Kathy Cooper can always tell when it’s been a good year.
“You can usually tell how the year’s been when you sell Christmas trees, because people are happy,” said the co-owner of Cooper’s Tree Farm in Braselton. “They’ve had a good year. They are enjoying their families.
“And then some years, you do talk politics down there. They talk about how they’re unhappy with their jobs. These people come every year, so I follow them. You get a good feel of what the economy’s like even at the end of the year. You see how it’s going and what their anticipation is for the future, for the next year.”
And how did her customers predict 2015?
“It feels good to me,” she said, laughing.
That could also be a good omen for Cooper, who is beginning her first term as Hall County commissioner this month. Cooper is representing District 1, which encompasses much of South Hall.
As someone who has lived in that area since 1985 — and in Hall since 1976 — the North Hall High graduate has seen firsthand how growth and development have affected the region and its residents.
“I was exposed to a lot of the new growth that was coming in right when it got started heavily,” she said. “I really am proud of the way that South Hall has grown. I think there have been a lot of good people in place early that saw the visions of what needed to happen.
“I just really want to keep that momentum going. There’s a lot of good things going on, and I’m hoping I’ll be a part of some of that, too, to show some direction.”
Finding the balance between growth and land preservation is something she’s interested in. On top of the family’s Christmas tree farm, they also raise cattle and chickens — the Cooper family’s chicken eggs can be found in Whole Foods and Publix under different labels— and she’s keenly aware that the land is “what feeds (her) family.”
“That’s where we make our living,” she said. “I know there’s got to be a balance in everything, and I hope that I can bring that perspective.”
Of course, growth and development bring more people. Cooper mentioned the upcoming opening of the Northeast Georgia Medical Center Braselton campus off Ga. 347.
“There are going to be good jobs that come with that,” she said. “And I think people appreciate that.”
But, she said, the appropriate infrastructure must be in place to accommodate those people. She brought up the widening of Spout Springs Road as a top issue.
“Transportation is our biggest problem right now down here,” Cooper said. “We have too many people that can’t get out and go where they need to go. The roads are my No. 1 priority.
“You have to have the infrastructure before you can have the development. And a lot of times, people don’t want to see the monies go to the infrastructure, but you really have to put that in the front and make sure you get all that done correctly, if you want to bring the industries and the work and the jobs and the houses that follow that.”
There is $20 million budgeted in the upcoming sales tax referendum for right-of-way acquisition on Spout Springs Road, which will get the ball rolling on the widening of what county officials say is a much-needed project.
Cooper said she was “fairly happy” with the proposed projects to potentially be funded by the special purpose local option sales tax, which county voters will decide whether to approve in March. The list also includes items like the 911 system upgrade, new county ambulances and improving the intersection of Hog Mountain Road at Cash Road.
“Nobody likes to pay an extra tax,” she said. “But the SPLOST is something I’ve always voted for because, as a property owner, it takes a little bit of the burden off of me. Somebody that’s renting an apartment is going to pay some sales tax. It’s going to go into some funds of things that ... if the budget comes short, they’re going to raise my taxes for it.”
Beyond transportation, Cooper said she doesn’t have any key issues or pet projects she would like to push forward. She’s someone who enjoys talking to people, but she puts a lot of thought into her words. As a new commissioner, she said there’s a lot for her to learn, especially now that she’s spending time with department heads and learning more about their particular roles.
“You do get a lot more information about everything around you,” she said, “because people, they look for you and they tell you.”
Cooper ran for this same position in 2006 against Bobby Banks and lost. It was an eye-opening experience. She realized the importance of being involved and speaking with people.
“People just don’t know you, and they’re not just going to vote for you,” she said. “They need to know something about you. You need to be out there talking to them, sharing your ideas.”
When Cooper ran again earlier this year, she won the Republican primary in May against Ken Cochran and faced no opponents in November’s election. She said she would tell people while campaigning that she just wants to “do good things.”
“I want to pay attention and as ideas come to me, try to maybe embellish on them a little bit and hopefully do good for our community,” she said.
“I think there always needs to be a voice for the taxpayer,” Cooper added. “That’s who we’re really there to protect with where the money is spent (and) how it is spent. Is there a better way spend it?”