Saturday, October 15, 2016

Candidates For Oconee County Board Of Commissioners Told Attendees At Candidate Forum Why They Should Be Elected

E-SPLOST Discussed

Chuck Horton was the first asked the question, and he said voters should choose him for the Board of Commissioners in the November election because of his experience.

Horton, 62, has served two terms on the Board of Commissioners and two terms of the Board of Education, and he said he has experience with the issues the county will face in the next two years.

Ben Bridges was asked to speak next, and he said Oconee County voters should elect him to fill the unexpired term for Post II commissioner because “Oconee’s in my heart. Oconee’s in my blood.”

Bridges, 50, has lived in Oconee County all his life, and living in the county and growing up in the county have given him insights that will benefit the Commission, he said.

Marcus Wiedower said he should be the voters’ choice because of his experience in planning.

Wiedower, 41, worked for Beall, Gonnsen and Co., specializing in land planning, engineering and property zoning issues before moving to custom home building. He said his planning experience has helped him understand the ripple effects of Commission decisions.

The three candidates gave these reasons why they should be elected in response to the final question posed by moderator Charles Bullock in a candidate forum on Thursday (Oct. 13) night at the University of North Georgia.

Oconee County School Superintendent Jason Branch also addressed the forum, giving background on the Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales tax that also will be on the ballot in November.

Source Of Questions

The questions–and responses–sometimes mirrored those given by the candidates in the first election forum on Sept. 15 and in one-on-one interviews I did with Bridges, Horton, and Wiedower.


But there were new questions as well.

Bullock, a professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia, told me that the 11 questions he asked came from the forum organizers, the Oconee County Rotary, the North Oconee Rotary, and the University of North Georgia Student Government Association.

The forum took place from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the University of North Georgia Oconee Campus.

About 75 people joined the forum, though some, including the roughly 20 students, came and went as the evening progressed.

Jerry Sullivan, CEO of the Oconee Campus of UNG, served as host.

Sewer Issues Prominent

The first question Bullock asked was for the candidates to indicate the three most important short-term needs of the county. All are running as Republicans in the special election to fill Post II on the BOC.

All three listed sewers in their answers.

All three also listed the need for improved communication between the Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education.

Horton and Wiedower also mentioned space needs for county administrative offices.

Bridges mentioned roads and bridges.

Calls Creek

Horton said he would not vote to condemn property to run a sewer line down Calls Creek.

Wiedower said he wants to consider short- and long-term issues involving sewers, but he did not say what he would do regarding the proposed sewer line down Calls Creek.

Bridges said he did not want to condemn properties for a sewer line down Calls Creek.

The county finds itself with inadequate sewer capacity and increased demand as the economy has improved and the county is experiencing commercial and residential growth.

All three candidates called for a comprehensive approach to the problem and criticized the Commission for approaching the problem piecemeal.

Daniells Bridge Road Flyover

Bullock asked the three candidates to state their position on the proposed flyover of SR Loop 10 to link the Oconee Connector at Home Depot to Daniells Bridge Road

Wiedower said he was in favor of the flyover, provided the design doesn’t negatively impact neighborhoods.

Horton said he is opposed.

Bridges said he still needs more time to decide what he would do with that proposal.

Fire Department

Wiedower said he didn’t see the county converting its Volunteer Fire Department to a professional one in the foreseeable future.

Horton said the county could not afford to make that transition.

Bridges said the existing department was very well equipped.

All three praised those who serve in the volunteer department.

Views On Development

Wiedower said how the county is to develop in the future should be a community decision.

He said the county should develop a “binding” community plan that determines where development should take place and its type.

Horton agreed that the county needed to have a comprehensive plan and to stick with it.

Horton said it had been his experience that “land planners” were the ones who tell the commissioners that those community plans “are only a guide” when they want to make zoning changes.

Bridges said the county needs to focus on infrastructure first in managing future development.

Education SPLOST

Superintendent Branch told the audience that the Board of Education put the renewal of the 1 percent sales tax on the ballot more than a year before the existing tax expires to get a sense of how the community wants to fund capital projects in the county’s school system.


If the tax is turned down, the BOE will have to turn to property tax increases as the only alternative, he said.

The new Education SPLOST is proposed to run for five years and generate a maximum of $45 million.

The issue on the ballot also authorizes the BOE to borrow $24.5 million in 2017 to build the county’s seventh elementary school and to add 20 classrooms to Oconee County High School.

Branch used much of his time at the forum to highlight achievements of the county’s schools and to provide projections regarding future growth and its impact on school plans.


The first video below is of the entire forum, with the comments of Superintendent Branch at the end.

In the second video, I separated out the comments of Superintendent Branch to make it easier for those who are mostly interested in the Education SPLOST question.

Sarah Bell helped me with the video recording of the session.

OCO: Candidate Forum 10 13 2016 from Lee Becker on Vimeo.

Dr. Branch did take questions from the audience, and they are at the end of the video.

OCO: Candidate Forum E SPLOST from Lee Becker on Vimeo.


Dark Horse said...

"Bridges mentioned roads and bridges" :-)

Rosemary Woodel said...

Thanks so much for this. I couldn't be there so it is very useful to have this information.

Xardox said...

1. Of course the BOE wants more money, despite a budget surplus this year.
They protect that Fund Balance. Revenues have finally reached "pre-recession levels"; pay no attention to all of that growth in north Oconee with all of that sales tax going somewhere.
I finally gave up trying to find a budget for the school system.
2. The underlying question of all of the questions to the BOC candidates is the future of our county with all of the growth coming our way.
We'd best get a zoning plan with some authority according to the citizens now, as that good old "tax base increase" is what the commissioners like to hear.

Anonymous said...

For those who are concerned about sewer (either against Calls Creek or for building a new plant) ... Why in the world would you support either Ben Bridges or Chuck Horton? Horton was on the Board of Commissioners that kicked the proverbial can down the road, causing the situation we are in now! And Ben Bridges has the classic "wait and see" attitude that also stalled the sewer decision and led to our current team situation.

To me, neither of those candidates have the testicular fortitude to make those hard decisions. Not saying Wiedower is my guy, either... But if past performance of one candidate is indicative of future behavior, and the other candidate doesn't give a stance on anything other than his lineage... It's just not as clear-cut as some would like for it to be!