defense Office of Economic Adjustment.
During that meeting, Bowen suggested the county call on those funds — rather than increased property taxes — if needed. The county has not yet designated those funds and has not yet discussed amending the budget.  
Still, Eby told of a retired military homeowner who told him he had to borrow money to pay his property taxes on a home he owns outright.
Residents also want more attention paid to the east end of the county, where much revenue is generated but does not seem to return.
“They’re concerned about fire stations, our unpaved streets,” Eby said. “They’re concerned about nothing is really being done for the taxpayers’ money. Everything really seems to be going into building funds, and nothing is coming back to the people and to their district.”
Capital expenditures also came up, including the proposed Cattle Hammock marina and the justice center constructed in 2011.
“What we’re trying to provide to the people of Liberty County is a recreation area and a place to put a boat in so they can enjoy our natural resources down on the coast,” Bowen said. People have softened upon hearing the explanation, he said.
Eby worries about the county’s debt on the marina and justice center. Because the current SPLOST revenue is not enough to cover justice-center debt, funding remains uncertain beyond the current cycle.
“They didn’t vote T-SPLOST in, so there’s no telling what they’re going to do when it comes time to renew,” Eby said.
County Finance Officer Kim McGlothlin confirmed the debt is projected to be paid off in the next two SPLOST programs.
“If the SPLOST does not pass, his concern is valid,” McGlothlin said. The debt issued for the justice center was $20,785,000, and if all scheduled payments are made, the debt will be paid off in 2029.
“Once I explained to people who was involved — all seven judges, the sheriff and the clerk of courts — they were reasonable,” Bowen said about critics of the building.
The incumbent is the only candidate who has attended most recent BoC meetings. How do voters know the challenger is ready to lead?
“I’m informed because you can look up the minutes on the computer, you can look up the news, and plus we’ve been out campaigning …,” Eby said. “Right now, my job is knowing the concerns of the people.”

Frasier v. Graham for District 2

Vying for District 2 are former commissioner Linda Graham and Justin Frasier, a first-time candidate.
Graham, who served the district from 2000-02, said she does not have special interests or big-money support. She’s disappointed there was no candidate forum because she feels her opponent is “young and inexperienced.”
“I’ve been doing grassroots politicking. I don’t have a lot of money,” Graham said. “I haven’t asked for any endorsement, I haven’t asked for any contributions, but I have personally asked for votes going door-to-door …”
Both Graham and Frasier said taxes are a concern, but other issues are priorities for people in their district.
“They are looking forward to Liberty County moving forward,” Frasier said. “They just want to see Liberty County bringing in new, innovative ideas to the community and how we could progress and move forward.”
“Moving forward” includes establishing business- and industry-friendly policies to increase economic opportunities and ease the property-tax burden.
Graham said the under-used Liberty Transit System should be expanded to enable more people to use it.
Graham also said she spoke with a constituent who cannot afford to pay his property taxes in a lump sum. The man suggested he’d be more comfortable making the payments, such as quarterly.
Graham’s solution would be to work toward a system where every tax bill comes with payment options.
Graham said voters also want more bang for their buck.
“People always question: ‘I don’t think I’m getting enough for my money,’” she said, adding people request more recreation options.
On taxes, Frasier said fiscal responsibility is especially important because District 2 lies mostly within Hinesville, so its property owners are paying more than in other municipalities and unincorporated areas.
“I think before we raise our millage rate, we definitely need to look at any ways that we could cut spending where it’s not necessary,” Frasier said, adding that he would avoid cutting jobs.
Neither gave a specific example of when the county has overspent or overbuilt.
Frasier said he believes in being a good steward of tax money. But he added, “It’s kind of hard to say, ‘OK, I’m against (specific projects).”
Graham said she’s aware of complaints, but she has not kept up with projects to the same degree as when she served.
The candidates have not regularly attended recent BoC meetings. How can voters ensure they are ready to serve?
“For me, personally, having served as a county commissioner, I’m familiar with what a county commissioner’s role is. I feel like I’m pretty up-to-date on your county ordinances, so I feel like that was something that would not have been of great benefit to me,” Graham said.
“I stay on top of everything that’s going on in the county, and I have been to some of the county commission meetings but, most importantly, lately, I’ve been going door-to-door to meet the constituents that I would represent,” Frasier said.


 

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