Candidates for BOC Chair Weigh in on Multiple Issues
TSPLOST, service levels among topics discussed at GOP forum.
If there was a theme to tonight’s candidate forum, it concerned the role of local government.
The four candidates for chair of the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners - Will Costa, Larry Gause, Duane Kissel and Charlotte Nash - were asked to share their views on a variety of topics, but the discussion kept returning to what purpose government is meant to fulfill.
For Lilburn resident Will Costa, the government’s role is to make hard decisions.
“If we don’t stop the business as usual, we’re not going to make it,” he said. “The hard decisions we have to make now are going to be a lot harder later.”
Those hard decisions, Costa said, include working with MARTA, dealing with the fact that Gwinnett is part of a larger metro area, reassessing the county’s 2030 Unified Plan and even billing the cost of county services to immigrants to their country of origin.
“I don’t want to have a debate on immigration, but a lot of our county services are going to people who are not necessarily of legal immigration status,” he said. “Why is it that somebody comes in … that uses county services at the hospital or sitting in the jail, why can’t we start invoicing their country of origin for the services that they’re using and not paying?”
Costa was the only candidate to raise the question of illegal immigration, but not the only one to bring up the need to make difficult decisions as the county deals with an $18 million budget deficit and a falling tax digest.
“We have to look at what’s best for the community,” Duane Kissel said. “Things need to be put on hold and re-examined.”
Kissel said the county must focus on the basic services of government.
“We need to sit down and take a hard look at the services currently being offered by the county government,” he said.
Kissel, a retired Gwinnett County police officer, said the county must continue to provide police and fire protection and other critical functions, but needs to determine which other services are important enough to be publicly funded in light of the current budget situation. Kissel said he would also consider options for increasing revenue such as a Homestead Option Sales Tax (HOST).
According to Kissel, 20 percent of the county’s sales tax dollars are generated by non-Gwinnett residents. The HOST would allow residential property taxes to be reduced, he said.
The 1-percent tax is imposed in conjunction with an additional homestead exemption. Any funds collected in excess of the exemption amount must be used to adjust the millage rate.
Though Kissel said he favored the HOST, he opposes the TSPLOST (Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax).
“I don’t think a 1 percent tax split up among 11 counties is going to be the way to go,” he said.
For former naval officer and businessman Larry Gause, the role of government is to preserve individual liberties and protect personal property rights. Gause said he supports a market based economy and building the infrastructure necessary to let businesses grow.
Gause said he favors a smaller government and what he described as “common sense solutions” to the county’s budget problems.
“Some services are going to have to go,” he said. “We’ve got to get away from trying to be all things to all people.”
Dacula businesswoman Charlotte Nash said it is time for elected officials to have “an honest, open conversation with the public about what they expect from their government.”
Nash said while the current issues with the budget present a difficult problem, they also provide an opportunity.
“It can be a healthy process to go through as painful as it is,” she said. “I think it forces us to look at our priorities, to look at the way we are providing services and to look at the services that are being provided.”
Nash said it is important that elected officials ask constituents what services are priorities and what services are they willing to fund.
The forum, sponsored by the Gwinnett County Republican Party, was held at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. Veteran newscaster Mike Moore moderated the event. The candidates are scheduled to participate in a second forum on Feb. 15. The event, hosted by the Alliance of Concerned Citizens of Old Peachtree (ACCOP), will be held at The Bridge Community Church, 2026 Braselton Highway in Buford. That forum is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.