The two Republicans running for the Effingham County Board of Commissioners District 1 seat each believe they have the professional and personal experience to be an effective county commissioner.
Forrest Floyd has worked since 1987 for Savannah Electric/Georgia Power, in chemistry and safety positions. He said that career, combined with owning several small businesses and serving 21 years in the Georgia Air National Guard, has given him the business and leadership skills he would need on the county commission.
“Balancing all those out, I believe I have the experience to work in the capacity here as a county commissioner,” Floyd said.
Solomon Smith touted his 27 years as a business owner and 39 years living in Effingham County. Smith said he and his family were hit hard by the economic downturn, but that those tough times “cause you to toughen up” and “strengthen you and help you to see things.”
“I see that Effingham County could very well be facing a lot of issues in the future and may need that kind of help to buckle down and take care of what we have to do,” Smith said.
Floyd and Smith will oppose each other in the July 31 Republican primary, with the winner moving on to face Democrat incumbent Bob Brantley in the November election. Brantley, who is running unopposed in the primary, was unable to attend the forum.
Smith voiced concern that the current board of commissioners has a “trend” of letting decisions “come down to a battle of the wills — ‘this is going happen and this is the way we’re going do it because I am the commissioner of this district.’” He said commissioners have to set aside personal agendas and do what’s best for the county, and also the county and local cities must cooperate with each other.
“If a commissioner looks at those things, then I think there would be a whole lot less votes that people would disagree with. And the county — and the cities — would save a lot of money,” Smith said.
Floyd agreed that residents benefit when decisions are made only with the county’s best interests in mind. He pointed to the county commission’s recent vote to build a fire station in the Goshen district at a cost of more than $1 million to taxpayers.
“It turns out the commissioner in my district did support it, even though it wasn’t a benefit,” Floyd said. “There’s simply too much spending in general. Budgets continue to grow. Our taxes continue to grow. As a commissioner, I would just have to make decisions that are going to benefit Effingham County as a whole.”
Asked if they would support pay cuts or furloughs for county employees to help balance the budget, Floyd and Smith each said they would — as a last resort.
Smith said the issue touched his family when his wife, a school district employee, was required to take furlough days. Floyd cited his experience working “on the union side and the company side” of a large corporation, along with running his own businesses.
“You’d like to think that the main thing we’d do would be to look for unnecessary expenditures, excessive costs, things that can be brought under control to keep the budget as tight as we can,” Smith said, adding that the county needs “a rainy day fund to fall back on” if revenue declines because of cuts in state funding or decreases in tax revenue.
“If there’s no money, you can’t spend it,” Floyd said. “I have done it with my business. I have lost employees and, if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes. I would hate to have to do that — I would look for every opportunity not to do that — but if that’s what we have to do, that’s what we have to do.”
Both candidates were hesitant to answer a question about which county office or service could be improved, or even eliminated. They said they would need time in office to gain better insight.
“I would leave it up to the department heads to find out what would have to be cut,” Floyd said. “I can’t pick any one service. That’s the reason we have department heads and managers.”
Said Smith: “Maybe there are better ways to manage the service instead of just saying we’re going to eliminate it. To just step up and say, well, I want to take this away from you, without even having a chance to really evaluate, would kind of be a little bit irresponsible.”