Asked during Thursday’s candidate forum if they would support cutting county commissioners’ pay to help balance Effingham County’s budget, two candidates for commission chairman at-large said they would be on board with such a step.
The third candidate had a much different take, however.
"I want to get paid for what I do. And I want to do such a good job that, when I get through, you want to give me a raise," Republican Charlie Kea said.
Conversely, Wendell Kessler, who will face Kea in the July 31 Republican primary, said, "I had no idea this position even paid what it paid. I don’t think I deserve it, so I would be willing right off the bat to cut it."
Democrat Franklin Goldwire, who will oppose the Republican primary winner in the Nov. 6 general election, said, "Absolutely, I would be in favor of the county cutting whatever pay county commissioners receive."
Kea contended that commissioner pay cuts are unnecessary because "we’re not a broke county." He said his vision for improving the county includes "rolling taxes back to 2004 levels," supporting Georgia’s proposed special purpose local option sales tax for transportation (T-SPLOST) and helping Effingham earn "the reputation of being business-friendly."
"You don’t do that by imposing such high impact fees. One restaurant wanted to come in, and I believe the impact fees were like $87,000. Who wants to open a restaurant when you have to pay the government $87,000 to do it?" Kea said. "You’ll never get the kind of community that you want when you set up such obstacles."
Goldwire also included "controlled growth" in his three-pronged plan for the county, along with tightening the budget and boosting a "resource that we haven’t fully tapped into yet" — tourism.
"There’s a tremendous amount of money that goes into the city of Savannah through tourism, and therefore the possibility that Effingham County can tap into that industry and bring some of that money into our county," Goldwire said. "It doesn’t matter where you go in Georgia — you hear about Effingham County and the wonderful place it is, and you hear about all the historical sites that are here in Effingham County."
Kessler suggested shifting some of the county’s expenses to the local municipalities. He also, like his counterparts, promoted reducing impact fees and encouraging industrial growth, which would then lower property taxes by "reducing a lot of the impact on the homeowner and putting that on the businesses."
"I build homes. One thing I see when I’m working with my real estate agents in trying to sell a home is, when people start looking to move here and they start looking at what our taxes are as compared to where they’re moving from, in some cases, they go elsewhere," Kessler said. "I don’t like living in a county like that."
Working with the municipalities in Effingham County also was discussed after a question regarding Effingham County’s water and sewer debt. The county reportedly is paying approximately $200,000 a month in debt service, with not enough users on the system to offset the cost.
Goldwire suggested trying to work out an agreement with the municipalities to share the available water and sewer resources, creating a "win-win situation for the cities and the county." He also recommended the county renegotiate its contract for purchasing water from the city of Savannah and possibly create "some type of reservoir" or other additional water source to save money.
Kessler cautioned of the potential cost of alternatives to the present system, but agreed that the water contract between Effingham and Savannah needs a second look: "I totally agree the deal we have now is not a good one. I am told that contained in the contract are clauses that we have to pay a pro-rated share for upgrades to their system. The numbers that I have been told are scary."
However, Kea said the public has a "large misconception" about the water/sewer system and that it is a "real asset for the community." He said that two power plants using the water line generate millions of dollars for the county and, "What we need to do is expand the water system to the industrial properties that we have. If we would do that — and just think if we could get one or two more good neighbors like the power plants — what our property taxes would do."
Goldwire is a lifelong resident of Effingham County, Kessler has lived here since the age of 5 and Kea said he "chose Effingham County" after living in other parts of the country.
To hear the three candidates’ opening remarks in their entirety, go to the Featured Video section of www.effinghamherald.net.