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New parks, city hall top issues in Sugar Hill

SUGAR HILL - The construction of the first new city park in 30 years - and a city hall meant to last the next 50 - are hot topics in upcoming Sugar Hill city elections.

Each of six candidates voiced their concern for steering the growing city of 17,000 in a responsible direction. Sugar Hill's population has more than tripled since the late 90s, averaging a yearly growth of about 1,000 residents.

Incumbent Mayor Gary Pirkle said Sugar Hill has been immune to some budget shortfalls that have plagued other Gwinnett cities, and the county at large. He credits the city's success to solid management over the 12 years he's been involved with city government.

Among his objectives for a third term would be the completion of his namesake park and an expansion project to E.E. Robinson Park. The city has purchased 20 additional acres for tee-ball and baseball fields - work he hopes to partially fund with SPLOST money, he said.

Pirkle said the best way to meet those goals is to "just stay the course we have planned right now," he said. "We have plans and money for these items. As long as we continue with a council that's moving in that direction, there's no reason we won't have those done."

Challenger Andy Sudderth said his lifelong ties to the community have benefited him in the business world and could be equally useful in the political realm.

A longtime Sugar Hill business owner, Sudderth stands for fiscal responsibility and an openness to the public, he said.

Sudderth said his familiarity with the city - as well as the multitude of residents he's met through his business - would bode well for him as mayor.

"I've been in the city 50 years, and I know all the issues," he said. "I believe I can help bring the city back to the citizens."

Plans are under way for a new, three-story city hall building off West Broad Street in Sugar Hill's downtown, the top floor left vacant for future expansion. Pirkle estimated the cost at $9 million, with $7 million paid in SPLOST funding and the rest from city coffers.

"We will incur no new debt on this project," he said.

Sudderth thinks the project unnecessary and argues the money could be spent in a more universally beneficial way.

City Council

Two of five Sugar Hill City Council seats are also up for grabs.

In the Council Post 4 race, Curtis Northrup said money earmarked for the City Hall project would be better spent on "needed upgrades" within the city. He also takes issue with naming the under-construction Gary Pirkle Park after a sitting politician.

"That just doesn't sit well with me," Northrup said. "I plan to suggest legislation that would prohibit naming anything after a sitting politician."

His opponent, Shohn Tanner, said his experience as a Sugar Hill Planning and Zoning Committee member, small business owner and seasoned youth coach would translate well to the council.

That experience "in the community qualifies me to bring leadership to the exciting opportunities facing Sugar Hill," Tanner said.

In the Council Post 5 race, incumbent Mike Sullivan stresses keeping the city's residential density down while building up the commercial base, he said. He supports the City Hall project and other downtown improvements.

"I want to see (projects) completed. We've got a lot of stuff that's going to happen in the next two years," said Sullivan, who plans to lean on his council experience. "I've really enjoyed helping folks over the last four years."

Challenger Scott Pasell hopes to bring code enforcement "under control" and thinks the under-construction park should be named for a figure in Sugar Hill's history, not Pirkle.

In general, Pasell said Sugar Hill should avoid the mind-set of Keeping Up With the Jones, which he called Suwanee, Buford and Cumming.

"We don't have the business base," Pasell said. "In 20 years, we can build a city hall like (the one proposed). We're putting the cart before the horse."

Council Post 4 member Nick Thompson is not seeking re-election. All seats carry four-year terms.

SideBar:

Mayor

· Gary Pirkle (i)

· Age: 42

· Education: Bachelor's of science in computer engineering, Auburn University; Bachelor's of science in math, Mobile College

· Occupation: Computer engineer

· Political Experience: Sugar Hill mayor, two terms; Sugar Hill City Council, one term

· Family: Wife, Alyson; children, Jake and Scott

· If Elected: "I would like to complete a lot of projects that are currently under way. I'd like to complete some recreational partnerships we're working on. I can't really say who the entities are yet."

· Andy Sudderth

· Age: 50

· Education: North Gwinnett High School

· Occupation: Woodworking business owner

· Political Experience: None

· Family: Wife, Cindy; children, Seth and Shanda; four grandchildren

· If Elected: "I'd like to eliminate the unnecessary spending that does not benefit the citizens. I'd like to be accessible to the citizens of Sugar Hill. I'd like to reduce the code enforcement resentment."

Council Post 4

· Curtis Northrup

· Age: 47

· Education: Bachelor's of arts, Davidson College

· Occupation: Stay-at-home father

· Political Experience: None

· Family: Wife, Georgia; son, Albert

· If Elected: "I just hope to bring a sense of fiscal responsibility to the system. Let's look at other ways we can spend SPLOST funds that would better suit everybody. I've demonstrated in my personal life I have the ability to budget and live within my means."

· Shohn Tanner

· Age: 41

· Education: Some college

· Occupation: General contractor

· Political Experience: Two years on Sugar Hill Planning and Zoning Committee

· Family: Wife, Kay; three children, Heather, Shohn II and Nicholas

· If Elected: He anticipates "continuing the fiscal responsibility that hasn't raised the millage rate or borrowed money for the expansion of services during some tough economic times."

City Council Post 5

· Mike Sullivan (i)

· Age: 45

· Education: Bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering, Georgia Tech

· Occupation: Software manager

· Political Experience: Sugar Hill City Council, one term

· Family: Wife, Linda; daughter, Alyssa

· If Elected: "The most important thing is keeping residential density down. We want to build up the commercial base, continue improving the parks and parks and rec department. I want to keep the progress going."

· Scott Pasell

· Age: 41

· Education: Some college

· Occupation: Mail carrier with U.S. Postal Service

· Political Experience: None

· Family: Wife, Samantha; two children, Stephen and Bethany

· If Elected: "The first thing would be to lower the millage rate. I want to get it in line, where it should be to support services and not waste money on more monuments."