Property rights, land use, term limits, and taxes dominated a candidate forum sponsored by the Dawson County Republican Party.
Held at the Bowen Center for the Arts on Tuesday, March 25, it was the first of at least three candidate forums being held across the county.
Three candidates are running for District-1 Commissioner Gary Pichons seat: Kevin Ellison, Sharon Fausett, and Corey Guthrie.
Ellison, however, did not attend the Republican forum, citing issues with the party.
I have serious issues with the leadership of the Republican party, and I will not participate in party activities, Ellison said. He said he plans to attend an April 15 candidate forum hosted by the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce.
Dawson County District 3 Commissioner Jimmy Hamby, who is running unopposed, also attended.
Candidates were questioned by panelists Jane Graves, president of the Dawson County Homeowners and Civic Association; Chip Pearson, a former state senator; Neil Hornsey, second vice chair of the Dawson County Republican Party, and Bill Saling, a former Dawson County commissioner.
On 150-foot stream buffers
Should Dawson County implement 150-foot buffers on streams?
Thats an acre and a half, Hamby said. Its too much to take from a property owner. We have buffers in place as a county. I wouldnt make it bigger.
Fausett said shes committed to the rights of property owners.
I dont have answers to all questions, she said. Id have to talk to people and gather information, but I would be committed to property owners.
Guthrie acknowledged the need for clean water and maintaining the rights of property owners.
...I saw a lot of flaws with increased buffer size, what it did to property rights, he said. But on the other hand, (owners) get tax reductions for excessive buffers, or buffers in general. We need to preserve (property) rights, but also protect water resources.
On pet fees
Should residents be forced to register pets and pay a fee?
All candidates were against pet fees in Dawson County.
Im for responsible pet ownership, Guthrie said. I see a lack of that in our community. Im not in favor of a tax unless thats what the community wants.
Pet fees would help fund the Dawson County Humane Society.
Fausett, who lives on a large farm in the northwestern part of the county, said people have abandoned animals on her property.
Ive rescued more pets than I care to remember, she said. Im opposed to a fee at this point. It bothers me that some people would say, Im not taking them to the vet.
Hamby would vote against pet fees and is concerned about enforcement.
What do you do about people who dont register? he asked. Billy Carlisle would have to go out and get their dogs. Carlisle is the sheriff of Dawson County.
On land use and economic development
What are your ideas to enhance economic growth and viability in Dawson County?
Fausett said she likes things the way they are.
Id like 400 to stay that way, and the rural area to stay the way they are, she said. (But) weve got a lot of empty buildings and a lot of empty windows -- the development authority has a lot of power to bring people in, and Id like to to talk to them. ... Its about balance and moderation.
Guthrie said Dawson County has a lot of opportunity and needs to keep traffic moving.
...Focus on 400 and Highway 53 into town, he said. Theres a lot of interest in our area right now -- our outlet mall is so successful. ... In other places, people are stuck in traffic. (It would) help to provide a bypass on Dawson Forest to relieve congestion and help facilitate future economic growth in that area.
Hamby recommends the county sell 400.
Sell Dawsonville and the 400 corridor, he said. Economic development is going to come. If we preserve one part of the county, then we have to give up other parts for economic development. We dont have rail. We dont have an airport. Theres no other way of getting anybody here except 400.
What are the greatest challenges for Dawson County during the next four years?
Taxes, getting the word out about the county, and ensuring quality growth topped the list.
We need to keep property taxes down, Hamby said. ...We need that balance between property tax and sales tax revenue. Weve done a really good job. We prospered during the (economic) downturn. I think Dawson County sells itself.
Fausett said people dont know what Dawson County has to offer.
The problem seems to be getting the word out about what Dawson County has, she said. The Chamber of Commerce does an excellent job.
Guthrie focused on quality business growth and compensation for county employees.
You can see development coming up 400, he said. The challenge is to ensure growth is quality growth -- good for the county. We also need to ensure county employees get paid what they deserve. Its tough for them to not get a raise in six years. Ensure county police are properly paid. We need to retain the good employees we have.
Current Commissioner Gary Pichon announced earlier this year he will not seek a third term in office.
On sales tax - SPLOST VI
A Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax is voluntary and left up to voters. Are you in favor of asking residents to tax themselves and, if so, how would the money be spent?
All candidates are in favor of SPLOST VI.
Fausett said it keeps property taxes down.
Im in favor and I think its the easiest and fairest way to tax, she said. We dont want to raise property taxes, and we need to fund roads.
I am in favor because we cant get the things we want and the things we need unless we raise property taxes, he said. SPLOST is easier on us. We need to have our roads, bridges (maintained). We need to distribute the money fairly between other entities in county like senior center, parks, and a majority spent on roads.
Guthrie said SPLOST represents opportunity for the county.
Im absolutely in favor . . . a majority of dollars come from out-of-county residents, he said. It is the best opportunity for us to improve roads and parks, sheriffs fleet, and keep property taxes down. As an engineer, its important to keep a good road system. It attracts businesses.