BOC chairman hopefuls talk tax and trust in forum

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

BUFORD — Gwinnett residents got their second crack at the candidates for their next Board of Commissioners chairman Tuesday night, as the second public forum was held at The Bridge Community Church in Buford.

The four candidates, in turn, got one of their first organized cracks at expressing their views on a potential transportation SPLOST, which would presumably come to ballots in 2012 in the form of a 1 percent sales tax to fund transportation projects.

A regional roundtable, which would include whoever is elected as Gwinnett’s next chairman in the March 15 special election, would decide whether to put the issue to voters.

Most candidates said Tuesday they were opposed to the idea.

“I think the state legislative body basically punted on that,” Libertarian candidate Will Costa said. “I think we should vote against it.”

Added candidate Larry Gause, a Tucker resident: “I think the government has shown so far that whenever they approve a SPLOST for something, they spend it on something else.”

Duane Kissel, a 30-year veteran of law enforcement, agreed that the proposed project, which would include several counties across metro Atlanta, probably wouldn’t result in a fair shake for Gwinnett’s population of more than 800,000.

“This county’s going to be one of the largest generators of revenue, yet we’re only going to get about 15 percent of that money back for our own projects,” he said. “There are greater problems that need to be dealt with.”

Chair hopeful Charlotte Nash said that transportation improvements in Gwinnett are along the lines of “critical, basic things that need to be done.”

“It would be up to the public to vote their conscience, to look at that project list and see if it’s something they would agree with,” she said.

When asked about their three top priorities, all four candidates stressed the need for regaining the public’s trust and ethics reform, as well as correcting a bulbous county budget.

It was in the final “top priority” that they differed most.

Kissel emphasized reducing the tax burden on residents, referencing the construction of Coolray Field with taxpayer money as a prime example of what not to do.

“Those are the kinds of things that concern me about the way your money — our money, I pay taxes here too — is being spent,” he said. “We need to look at what we’re buying and how we’re buying it.”

Nash pointed to creating jobs, while Gause said he would prioritize code enforcement.

“We really need to work on making sure the foreclosed homes are being maintained by the banks that own them,” Gause said. “You’re not going to draw businesses to Gwinnett County if all they see is homes and neighborhoods that look like they’ve been forgotten.”

Costa raised the unique idea of incorporating more of Gwinnett’s smaller towns and neighborhoods into cities, saying it would reduce the cost and service load on the county and serve taxpayers better.

“The money that’s closest to city hall is going to serve you better,” he said.

Another chairman’s forum will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Lilburn City Hall.