Water, spending among key issues in Monroe County Commission race

pramati@macon.comOctober 14, 2012 

  • Monroe County Commission candidates

    County Commission Chairman

    James Vaughn (incumbent)

    Age: 56
    Party: Democrat
    Occupation: Attorney/farmer
    Political experience: Served as Monroe County Commission chairman for the past four years.

    Mike Bilderback
    Age: 42
    Party: Republican
    Occupation: Steel fabricator
    Political experience: Served as Monroe County District 3 Commissioner from 2002-10.

    Commission District 1

    Larry Evans (incumbent)

    Age: 63
    Party: Democrat
    Occupation: Retired from the railroad
    Political experience: Served on County Commission from 1987-present.

    Donald C. Smith
    Age: 64
    Party: Republican
    Occupation: Retired Georgia DOT consultant
    Political experience: Ran unsuccessfully in the District 4 Republican primary in 2010.

In Monroe County politics, two issues always seem to find their way to the forefront: money and water.

In the case of money, it revolves around a special purpose local option sales tax passing and county leaders issuing bonds against the tax.

When it comes to water, the focus is getting lines run to the most rural parts of the county and deciding how much control the county has over its water service.

Those are the main points of contention between Monroe County Commission Chairman James Vaughn and his Republican challenger, former Commissioner Mike Bilderback, in the Nov. 6 election. It’s one of two county commission races on the ballot. The other is the fight for the District 1 seat between incumbent Larry Evans and Republican challenger Donald Smith.

As chairman for the past four years, Vaughn pointed to a number of things achieved during his tenure -- most notably, getting the SPLOST extended in March. That SPLOST, set to begin being collected in 2014, is expected to raise about $30 million. It will pay for a variety of infrastructure projects as well as purchase a new emergency radio system for the county.

“We’ve got a lot of unfinished projects that I’d like to see through to completion,” Vaughn said.

One of the things that is most urgent is extending water lines to the rural parts of the county, he said, especially in the eastern part of Monroe County, where uranium has been found in water wells.

“One of the things that’s most urgent is expanding the water system,” he said. “We’ve got $7 million for water line extensions (in the new SPLOST), and $1 million of that is for a water line to those affected by the uranium. We don’t want to wait to do that.”

Bilderback, who lost his District 3 seat on the commission in 2010 after serving eight years, doesn’t necessarily argue against those points, but he does take issue with how he sees the county doing business.

Rather than issuing bonds and borrowing money for the county projects, Bilderback said he would have waited until the county started to collect the extra penny sales tax to pay for the projects.

“I’ve got a lot to choose from,” said Bilderback, responding to what he would change if elected. “My first choice would be about the debt we are incurring. ... Instead of borrowing the money, we should be collecting the SPLOST money. We’ve already been collecting (the current SPLOST) for four years, so it’d be fairly easily to coordinate.”

The two candidates disagree about the county’s credit rating, which Bilderback said dropped from AAA to AA in 2004. Vaughn said the credit rating drop came during the time Bilderback served on the commission.

Bilderback said the rating affects how much the county will pay on future bonds, but Vaughn said the rating is good enough that the county is only paying a 1.05 percent interest rate.

Bilderback also took issue with the county’s decision to contract with the Macon Water Authority for water service in the southern part of the county. He wants the county to use its own water treatment plant, which was refurbished for $750,000, to serve the entire county.

“They’re condemning the thing to rust,” he said. “Without customers, you can’t justify the expense in renovating it.”

Vaughn, however, said the MWA contract cut the wholesale rate for water in half, and most of the savings were passed along to county residents. The rest of the savings are being used to pay off the water system’s deficit.

District 1

Evans has served on the board of commissioners since 1987 and has seen a lot of jobs disappear in the county during that time. He wants to bring jobs back, because he says they are key for Monroe County to stay competitive with neighboring counties.

“The most critical need is jobs,” he said. “We lost 1,800 jobs from ‘95 to 2005 because of NAFTA, and we’ve not regained them. We’ve got a new industry here, Encore Plastics ... and we’re looking to get similar new industries. But we’ve got to have the infrastructure in place.”

Evans said building an industrial park will be a great leap forward in making Monroe County more competitive in trying to lure businesses.

Evans noted that during his tenure, the county has paved more than half of the 650 miles of roads in the county.

“We have some of the best roads in the state,” he said.

Evans said he also wants to improve recreation in the county and create a business incubator.

Smith agreed that more jobs, water and recreation opportunities are key issues for the county, but he said it’s time for change.

“(Evans) has been in office for 25 years, and it’s time for some new blood,” he said. “We need some water and jobs here. In the surrounding areas, people seem to be coming in, but we can’t seem to get anything here. ... Sometimes, new blood can mean new ideas.”

Evans wants the county to provide water to Monroe residents.

“I want us to be independent,” he said. “Why should we pay Bibb County for water?”

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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