WARNER ROBINS -- Houston County Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker doesn’t get that mid-afternoon slump. His days don’t seem long enough to get to that time of the day.
“A day seems like it’s two hours instead of 10 hours,” he said. “It’s hectic.”
Stalnaker keeps a busy schedule in an effort to keep the county budget balanced and stay on top of projects. This year will include more of the same, especially with a $155 million penny sales tax renewal up for a vote.
“The primary objective of the chairman of the County Commission is managing the finances of the government,” Stalnaker said when reflecting on his first year as chairman. “I think I was successful at that.”
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Stalnaker took office Jan. 1, 2011, succeeding Ned Sanders, who held the chairman’s seat for 10 years. Sanders still serves on several county boards and said he is pleased with his decision to retire his seat to Stalnaker, who ran unopposed.
“Tommy has taken over under challenging times and, with the great support that the commissioners gave me and are now giving him, he has done a superior job,” Sanders said. “Our county is in good hands.”
Stalnaker and Sanders said the county’s ability to flourish in a national recession points toward good leadership over many years. Stalnaker continued that progress, Sanders said.
Stalnaker, 62, began working for the county in 1972 as the director of recreation. In 1990, he worked for public works and then as director of operations just before becoming chairman.
“Knowing what I knew when I came in office helped me immensely,” Stalnaker said. “Not saying someone with little experience can’t do the job. But it’s difficult to know county operations unless they have been in it.”
The county was one of the few local governments to avoid a property tax increase this year. Stalnaker said he doesn’t anticipate an increase this year either, unless something catastrophic happens.
The $51 million budget commissioners approved for fiscal 2012 is a bit more than the $50 million budget for fiscal 2011. It included $1 million for the contingency fund in case the tax digest revealed lower revenue from property taxes. The money was not needed, and will be budgeted for fiscal 2013 unless an emergency arises before July, when the new fiscal year starts, Stalnaker said.
The budget also included a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment for employees, which had been frozen for three years.
“The success that we did have in 2011 is directly attributed to the employees, the elected officials and the department heads,” Stalnaker said, adding their efforts to trim fat helped adjust the fiscal 2012 budget. “We’ve done about as well as can be expected in the economic times that we’re in right now. We all have to do more with less.”
Longtime Commissioners Tom McMichael and Larry Thomson had only praise for Stalnaker’s first year successes and also pointed to the county’s financial stability. The county’s reserve fund is about $12.2 million, Stalnaker said, which is enough to cover three months of operations.
“The fund balance is larger than it’s been in a long, long time, and it’s growing,” Thomson said, noting Stalnaker is the third chairman he has served with. “A lot of the previous chairmen had something to do with that, too. But Tommy has jumped right in there and done a great job.”
Thomson said Stalnaker has taken a hands-on approach to managing and ensures the lines of communication remain open.
“He’s done exactly what we expected him to do because we knew how he manages things,” McMichael said. “He’s managed recreation, and he’s managed public works and sanitation. He just took (those) areas and continued it throughout the county.”
In his first year, Stalnaker said he made few changes, most of which were updates to personnel policies. He said commissioners most likely will review more personnel policies this year. They also will review salaries of some county officials that are below state statute.
Stalnaker said the commission also will begin any leftover projects from the 2001 and 2006 special purpose local options sales tax funds.
Another top priority for Stalnaker’s second year, he said, is pursuing a six-year renewal of the SPLOST. Voters will decide March 6 whether to continue the sales tax, which commissioners estimate to generate $155 million to be used on projects across the county and its cities.
“It’s a good chance that we’ll be able to maintain -- if not lower -- taxes if we have these SPLOST funds,” Stalnaker said.
The proposed SPLOST projects list includes $7 million to address encroachment at Robins Air Force Base. Stalnaker said another top priority this year is to get the ball rolling on efforts to eliminate encroachment of residential housing north of the base.
He said the benefits from the SPLOST and solving the encroachment issue won’t be seen “in even my time,” but the initiatives are worth the effort.
“If we don’t have the initiative up front, we can’t back up and catch up,” Stalnaker said.
Sanders said Stalnaker’s progress with the encroachment issue has been substantial.
It “was in stages of infancy,” Sanders said. “Tommy has taken that and brought it up to the level that it needs to be.”
Stalnaker said he hasn’t given much thought to what he wants to be remembered for years from now.
“I believe your footprints will tell people what you’ve been able to do and what you haven’t been able to do,” he said. “When somebody leaves office, if the people say, ‘It was a smooth operation while he was there. The government was operated officially and effectively’ -- that’s a good sign.”
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.