BY KRISTI REED
Managed growth. Smart growth. Balanced growth. No matter what term the candidates used, they shared a similar message: Barrow County needs more industrial and commercial growth.
The candidates had the opportunity to present their plans for economic development at the Monday night candidate forum hosted by the Barrow County Chamber of Commerce.
Republican candidate Danny Yearwood said the county must do more to create an industrial corridor to expand the tax base and relieve the tax burden currently endured by the tax payers. Yearwood suggested that funding infrastructure improvements to the Hwy. 316 corridor was critical to developing what he referred to as a largely undeveloped area.
“We must utilize this unique stretch of roadway to attract both new commercial and industrial development,” he said. Yearwood said the county must insure that potential investors are not lost due to lack of services.
Incumbent Doug Garrison said, as chairman, he has worked to bring industrial development to Barrow in order to build the county’s tax digest in areas other than residential. Garrison said the county must continue to seek this type of development by working with the Economic Development Council, the Joint Development Authority and the industrial Building Authority and by improving the county’s infrastructure.
“I pledge to continue working with the Chamber and Linda [Moore of the Economic Development Council] to make Barrow County a place to live, work and play…to make Barrow better,” he said.
Republican candidate Jim Beckemeyer echoed the sentiment that the citizens of Barrow are bearing too much of the tax burden and added that the government needed to stay out of the way of free market development.
“I will limit this government’s grip on the tax payer’s wallet,” he said. “I will get this government out of the real estate business.”
The candidates were also asked if they had a plan for water conservation and storage.
Garrison said the county has been actively evaluating an upgrade to the Bear Creek Reservoir. The county is also in the process of conducting a water study to determine the storage needed to provide for future demands.
Conservation will continue to be important in the drought years, Garrison said.
“Yes, we have a plan and we are working the plan,” he said.
Yearwood said water needs are critical and that there were no easy answers.
“We cannot continue to grow commercially or residentially unless we have an adequate water supply,” he said.
Yearwood said that a reservoir cannot be built overnight and that water conservation must be a primary concern for Barrow citizens.
As a farmer, Beckemeyer said he has learned not to put all his eggs in one basket. He said the Bear Creek Reservoir is an example of doing just that. Beckemeyer said a new reservoir is necessary and that as a past member of the water and sewer authority, he called for a study of a new reservoir.
Water is the greatest limiting factor in the future growth of the county, he said.
“I will protect our streams and wetlands from poor development practices,” he said. “I will see that conservation measures are instituted in all county owned properties.” A practice he said was not currently being followed.
The candidates also had the opportunity to share their qualifications for the office of chairman.
Beckemeyer cited his service as a volunteer fire fighter, chairman of water and sewer authority, member of the planning commission, and Dist. 6 commissioner.
“I can hit the ground running,” he said. “I’ll bring common sense to the Barrow County government which I really think we’re lacking in a lot of the decisions we’ve made of late.”
Yearwood said the office of chairman requires an individual with the ability to effectively lead people and build consensus for the betterment of Barrow County. Yearwood said his 40 years of business experience would help him manage the county government effectively.
“As your chairman, I will direct the county government away from wasteful spending, remove the pork and focus on what we need and not what we want,” he said.
Garrison said his four years of experience as chairman qualify him for the job. Garrison also serves as vice chair of the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority, vice chair of the Northeast Georgia Regional Development Center and as chair of the Georgia Bioscience Joint Development Authority. His past political experience includes five years on the Barrow County Board of Education, three of which he served as chairman.
“I believe in solving problems by getting the facts first and making decisions in a fair way,” he said. “I believe my personality, my work ethic and my experience are my qualifications.”
The candidates will face each other June 26 and July 7 at the Barrow County Republican Party candidate forums. The June 26 forum will be held at Statham Elementary School. The July 7 forum is scheduled for Bramlett Elementary School. Both forums begin at 7 p.m.