Population growth, solid waste and a love for Bulloch County were all topics of discussion Thursday evening as three Republican candidates for Bulloch County Commission Seat 2B took place at Ogeechee Technical College.
While there are three commission seats up for grabs, the forum only dealt with Republican candidates who have opposition for the May 22 Primary election.
Bulloch County Commission Seats 1B and 2D are also open for election; 1B incumbent Anthony Simmons, Democrat, will face Republican challenger W. Scott Brannen in the General Election in November.
Republican candidate for Seat 2D, Timmy Rushing, was present at the forum but did not participate, as his former Republican opponent, Jeff Klare, withdrew from the race Monday due to business and personal conflicts. Rushing will face Democrat Carlos Brown in November.
Republican Bulloch County Commission Seat 2B incumbent Walter Gibson is challenged in the primary by Republicans Sid Jones and Travis Chance. The winner of this primary race will face Democrat Adrienne Dobbs in November.
Candidates speak on issues
About 60 people attended the forum, sponsored by the Bulloch County Republican Party and Statesboro Herald. Reid Derr, head of the Bulloch County Republican Party, served as moderator.
Chance was first to give an opening statement.
“I am very proud to make this community my home,” he said. “Public safety is near and dear to my heart” and the rising costs of insurance due to changes in ISO ratings (pertaining to fire services) is something we need to address.” He also spoke about roads and infrastructure, and “finding ways to get creative” in funding these needs.
He said he worked over a decade with the City of Statesboro as a councilman and worked towards a good relationship between the city and county.
Gibson, a commissioner for 18 years, said Bulloch County has grown in population by around 20,000 in that time. He said in his tenure he has served on a variety of boards and commissions and worked towards things that benefit county residents.
Jones said he has been attending county commission meetings for two years since his retirement from the U.S. Marshal Service. “I have a history of working hard and we have a good commission in place that has the best interests of the community at heart.”
In reference to a question about solid waste issues, Chance said he has been “very impressed” with how county commissioners handle the solid waste challenges. He said funding needs to be found to improve recycling programs and adding manned recycling centers.
“We have been working on this for 16 to 18 years,” Gibson said. People dumping illegally and coming from other counties are creating the problems, but as the county eliminates unmanned dumpsters and builds more recycling centers, the problems should decrease, he said.
Jones quoted current county commissioner Robert Rushing from a previous commission meeting. “We have become a throw-away society.” He agreed that a better recycling program is necessary and ways to fund the improvements should be discussed.
Each candidate was asked whether they would approve any future rezoning request for a large tract of land from Ag 5 to light industrial, such as was suggested in 2016 regarding a tract at the southern end of the county. The request was denied after intense public opposition.
All three candidate said they would not support such a zoning change. Gibson said he might “if it was in the right location,” but said quality of life for neighbors would be more important.
Jones said he was very familiar with the Bulloch Bay swampland that was up for possible rezoning in 2016, and “as a tax payer,” he disagrees with offering industries free land and huge tax incentives just to lure them to the area.
Chance questioned the need for another industrial park, as the one Bulloch County built on Interstate 16 and Hwy. 301 is not yet full.
None of the candidates agreed with consolidation of city and county services, citing separate needs, costs to implement and the fact that many rural county residents are against the idea.
All three candidates agreed that jail overcrowding must be addressed, praised local law enforcement and recognized that funding is also needed for benefits and salary increases.
Regarding the upcoming Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST), all three candidates support it and prefer it as a more fair way to fund needs than to rely solely on taxes from property owners, using sales tax pennies from all consumers instead.
In closing, Jones said he has “dealt with and learned to work with people of all walks of life,” and that he has seen how people “want to move to Bulloch County for its quality of life. I hope to help continue” preserving that.
Chance, who grew up in Jenkins County, said “I fell in love with Bulloch County. It drew me in and kept me here. I want to retire here and for my kids and grandkids to grow up here.”
Gibson said he hopes to continue to work with all municipalities in the county – Brooklet, Register, and Portal as well as Statesboro. “The stakes are simply too high for all of us not to work together,” he said.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.