Wendall Kessler and Wesley Corbitt sat next to each other for the Effingham Chamber of Commerce’s candidates’ forum Thursday at the Mars Theatre — while they faced the audience and as they listened to the other hopefuls for office.
Kessler, the current Effingham County commission chairman, and Corbitt, the former Rincon city manager, are running in the May 24 Republican primary for Kessler’s seat. The two men laid out their vision for the county and the position.
“Four years ago, I was in a forum similar to this,” Kessler said. “All I could do was promise what I expected to do. Fortunately, I can sit here and say I had a good board, though it’s a different board. We have worked through some issues.”
Kessler likened his position to that of a ship’s rudder. The commission chairman votes only in the case of a tie, and Kessler noted he has not voted in his more than years on the board.
“The chairman cannot do anything,” he said. “But I steer the ship and I have a very good board. I think the ship has been steered very well. The board has listened to some of my direction and I think the county is better off today.”
Corbitt resigned his position as city manager in January, stating he wanted to prevent a greater divide from occurring. He said the difficult work environment he alluded to in his resignation wouldn’t deter him as chairman.
“We had tremendous success in the years we were there,” he said. “What made it difficult for me was the style of management. There is a level of management participation the council enjoyed with me that was not a good mix. I’m loyal to that council. But I did bring them together on many things. I want to continue to use my skills and my abilities and an opportunity to influence the county, the same way I did the city for some positive growth.”
Corbitt said he had council members attend a planning retreat “of which we are still reaping the benefits of today,” adding there have been millions of dollars of construction in the city without the use of property taxes.
Kessler, who has spearheaded much of the ground work for the coming central recreation complex, said there are other projects the county needs to undertake.
“The next venture is to make improvements to the water and sewer infrastructure,” he said. “That is going to cost money. Some people are against building a new administrative building. But we need it. Citizens of this county are having to go to so many different places. One stop shopping would be so much better, in my opinion.”
Kessler said he was thankful the commissioners have chosen to build a new rec complex rather than spend money on an old facility and “throw good money after bad.”
Corbitt said the expenditures should be based on the service revenues the county pulls in. He added the county’s water and wastewater costs $1.9 million a year and will run up a $17 million tab over the next five years. He said the county already has spent $17 million to cover past debt.
“I want to address those issues and they are real,” he said. “Water and sewer is a serious issue for us.”
Corbitt also said an east-west corridor needs to be built, in addition to the planned Effingham Parkway. Without it, he warned it will be easier for Effingham drivers to go to Pooler and spend their sales tax money there instead of in Effingham.
“One thing we need and I have touted is the east west corridor that comes into our commercial district,” he said.
Corbitt said the Kroger marketplace to open soon in Rincon will bring $1 million in sales tax and added he had thoughts “outside the box to build the revenues of our commercial districts.”
“We need to incentivize developers,” he said.
Kessler differed from Corbitt’s view.
“I do not believe in incentivizing private companies by giving them tax incentives and property tax rebates as we were asked to do,” he said. “If that’s what it takes to bring companies in, I’m not the person you want to re-elect.”
Corbitt agreed he and Kessler were committed to serve but what sets them apart is competency and chemistry. Corbitt, a certified public accountant, said he has more than 20,000 hours of auditing and writing controls.
“The county and city were not getting along when I came on board,” he said. “Now we’re looking at transportation. We look at so many things together. People want to do business where people are working together.”
Kessler said he admires Corbitt a lot but they do have different opinions on how government should operate.
“I’m not going to ask a commission to spend more than what you take in in your millage,” he said. “I believe I na balanced budget. I believe in doing for the citizens what the citizens require in services.
Kessler also pointed out he had attend 40 hours of class after being elected and has a mandatory 18 hours of class each year. He said he also learned that the chairman alone cannot get anything accomplish.
“I’m the chairman. I steer the ship,” he said. “I can’t get up there and do all the things all the people claim you can do. I have put a lot of time into it. I have learned a lot. I have learned you cannot do anything without a board.”