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Visions at odds in Flowery Branch races

POSTED: October 27, 2013 12:09 a.m.

Flowery Branch voters will be busier than most this fall: Two City Council seats and the mayor’s post are being contested in the Nov. 5 municipal elections.

Early voting runs through Friday.

Incumbent Mike Miller faces challenger Shanon Lutz in the race for mayor.

Miller, 38, a golf professional, has been in office since 2009 serving as mayor, mayor pro-tem and interim mayor.

Lutz, 45, is a teacher making her first run for public office. She is the wife of Hall County Commissioner Craig Lutz.

Miller has focused his campaign on continuing the positive working environment he feels has developed among himself, City Council and staff over the past few years.

“The mayor is the primary leader, visionary, spokesperson and advocate for the city,” Miller said. “As mayor, I strive to maintain a positive working relationship with council members, city staff and citizens alike.

“With the help of City Council, we’ve strengthened public safety, improved our gateway corridors and transportation infrastructure. We (have) brought in new economic opportunity and maintain an honest and ethical government.”

Miller is pro-growth for the quickly expanding city, but prefers expansion to be planned.

Flowery Branch population has seen a 214 percent population increase in the past decade, expanding 2.7 percent between July 2011 and July 2012, according to the most recent census, to an estimated 6,012.

“I support wise annexation,” Miller said. “Recently we have annexed a number of large commercial and industrial areas into the city in order to boost economic expansion, to create more jobs and to help alleviate property tax burdens on our citizens.”

Miller explained that commercial and industrial zones require less city services and generate more revenue.
He has also been a strong advocate of the redevelopment of Old Town.

“I’m proud to say that the revitalization of Old Town has been a primary focus of my administration and the council,” Miller said.

Lutz also is pro expansion, as long as area infrastructure can support new development needs.

“I do support additional annexation into the city,” she said. “Especially if the city can provide value-added services like water and, or sewer. The city can’t become too focused on any particular area, because we have residents and businesses with needs all across different areas of the city.

“Due to the complexity of state law, I don’t see how annexation of residential areas will be practical unless there is a desire for city services. So for the most part, annexation will most likely be commercial. Bringing additional commercial annexations into our city can provide jobs for our residents that are close by, further stimulate our local economy and also help provide additional property tax relief.”

On government relationships, Lutz does not share Miller’s opinion.

“Our city government has failed to uphold the level of transparency that our citizens expect,” she said, noting 2012 meeting minutes that note only which council member made a motion and who seconded it, “but discussion on the issue was largely ignored,” she said.

“When elected to mayor, I will begin the process of restoring family values and the small town feel by re-engaging our church communities and offering our local clergy the opportunity to offer invocations before our meetings,” Lutz said.

“I will also restore dignity to the office and ensure that everyone is treated with respect, even if they personally disagree. I will encourage diversity of thought while consensus building,” she said.

In the council races, Post 3 incumbent Fred Richards is being challenged by Ed Edwards. Tara Richards, who holds Post 5, is being challenged by Chris Fetterman. Post 4 Councilman Joe Anglin is unopposed.

Fred Richards, 66, is retired after a career in real estate; this is his first term on the council. As a member, he has been active in overseeing redevelopment plans for Old Town.

“I support future annexations on a case-by-case basis as they arise,” he said. “They should be both residential and commercial.”

He said that to pay for a growing city’s infrastructure needs, “there are different sources of funding available depending on circumstances such as tap fees, tax allocation district money, general funds, grants, low-interest loans and others depending on size, scope and circumstances of the project.”

Edwards, 72, is retired from the printing industry. This is his first foray into politics.

“On a personal note, I would like for people to know that the reason I decided to run for City Council is that I truly fell in love with the City of Flowery Branch,” Edwards said.

“This will be my home for the rest of my life. The people, the beauty, the diversity, and the willingness to work together for the betterment of the community is fantastic. What a joy it would be to be involved in giving myself to this most worthy achievement.”

Post 5 challenger Chris Fetterman, 42, is an U.S. Army veteran who served in Operation Desert Shield/Storm and reached the rank of sergeant. He said he is a transportation manager, but declined to name the company for which he works. He sits on the board for the EnviroShare Advisory Committee and was part of the Regional Economic and Development Leadership Class of 2008.

Fetterman supports growth, but said his main mission is the elimination of city property taxes.

“I do support annexation and believe both commercial and residential are important to build a community,” Fetterman said. “The additional infrastructure is always a challenge because of upfront costs to the city, but there are other tools available currently being used by surrounding areas to pay for the infrastructure.

“We need someone on the council who is fiscally conservative and funds projects versus repeating study after study. We need to be proactive, not reactive. We need someone on the council who is going to ask the tough questions.”

Tara Richards, 37, who has served on City Council for three years, said she believes that strategic residential and commercial annexation is an essential part of a city’s growth and development. Richards is a professional engineer, holds the rank of major in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2012.

“A planned city is a well-prepared city,” said Richards, who is on the Old Town redevelopment committee with councilman Fred Richards, who is no relation.

“Strategic and quality residential developments are important, as is our special purpose local option sales tax, and local option sales tax dollars are based on population, and this type of development typically provides their own infrastructure,” she said.

In November, the Council will be presented redevelopment consultant Pond and Co.’s final proposal for the anticipated vision for Old Town. The plan takes into account the city’s existing comprehensive plan, and includes short and long-term projections.

“The city seeks to maximize its property investments, consolidate administrative and City Hall functions and create incentives that invite the private sector to partner in developing our combined vision for the city,” Tara Richards said.


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