With the COVID-19 situation in Georgia appearing like it will stretch to at least this fall, candidates in the Republican and Democratic primaries for county commission District 3 are offering their views on how Gwinnett County should handle its post-pandemic recovery.
On Aug. 11, Republican Party voters will decide between Ben Archer and Matt DeReimer while Democratic Party voters will choose between Jasper Watkins III and Derrick Wilson. The winners of each party’s runoff will then face-off in the general election in November.
The candidates were asked what they saw as the biggest issue facing the district. They were also asked how they would, if elected to the commission, handle the response to the county’s post-COVID-19 response, including service delivery and handling of county finances in the event that the pandemic causes a hit to county revenues.
Watkins is a U.S. Army retiree who was the Democratic Party’s nominee for District 3, said the biggest issues facing the district is transportation infrastructure. As for post-COVID-19 recovery, however, he said the county is in a position to be able to navigate and economic fallout from the pandemic because of its pre-COVID financial footing, which he described as strong.
He said that the county can seek reimbursement for expenses incurred to address the pandemic. That being said, however, he also said he would look at the possibility of reallocating special revenue funds and tax-related funds, as well as look at user fees and charges.
“I would ask all Gwinnettians to roll up their sleeves and pay a little more for permits such as fishing, hunting, etc., to benefit portions of our community affected by COVID-19 that will not be covered by the money made available through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, more commonly as the CARES Act,” Watkins said.
Wilson believes economic development is the biggest issue facing District 3. He said the county should look at protecting essential services provided to residents as it grapples with its post-COVID-19 situation. He also said the county needs to look at ways it can keep the local economy going.
“In the event of budget cuts, we can not afford to cut essential services,” Wilson said. “We should look at current projects and determine solutions that yield big financial boosts with a minimal completion time to jumpstart the economy. As things begin to level out, we can shift resources to other projects that will improve quality of life and drive economic recovery.”
DeReimer said he sees a disconnect between public safety funding and problems facing the community as the biggest issue facing District 3. As for handling Gwinnett’s post-COVID-19 situation, he said the county should identify redundancies and look back to what worked and what didn’t work in the response to the Great Recession, particularly how the county handled its budgets back then.
“Then, I would combine proven strategies with zero-based budgeting to help justify expenses,” DeReimer said. “These steps also include reevaluating projects and putting off wants for the time being in favor of needs, just as I would do in my personal finances. I would ask residents, businesses, and employees alike to treat Gwinnett’s budget the same as their personal budget during a down season.
“With that said, some departments cannot afford to see a drop in resources, like our public safety departments, Water Resources, and even portions of the Department of Transportation. These departments provide services that must continue with little to no interruption. Cutting budgets anywhere, if at all, must be done wisely so we do not spend more on the back end.”
Archer said the district’s biggest issue is having reliable infrastructure including having full control over its transit system and doing intersection “quick fixes,” such as adding turn lanes and roundabouts, and addressing light signalization. As for the post-COVID-19 recovery, he said the county needs to prioritize capital projects and see which ones can be delayed. He also said the county should look at ways to support businesses, including potentially offering temporary tax incentives designed to financially support businesses.
“Prior to COVID-19 Gwinnett was in an economic upward trend,” Archer said. “It will take time for businesses and citizens to find a new normal. Until then, there may need to be some adjustments to the budget in order to find areas to save money and decrease expenses.
“Gwinnett County will receive Cares Act funding that will help support the current budget. The budget, including the reserves, is fluid and can/must be adjusted to current needs and economic situations.”