After the county commissioner candidates took the stage at the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce’s forum on April 20, local growth was the preeminent topic of conversation.
Seth Stowers is running unopposed for the District 1 commissioner’s seat, currently held by Sharon Fausett. With Tim Satterfield also stepping down from the District 3 seat, Alexa Bruce and Deanna Dickinson are running against each other for the position.
Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mandy Powers acted as emcee during the event, taking the podium at Dawson County Middle School to ask the candidates questions.
Voters will have the opportunity to mark their choices for both the District 1 and 3 seats on their ballots for the May 24 primary election.
Stowers is a Dawson County native who currently owns a cattle farm and Hillside Veterinary Services, where he works as a large animal veterinarian. Previously, he’s shared his passion
for agriculture and preserving District 1’s beautiful land while being amenable to development in other areas.
Bruce, a longtime county resident, worked as the assistant to Dawson County’s Public Works department from 2016 to 2021, so she’s interacted with different aspects of waste management, roads, stormwater, project management and SPLOST (special local option sales tax).
Dickinson, a Georgia native, has lived in Dawson County for five years after moving from Douglas County. She’s worked for 40 years in the dental industry as a C.D.A, office manager and dental sales consultant. Now, she operates her own dental consulting business and holds a specialized real estate license for medical and dental practices.
Each of the candidates Wednesday night talked about how they would leverage the knowledge gained from their unique experiences to make financial decisions if elected as commissioners.
For Dickinson, of particular note was the necessity of sufficient county impact fees.
“We can’t continue to grow and have developers not pay when they come into the county,” she said.
Later on, she added that a TSPLOST, similar to the one that was on the ballot in 2021, would be a “growth spurt” to the county’s finances and an important way to help address road and intersection improvements.
Stowers emphasized balancing pinching pennies with getting quality county amenities that are needed at a given moment, such as the new SPLOST-funded Fire Station 8 in his district.
“Emergency services are really important to me because you don't think about needing emergency services or how important or crucial that is a community until you’re in need,” he said.
Bruce highlighted funding like SPLOST and GDOT’s Local Maintenance & Improvement and other state and federal grants for the county government to address infrastructure. She added that with Dawson County EMS’s three ambulances with one in reserve and four on the way in the next two years, the problem “Isn’t just funding but a [supply chain] backup due to COVID-19.”
“If we don’t have those [emergency services], then we don't have anything else in this county,’” Bruce said, mentioning how SPLOST helps Fire & EMS and the Roads Department secure key equipment.
She later added that a good working relationship with GDOT is key to securing funding for different projects along the several state highways or roads in the county.
“If you know the business of the county,” she said, “then you can accommodate the budget that you have in order to get to the citizens what is needed for safety, parks and rec, the sheriff’s office, etcetera.”
Stowers explained that any decision he would make on county matters would be guided by faith.
“I’m a child of God, and I can’t make a decision without praying and feeling good about it when I lay my head down at night,” he said. “It’s not only [about] doing what constituents want to be done or approved, but [about] truly feeling like the Lord is leading me to approve or disapprove of a zoning.”
He cautioned that development should fit the character of an area and agreed with Bruce about using the comprehensive and land use plans to guide decisions.
“I know it’s exploding, but we can’t say ‘no’ to growth [as commissioners],” he said. “We need more ‘work’. Yes, we have some retail and some restaurants, but we need more commercialized growth here.”
He pointed to a desire for more estate-size lots considering the more recent R-3 residential growth, also citing the need to balance “maintaining the county’s beauty and still populating the area.”
Bruce explained that the county’s quality of life has driven much of the recent population growth.
“When they come to a county that’s beautiful, it means we’re doing it right,” she said. “That’s why we’re seeing growth…that’s a good thing.”
She reemphasized the comprehensive and future land use plans as key in saying what kind of growth can happen where, such as on Ga. 400, which can carry or allow for heavier commercial growth and the associated traffic.
Bruce said she thinks the residential growth, particularly with future dense communities, can be slowed. She qualified that listening to constituents matters, and so does adhering to the planning documents in order to avoid “uncontrolled, unexpected growth that we can’t provide the infrastructure for.”
She also cautioned that denying otherwise proper rezone requests may lead to a waste of taxpayer money via lawsuits with developers that result in the latter winning and still being able to build their projects in the county.
“If we don’t like it,” she said of the current county growth plans, “then let’s go to the Long Range [Planning Commission] or Planning [Department] and come up with a better system to get the citizens involved and get the citizens and the board to come up with what’s best for the community.”
She also gave a nod to Parks and Recreation, saying impact fees from incoming developments are crucial and could help increase recreational capacity for a parks system that’s “busting at the seams.”
“We cannot forget about our children and how Parks and Rec provides for them,” Bruce said. “It keeps them busy, teaches them teamwork and keeps their mind focused on things that are good.”
Dickinson also pointed to the importance of long-range plans and suggested talking with other counties, such as Forsyth County to the south, to see what they’re doing for road fixes. She also suggested taking a “wait and see” approach as it pertained to greenways and learning the “dos” and “don’ts” from other municipalities.
She also considered it of “extreme importance,” should she take office, to ensure the county is on a good economic trajectory, given the possibility of a recession in coming months.
As for housing, Dickinson would rather see more single than multifamily units added, though she said she doesn’t have anything against apartments. Rather, she voiced wariness of the acute impact a population increase in a small area could have on county roads, schools and emergency services.
She explained how this especially concerned her, particularly given the need for more first responders, absence of a hospital in the county and lacking ambulances. The latter would not concern her as much if there was a hospital within Dawson County, she added.
Given recent citizen concerns about public safety and traffic, she requested county commissioners vote on a moratorium.
“I just feel like we need to back up our infrastructure first,” she said.
She elaborated that she’d also like to see commissioners physically go to locations, like the Savannah Trace neighborhood, that could be impacted by incoming or proposed development.
Dickinson put a great deal of emphasis on that and listening to constituents.
She also mentioned that a good attorney could alleviate concerns about the county getting sued after denying a developer’s rezonings.
“The safety of Dawson County citizens is most important,” Dickinson said. “They (developers) cannot sue the county if you’re voting for the safety of your citizens.”
What she said she didn’t want for the county is unplanned growth, overdevelopment and improper infrastructure that brings more traffic and crime, like her former area of residence.
“We all have an investment in Dawson County,” she said. “We don’t want to stop progress, but we certainly owe it to ourselves to be informed and to help manage our growth for a positive outcome for generations to come.”