ATLANTA -- North Bibb County’s District 1 Commission seat looked like a walkover for school board veteran Gary Bechtel until there was a last-minute entry from novice Harold Young.
To rev the area’s economic engine, Bechtel said Macon-Bibb County needs to offer a well-educated work force to add to its current business-friendly offerings, including its geography, water and a regional airport.
“We’ve got an education system that I was part of. ... I’m well aware of the problems that exist,” Bechtel said. Term limits ended his dozen years on the Bibb County school board in 2012. He said there are too many dropouts and too many students transferring from school to school.
Young said Bibb County residents need a reason to spend their money at home.
“If our people become proud of the city they live in, they will be more apt to spend money here,” he said.
“The central place (downtown Macon) shouldn’t be empty like that,” said Young, adding that he would advocate a “nice” and “safe” truck stop to leverage the traffic between Savannah and Atlanta, as well as some sort of entertainment center for families, a scaled-up version of the now-closed Starcadia amusement park. He’d also like to reopen passenger rail service from Atlanta through Macon to Savannah.
Both men oppose tax increases, and both said they believe the Macon-Bibb government merger can reduce overall spending by 20 percent over time.
Bechtel said privatization could save money on employee costs and deliver a high level of service.
“One example,” he said, “is the unincorporated areas of the county currently have private garbage service with a private contract. I would hope that we can begin to look at the options available for the entire county.”
Private county garbage service, he said, has been “quite good.”
He also hinted that some management and administration jobs might become superfluous. “We wouldn’t want to budget duplicate positions,” Bechtel said.
Young said, “I don’t want anyone to lose their job.” Yet to reach the savings, “you have to look at things that are being double serviced ... the law enforcement, the fire department ... the public services that are doubled.”
Balancing good service with cost savings, Young said, will “require thought.”
Macon’s aggravated assaults and burglaries were up in the first six months of 2013 compared to the same time last year, according to police statistics presented to Macon City Council.
Under the new government, “I would hope that we would attempt to fully fund our law enforcement. That’s one of the priorities,” Bechtel said, though he circled back to schools on the crime problem.
“Education affects everything -- the crime, poverty,” he said. “We want our community to succeed, so we’ve got to address our education system.”
Young said it’s smart to recruit students into gang intervention and other programs to try to keep them out of trouble in the first place: “empowering the young people and giving them a sense of hope.”
Bechtel said his government experience will be an important asset for a newly forming government, and he said he already has relationships with city, county and regional elected officials.
Young promised transparency and frequent communication with voters.
He is also open about financial problems he’s had over the years: a 2003 bankruptcy at his family’s previous home in California, as well as complaints against him in Bibb County Magistrate Court for unpaid bills. He also has an outstanding state income tax lien.
The debts that he has paid off, he said, show that he takes responsibility for his actions.
“I want the people to know I’m a normal person. I had situations like anybody else,” Young said.
He blamed a now-satisfied federal tax lien on an untrustworthy tax preparer and the state lien on a state mistake. A 2012 first-degree fraud charge had no merit, he said. The Bibb County district attorney dropped the charge for lack of evidence.
As for campaign cash, Bechtel reported about $3,000 at the end of March this year.
He’s racked up $1,000 in fines from the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission since 2011 for failing to file some disclosures regularly.
Young’s late entry into the race means he has not yet had to file campaign or personal financial records.
Campaign disclosures are next due Sept. 2. The election is Sept. 17.