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Flowery Branch candidates largely agree on issues
About 60 attend South Hall Republican Club forum
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Two of the three candidates vying for the open Flowery Branch City Council race squared off at a candidate forum at Spout Springs Library on Tuesday night.

Fred Richards and Jason Covert fielded questions on city-related issues in front of about 60 residents in the event sponsored by the South Hall Republican Club.

The event came weeks before the March 6 election to determine who would take the Post 3 seat vacated by Kris Yardley.

Pat Zalewski, who is also running for the post, was not in attendance. The winner will fill Yardley's unexpired term, which ends Dec. 31, 2013.

Topics at the forum ranged from TSPLOST to street lights.

Largely, the two candidates — coming from business backgrounds — agreed on issues and painted themselves as pro-business, fiscally conservative candidates.

Covert tried to differentiate himself by pushing for a long-term economic growth plan in Flowery Branch. He proposed bringing an economic development authority to form that plan.

Covert said he would help work on a long-term vision for the city.

Richards, on the other hand, highlighted his experience in balancing budgets.

He said his experience as a business owner has prepared him to look hard at controlling costs and promised to bring that frugality to a city that would continue to see declining tax revenues in the short run.

"We need to be vigilant in our budget so we can hold down the (property taxes)," he said.

Beyond those differences, the candidates offered fairly similar responses on the issues.

Both candidates agreed that one of the budget challenges facing Flowery Branch was a need to address infrastructure to prepare for anticipated urban sprawl.

Both candidates also said the city would need to be prepared for continued decline in property tax revenues.

Responding to questions about the council's history of discord, both candidates emphasized that collaboration was important for the city to move forward.

Taking off from a popular saying about teamwork, Richards said, "Unfortunately, there is an ‘I' in council."

Going on to say that too many council members have used the position as a steppingstone, Richards indicated he would stick around on the council.

Acknowledging it bumps against their conservative principles, both said they supported passing TSPLOST because it was the best chance to address needed infrastructure.

The candidates also fielded three questions on a controversial city matter of taxpayers subsidizing street lights in two subdivisions.

Candidates agreed taxpayers should not be forced to foot those bills. However, Richards said "common streets" in the city could be covered by taxpayers.