Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Republican Candidates for Oconee County House Seat Give Views on Water, Transportation Issues

Tolls, Trains and Arteries

Tommy Malcom thinks interbasin transfers of water should be allowed in Georgia only in extreme circumstances such as severe drought.

Hank Huckaby thinks that such transfers of water from one basin to another would not take place in ideal circumstances, but he thinks the state Environmental Protection Division is doing a good job of protecting the interests of the state’s sending and receiving water basins.

Kirk Shook thinks all options need to be kept open and that House District 113, which he wants to represent, could sell water in the future as a way of producing revenue.

Shook thinks there is too much governmental bureaucracy making it difficult to build facilities such as the planned Hard Labor Creek Reservoir in Walton County, but he notes that taxpayers are “on the hook” for the decision by the two counties to go forward with the project.

Malcom thinks the state needs more reservoirs, but he is concerned about the costs of the Hard Labor Creek project. He said he would not interfere with the project’s progress if he wins the Republican primary and then the November general election.

Huckaby said, if he is elected to represent Oconee County as well as the parts of Clarke, Morgan and Olgethorpe counties that make up the 113th District, he will work to secure funding from the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority to help pay for the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir.

These are among the answers that the three candidates in next week’s Republican primary gave in response to five questions I sent to them on Sunday night. I received the written responses this afternoon.

I asked each of the candidates to state his position on interbasin tranfers and to indicate what role he would play as a legislator regarding the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir project.

I also asked each to state his position regarding any future request by the Oconee County Board of Education for an increase in compensation and to state his policy regarding any future requests for changes in the enabling legislation that controls the form of government in the county.

Finally, I asked each of the candidates to identify the most pressing transportation needs of Oconee County and to indicate how he would go about assisting the county in meeting those needs.

Huckaby said the current compensation for the members of the Oconee County BOE at $1,800 is too low, that the way the BOE went about seeking an increase in that amount last year was a problem, but that he would support a request for an increase in the future “if the process is transparent and there is adequate opportunity for public input.”

Malcom said “Public service is not supposed to be a money maker” and that he would support a request for increased funding for BOE members only after teachers and other workers “are adequately supplied.” He said he did not think adequate funding for other workers is likely to happen “any time soon.”

Shook said he would introduce legislation for a salary increase for the BOE members only if there were “a citizen initiative to affirm the request.” He said the BOE members were underpaid but that work on the board is “a public service.”

Bob Smith, who is retiring as District 113 representative, last year refused to introduce legislation for a salary increase for the BOE, though he did draft legislation that would have made the change.

The BOE members have decided to forego all compensation for the upcoming year because of budget shortfalls.

Shook said that he believes that “citizens should be allowed to propose ballot initiatives and legislation of their own” but that he would work with local elected officials to ensure that the Board of Commissioners “is responsive to the needs of the citizens.”

Malcom said he would want requests by the Board of Commissioners for changes to the local enabling legislation to be unanimously approved before he would take them to the legislature and that he would want the local officials to “conduct a public informational and input process” before making a request of him for a change.

Huckaby also said the current process “has generally worked well” and that “the government closest to the people best reflects the desires, needs and values of the community.”

Huckaby said the most pressing transportation need of Oconee County “is the upgrading of Georgia 316 to a limited access corridor.” He said that the highway at present is unsafe and that improvements “will be important to the quality economic development desired” in the county.

He said he also is concerned about traffic on Mars Hill road and Daniells Bridge. Huckaby said that light rail needs to be considered as part of the transportation mix and that he supports a sales tax increase to fund transportation needs.

Shook said “We should look at privatization efforts, toll lanes, etc., when discussing possible solutions” to transportation problems. He advocated following “a market-based approach” in which “private funding sources” will seek to participate in transportation projects “in an effort to make a profit.”

Malcom listed the Oconee Connector and Mars Hill road upgrade, improvements to SR 316, and the U.S. 441 bypass around Bishop as top transportation needs for the county.

“When I look at a map of Oconee County, I see our road network as critical corridors just like the heart’s arteries,” Malcom said.

If none of the three candidates receives a majority in the July 20 primary, the top two candidates will go into a runoff on Aug. 10.

In November, the Republican winner then will face Suzy Compere, running unopposed in the Democratic primary next week.

Only 987 persons had participated in early voting as of the end of the day today. In the July 2006 primary, 4,145 persons voted in Oconee County.

The exact wording of the questions I asked and the responses from the three candidates are on my site.