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Hall among few still electing county surveyor
Current surveyor has held title for three 4-year terms
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Among their many choices this year, Hall County voters will decide on a new county surveyor.

The decision ought to be an easy one.

Only one candidate has signed up for the election: Republican Jason Lourie.

Hall is one of relatively few counties in the state that still elects the position of surveyor, an unpaid position the majority of counties allow their boards of commissioners to appoint.

In large part, county surveyors clear up property line disputes between landowners.

It’s a position that’s been around for centuries but, today, is rarely used.

The county’s current surveyor, Chris Patton, has served three four-year terms. Not once has the county requested his services, said Hall County spokeswoman Nikki Young.

Though no official numbers are kept on which counties still elect their surveyors, recent estimates have ranged between 10 and fewer than 30 of the state’s 159 counties.

In Hall, the position drew competition in the 2004 primary when Patton received nearly 78 percent of the vote over Joe Savage.

But since 1986, Hall County Elections Supervisor Charlotte Sosebee cannot think of another time the race drew so much interest.

Earlier this year, Henry County got rid of the elected position, saying it was too costly to have it on the ballot.

Like Hall, Henry County had not called on its surveyor in at least 10 years, said Janet Shellnut, Henry County elections director.

“I could not see voters voting on something that was a nonpaying position,” Shellnut said.

Still, the position was costing the county resources.

A close election eight years ago forced Henry County elections officials to spend time and resources recounting ballots, Shellnut said.

The recount ended in a tie and resulted in a runoff election, which Shellnut found absurd.

State law doesn’t require counties to provide surveyors with an office or a salary.

“It was just almost ridiculous to have all this work put into a nonpaying position that did not do any work for the county,” Shellnut said of the decision to move the surveyor off the ballot in Henry. “It was an awful lot of time, effort and money and we had to pay overtime (for the recount and the runoff).”

State law does allow elected county leaders to appoint surveyors instead of having the position on the ballot.

Since the late 1980s, counties have petitioned their delegations of state lawmakers to pass local legislation that negates the need for a surveyor election.

Almost all counties have gone that route.

Shortly before Henry County petitioned to have the elected position abolished, Shellnut emailed other elections officials and found that only 10 counties still elected their surveyors.

The number had shrunk nearly two-thirds from a 2006 survey by the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, which counted 29 counties that still elected the position.

Shellnut said she believes that putting the choice on the ballot adds to the costs of printing absentee ballots.
Sosebee said she doesn’t think it adds to the cost of elections, however.

Shellnut thinks state lawmakers need to reconsider the law requiring that counties have a surveyor.

The law dates to 1783, according to Bill Blalock, Hall’s county attorney.

And Shellnut said the title seems to promote a surveyor’s business more than serve the voters.

“I don’t know why they have never attacked it on the state level, as far as ‘do we need this position out there?’” Shellnut said. “It’s kind of a null and void type thing.”

Neither current County Surveyor Chris Patton nor candidate Jason Lourie returned multiple phone calls seeking comment for this report.

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