Candidates running for the two open seats on the Monroe County Commission all seem to agree that roads and water will be the key issues in the Republican primary this July.
Three Republicans are battling to represent District 3, and three Republicans are vying for District 4. With no Democrats on the ballot in either race, the Republican primary winners will take the seats.
In District 3, incumbent Commissioner Mike Bilderback is facing challenges from John Ambrose Sr. and Patsy Jenkins Miller, a former Monroe County tax commissioner. And in District 4, incumbent Commissioner James Peters is battling former Commissioner Joe Proctor Sr. and Donald C. Smith.
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Though Smith has never before run for public office, he said his job as a consultant with the Georgia Department of Transportation makes him a viable contender thanks to his experience with roads — an important issue in the county.
“Lots of people asked me to run because they thought my knowledge of roads and bridges would make me a good candidate,” Smith said. “(Peters and Proctor) may have an edge in knowing how the way things work (in government), but for getting things done, they don’t have an edge.”
Proctor served as a Monroe County commissioner for 17 years before losing his seat in 2002. He said health issues prevented him from returning to run for office until now. He said doctors have given him a clean bill of health.
Another touchstone issue in the county is the recent increase in property taxes after a property evaluation.
“They raised the evals to comply with the state,” Proctor said. “They’ve taken away the homestead exemption. ... This system is broken, and I hope the folks will help me fix it.”
Proctor, a retired businessman, said he was able to accomplish a lot during his time on the commission. While he was a member, the commission began the county’s animal control service, built the county’s hospital and a new justice center, among other things.
Peters, a self-employed farmer who has served two terms on the commission, said he also has been able to get a lot accomplished in office: The commission has started work on a new county administration building, a new courthouse and a recycling center.
Regarding the water issues the county now faces, Peters said he helped get developers to put down water lines in the new subdivisions that have been built across the county.
“That’s been with no cost to the Monroe County taxpayers,” Peters said.
Peters said there are several issues that still need attention, including the dispute between Monroe and Bibb counties over the location of the county line.
“There’s the county line, water, roads — there’s really not one issue in this election, but a bunch of them,” he said.
The District 3 race has become fairly contentious, with Ambrose and Miller both accusing Bilderback of giving up his authority over how funding for water-related issues should be spent within the district.
“He relinquished his authority ... and has no say in where (the county) is putting the water lines (in District 3),” Ambrose said.
Miller, a retired Robins Air Force Base worker, agreed with that assessment.
“(Bilderback) gave the water money to the other commissioners, and they are going to decide what areas are going to have the water lines,” she said. “We’ve had problems with water (in the district), and that’s on the shoulders of Mike Bilderback.”
But Bilderback defended himself against his opponents’ charges, saying he made the most expedient move he could by asking for help from Chairman James Vaughn to get out of gridlock with the other commissioners.
“What you have to do is develop a strategy,” he said. “I’m getting my folks water. I had my plans all the way back in ’07, but those plans didn’t get going until this year.”
Bilderback, who works in the steel fabrication industry, said some of the issues came from a stalemate with other commissioners about engineering, since some of the lines to get to parts of District 3 must run through District 2.
Bilderback, like Peters in the District 4 race, said developers ended up bearing the costs of water lines in new subdivisions, saving the taxpayers money.
Ambrose, a retired trainmaster at Norfolk-Southern, said he’s running because there’s too much of taxpayers’ money being wasted by the current commission.
He pointed to several examples, including the county buying the Tift College campus for $10 million only to sell it to the state for $5 million or spending more money on school construction than he says is necessary.
“(The county) has bought a water treatment plant, and hasn’t done anything with it,” Ambrose said. “We don’t need these ornate schools they are building. There’s no checks or balances.”
Bilderback predicts the water treatment plant will pay long-term dividends, since it will help the county create more affordable water.
“That’s the thing we are struggling with the most,” he said. “Atlanta is looking to take some of our water. During the last SPLOST, I wanted to fund water treatment, but that didn’t end up making it.”
Bilderback said the county won’t be able to try again until the next SPLOST, in 2014.
Miller said that during her time as tax commissioner she had a great deal of interaction with county residents who discussed with her all sorts of problems in the county.
“We have water problems, problems with the roads,” she said. “I think we have to be aware of what’s going on. ... I’m aware of the problems people are facing.”
She said commissioners must do a better job of working together to solve the county’s problems.
“I know things that are not being done,” she said.
“I want to work with the other commissioners to do it. Commissioners have to hold themselves to higher standards.”
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.