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Barrow commission candidates discuss county's growth

WINDER - For the foreseeable future, growth will continue to test members of Barrow County's Board of Commissioners.

Each candidate recognizes the affect that continued growth has on life in the county - from recreation and education to roads and sewer service - but they differ in how they expect to deal with that growth, if elected to office.

Three candidates are vying for the District 5 seat. The incumbent, David Dyer, said he is running for reelection because he thinks the board still has unfinished business, such as sewer expansion and a new jail project to contend with.

He said continued use of the county's Unified Development Code for construction will have some affect on growth by increasing the quality of homes and emphasizing things such as sidewalks, setbacks and landscaping on commercial properties.

Dyer said he is in favor of impact fees, though he acknowledged that costs get passed on to homeowners. Still, he said, the county is growing at too fast a rate to rely on penny sales tax revenues to expand services.

"I think we need to come up with alternative methods of funding," he said. "We need to be flexible to adapt to change."

Dyer also said he is opposed to a proposal in the city of Auburn that would annex county land to gain more tax revenues. Residents who would be affected should have a say in what happens, he said.

One of his challengers, John King, Sr., said he decided to run after taking some time off from the commission because the county's budget had doubled in the four years since he left office. King said he has a plan to cut spending in the county.

"No one on the commission is going to stand up and say enough is enough," he said. "I'm an outspoken voice."

King said his plan involves freezing the budget at its current level, returning budget surpluses to employees and their departments at the end of each fiscal year and implementing impact fees.

King said he is able to build a consensus among commissioners, and has already discussed his proposal with some members of the board, with positive results. He is also in favor of bringing back the county's volunteer fire department, to supplement the paid department, bringing infrastructure to parts of the county that lack it and having larger homes with less density in the county.

King is also opposed to Auburn annexation, he said, and would like to work with the city to bring more recreation opportunities.

Billy E. Parks, who resigned a seat on Auburn's city council to run for the post, said he would like to be a liaison between the city and the county.

Parks said he knows most residents of District 5 from his years carrying the mail to that part of the county.

"I felt the city was being neglected," he said. "It wasn't being considered in matters of the county."

Parks said he plans to be easily available for questions or concerns. He cited roads, sewer and traffic as the main issues facing the district, and said he, too, was opposed to Auburn's plan to annex much of the district without homeowners' consent.

Parks would like to partner Auburn's water availability with its need for sewer from the county so both can work together. He said he is the right person to negotiate those agreements.

Recreation was another of Parks' main concerns, he said Auburn has a strategic plan that it has not made use of and he would like to ensure that area residents have access to those opportunities. Bringing sewer to the area would allow for restaurants, grocery stores and other commercial growth, he said.

District 6 race between two

The incumbent in the District 6 race, Ben Hendrix, said he is just getting his footing as a commissioner after two years on the board.

Hendrix fast-tracked himself through the commissioner certification program, he said, to prove to his constituents that he was serious about the work. He said he feels the current board works well together despite the fact that members don't always agree and that he feels that what he does for the county will have an impact on future generations.

"We're at a pretty critical point in the growth of the county," he said. "It's pretty mind-boggling to know that it's moving that fast. We've tripled the population in 15 years. Current estimates say we'll double it again in the next four to six years."

Infrastructure to deal with the county's growth is the main issue facing Barrow, Hendrix said. He is in favor of overlay districts to control how different areas are developed, and impact fees to ease the affect of new growth on current residents.

Hendrix also said he would like more parks in his district and would like to upgrade water and sewer availability.

His challenger, Daniel Thomas, said he could not run for the commission for the 30 years he was a Georgia State Patrol officer, member of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation or worked for the Department of Human Resources. Since retiring, he said, he ran for a seat at his first opportunity.

Thomas said he is concerned about growth, and would like to relieve the tax burden that new growth brings, through impact fees and other methods. He said the county's roads need to be improved, and water and sewer service need to be expanded.

The county needs to work closely with the school board, he said, to ensure that the schools are considered when discussing the impact of growth. And he wants to improve parks and recreating in the county as well.

"It seems everything's connected," he said. "The link is growth."

Thomas also emphasized cutting fat from the budget and easing traffic concerns to encourage people to drive through the county and shop there.