Candidates Contend for Commission Chair at Chamber Forum

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Incumbent Commission Chair Bill Simonds found himself defending his record last Thursday night as he fought for reelection against five other candidates in a public forum. Sponsored by the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce, the forum featured all candidates running for commission chairman, allowing them to show voters what makes them the best candidate for the position. Running against Simonds are Charles Fish, Tom Ledford, Ronny Collins, Garnett Webb, and Billy Callahan, all present at last week’s event.

As early as the introduction, Simonds defended his territory. Here, the chairman took the opportunity to list the accomplishments and achievements of his administration, although he said he wished he had accomplished more. His list of accomplishments included, applying for a USDA grant for a water extension project in the county. The grant, Simonds said, is for one million four hundred thousand dollars with a 40-year loan for one million eight hundred thousand dollars. His administration also successfully refinanced the county courthouse filling the coffers with an extra $674,000. In the litany, though, only one item addressed job creation, a topic that dominated conversation through out the night.

“The Fannin County Development Authority,”

Simonds said,

“was instrumental in facilitating the relocation of Pulse Medical (to Fannin County) creating 20 new jobs.”

Former Post One Commissioner Garnett P. Webb said that one of his big objectives is to bring jobs to the county.

“The lack of good paying jobs for our high school graduates has got to improve,”

he said. To do accomplish this, Webb said we he would work with the Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Authority to bring jobs to the county. Inevitably, the job-creation theme permeated through out the candidates. In his introduction Collins said that the biggest thing we need in this county is jobs, which he vowed he would definitely work on.

“I ran into a lot of people,”

he explained,

“who told me their experiences of being turned down in Fannin County when they wanted to bring any industry here. I know we’ve been told that’s never happened, but I’ve been told otherwise.”

Offering an example of this, Collins told the story of someone he met, a factory owner, who sought to move his factory to Fannin County, but was turned down. Rather, he moved his factory to Union County and is now the largest employer in that County.

“Commissioners have to welcome these factories with open arms and do everything we can do to get them in here,”

he asserted. Ledford expressed a similar sentiment, but focused more on the need for infrastructure, saying that the only significant infrastructure is around the cities.

“We do need jobs in this county,”

he said,

“(but) I think we need to start with helping our existing businesses in the county, to help them grow, help them create jobs.”

For his part Fish also emphasized a need for jobs in the county.

“There’s (sic) a lot of people suffering and struggling,”

he said, adding,

“We need things (jobs) in here that are seasonal and full-time for the people here; we need to have opportunity.”

The candidates seemed to agree on avoiding tax increases and cutting services in the face of a declining tax digest. Callahan said he would look at making cuts, but in jobs or services and would avoid raising taxes. However, he did not give specific examples of what cuts he would make. Collins said he would not be interested in raising taxes or cutting services either, saying, “We need to manage money better.” To offset lacking revenue from an ailing digest, Collins suggested registering four-wheelers in the county. For his part, Fish stressed greater efficiency in government operations, adding that raising taxes and cutting services is never a good idea in a bad (recessional) economy. Ledford also encouraged more efficiency and was not in favor of raising taxes or cutting services. As Post One Commissioner Webb said he had never voted for raising taxes and said he favored spending money inside the county. Simonds banked on his record, emphasizing that his record shows that he does not favor raising taxes and said that the budget must now be “fine-tuned.” Simonds’ administration, however, has cut services. The most glaring example of this is the road department, when Simonds cut numerous jobs from the road department in October 2011, a move which Webb publically criticized.

When it came to TSPLOST (Transportation Special Project Local Option Sales Tax), all candidates were skeptical, doubting whether Fannin County would receive full revenue from the one-cent sales tax. Callahan noted that the project will yield $16 billion in revenue over a ten-year period and Fannin will receive its first payment in 2013. According to Callahan, Fannin will not receive its next payment until 2020. Here, Simonds stood out from the rest of the candidates and fully supported the tax, saying,

“We need the money to build roads in Fannin County.”

The comment was a prelude to a subsequent question regarding the controversial Highway 5-McCaysville by-pass project.

A McCaysville resident, Webb was neutral, admitting the good and bad of the project. The good, for Webb, is the traffic relief the road would offer; the bad is that the by-pass would take business away from the town. Callahan agreed, saying the road would eliminate more jobs than it would create. Fish, Collins, Simonds, and Ledford, however, supported the by-pass; they felt it would not only improve traffic, but create jobs. Fish, though was concerned about funding, but Simonds felt the funding would come from TSPLOST money.

In the end, Simonds argued that the next administration will be faced with challenges and that the county needed some one with experience to handle them. Collins, Callahan, and Ledford said if elected they would focus on job creation and Fish said he would be fair and for the people.

Voters have over a month to continue to vet the candidates and decide which one is best for the job.

FYN will continue to bring you Election 2012 coverage

The Fannin County Chamber of Commerce will hold the next forum this Thursday, June 21st at 6:00 P.M. at the Fannin County High School Performing Arts Center.

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