LEESBURG, Ga. — Given that some Republican presidential hopefuls have been campaigning for the better part of two years now, maybe the end of 2011 is not such an unusual time to start thinking about local elections.
Two Lee County candidates — District 5 County Commission challenger Greg Frich and sheriff’s office hopeful David Cheshire — have gotten a jump on their races by announcing their candidacy early for offices that will be decided on July 31.
Rumors are flying about other possible challenges, but the three sitting county commissioners who are up for re-election confirmed to The Albany Herald Tuesday that they intend to seek a new term in office. While none has formally announced his or her candidacy, incumbents Bill Williams (District 5), Betty Johnson (District 2) and Rick Muggridge (District 4) all said they are preparing for a re-election campaign.
“If the election were tomorrow, yes, I’d be running,” Muggridge said. “I haven’t officially made an (re-election) announcement, but it is definitely my intention to run again. I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished in the three years I’ve been in office; I’m very proud of our financial record.
“We’ve brought the four budgets that we’ve been a part of in with surpluses. That’s four surplus budgets in a row. As far back as I looked, I couldn’t find a record of any commission ever doing that.”
Johnson, who served as the county’s tax commissioner for 32 years before running for and winning the County Commission office in 2008, said she’ll keep county employees foremost in her mind as she seeks a second commission term.
“Back when I was tax commissioner, my main concern was the employees and it’s remained the same with the commission,” she said. “I’m very proud that we haven’t laid anyone off, haven’t furloughed employees and we’ve given cost-of-living raises. I also think the wellness program (recently initiated) will be a big benefit for our employees.
“Our employees deserve a lot of credit for the successful day-to-day operation of our government. We wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what we have without their dedicated work.”
Williams, who is being challenged by Frich, said he will seek a second term on the board based on the fiscal accountability he’s helped bring to the county.
“It’s never about one person, but I’m proud to have been a part of bringing a sense of financial responsibility to the commission,” he said. “In the prior three years before (the current group of commissioners took office), the county lost about $2 million. In the past three years, we’ve made a profit of $2 million.
“I’m pleased that we’ve been able to get six roads in my district paved at a time when that’s a difficult thing to do, but all the surveys I’ve read say the budget and finances are the No. 1 concerns of citizens in the state. By watching our pennies closely and not spending extravagantly for unnecessary items, we’ve been able to keep our budget stable. That hasn’t happened by accident.”
Muggridge, the commission’s vice chairman, said the T-SPLOST vote, also scheduled for July 31, which would allow regions of the state to impose a 1 percent regional sales tax to fund transportation projects specific to that region, will be a crucial economic factor in the county’s near future.
“I’m a big proponent of transportation issues because I believe they’re imperative to economic development,” he said. “I’m hoping the national elections will bring some changes in our tax code, and I’m optimistic about future manufacturing growth.
“I’d like to see us consider some code changes that will help keep some of the county’s neighborhoods consistent. A lot of those developments that were fresh 10 years ago are starting to get some age on them and are in need of work. I’d also like to see us do something demonstrative to enhance our relationships with our neighbors. Like Mayor (Dorothy) Hubbard is getting ready to take office (in Albany), and I’d like to reach out to her and find things that will enhance both our communities.”
Johnson said she’s looking forward to the completion of a new library/conference center off U.S. Highway 82 and continued improvements on roads throughout the county.
“I’d like to see us pave as many roads as possible,” she said. “When we improve our roads and complete projects like the library — which is going to be a beautiful building — those are the kinds of things that directly impact our citizens.
“I think this is one of the best boards Lee County has had because we all work together. We have our differences, like people do, but we manage to put our differences aside and do what we think is best for the people of the community.”
Williams, too, points to road projects as crucial to future economic growth in the county.
“The bottom line is, if you don’t have this special tax money coming in, it’s just about impossible to do any kind of transportation project,” he said. “We haven’t had a lot of special tax money to spend because we’ve been paying down debt. Plus, there just hasn’t been a lot of SPLOST money coming into the county.
“It takes pretty much all of the general fund to operate government and provide services in the community, so without special taxes we won’t be able to complete these expensive transportation projects. That’s why I pushed so hard for transportation funding ($10 million-plus) on the SPLOST VI referendum.”
Other offices that will be contested in the county in 2012 are sheriff (currently held by Reggie Rachals), clerk of Superior Court (Sara Reeves Clark), tax commissioner (Susan Smith), coroner (Ronald Rowe Sr.), probate judge (John Wheaton), chief magistrate (James Thurman), and board of education District 2 (Gregory Paul Duke), District 4 (Sylvia Vann) and District 5 (William Griffin Jr.).