Candidates for mayor and the Post 5 seat on City Council gave reasons Monday why each would be the best fit for Flowery Branch’s future.
The comments were made during the monthly meeting of the South Hall Republican Club at the Spout Springs library.
Incumbent Mayor Mike Miller was first to speak. First elected to council in 2009, Miller listed the progress the city has experienced during his term as mayor.
“With the help of City Council, we’ve strengthened public safety, improved our gateway corridors and transportation infrastructure,” said Miller. “We (have) brought in new economic opportunity and maintain an honest and ethical government.”
Miller noted the addition of six new police vehicles and three new weather sirens that provide complete coverage for the city, all done without a tax increase.
“For the first time, we have completed a $250,000 road resurfacing project. This road project repaired roads that were in dismal condition,” said Miller.
“I’ve focused on revitalizing our downtown historic district. When I first took office, we had a Main Street that resembled a ghost town,” said Miller. “Over the past few years, we’ve seen a 100 percent occupancy rate.”
Miller also noted a number of recent annexations, including an agreement with SKF, a bearing, motion products and seal manufacturer. “Once complete,” said Miller, “(that) will make it the largest employer in Flowery Branch.”
Miller closed by discussing a commitment to ethics.
“Every strong community is built on an honest, open government,” he said. “A team that works together. In the last two years, we as a council and city staff have worked together. ... That has not always been the case.”
Mayoral challenger Shanon Lutz spoke to her ideas on the role of mayor.
“Even if we personally disagree with the residents of our community,” Lutz said, “we have an obligation to treat the residents with the respect that they deserve. Our mayor is meant to be an ambassador, not a legislator, not a judge.”
Lutz said she has spent 20 years in education, including being named a teacher of the year and selected for a teachers’ leadership program.
“This background in education has prepared me to serve as your mayor in Flowery Branch, which is largely a ceremonial position requiring high levels of communication, organizational skills, which are both areas my peers would tell you I excel at,” said Lutz. “As the wife of a county commissioner, I’ve seen firsthand how one caring individual can make a positive impact on our city.”
Lutz’ husband, Craig Lutz, is a member of the Hall County Board of Commissioners and a former member of Flowery Branch City Council.
Shanon Lutz also expressed concerns about transparency in council’s meeting minutes and the inability to search for topics within the minute archives.
“Our city government has failed to uphold the level of transparency that our citizens expect,” she said, listing 2012 minutes that note only which council member made a motion, who seconded it, “but discussion on the issue was largely ignored,” she said.
Shanon Lutz said she wished to see the city “embrace many of the family values that we share.”
“Sometimes it’s the small things ... invocations at the beginning of meetings ...”
City Council Post 5 incumbent Tara Richards is being challenged by Chris Fetterman.
Fetterman, who previously served on the council, was re-elected in November 2011, but said it was necessary to resign due to a career transition.
“My employer at the time came to me in mid-December, after the election, and they told me they had an opportunity, and it wasn’t really a choice. It was a take it or leave it. ... We made the decision to take the chance.”
Fetterman ultimately remained in Flowery Branch, but traveled extensively, he said.
“If I couldn’t serve you properly traveling, then I wasn’t doing you any justice.”
Fetterman’s largest goal, he said, relates to property taxes.
“I have a mission to zero our property taxes,” he said. “I want to have a gradual reduction year over year until we have that goal.”
Fetterman said this is doable, citing Buford, Braselton, Lula and Clermont as having no city property taxes.
“(Local option sales tax) is designed by law,” he said, “to offset property taxes. With property values now increasing, our property tax has increased as well.”
Fetterman said the increased taxes and LOST combine for a “significant” amount of funds.
“They kept the millage rate the same. By law, you should’ve reduced the property taxes based on the millage rate.”
Richards explained that Fetterman’s proposal was not feasible because the city has yet to receive its LOST funds. Flowery Branch also does not span more than one county, as does Buford, which benefits from a more diverse funding stream, Richards said, nor is it like Lula or Clermont, which do not provide basic services.
“We have basic services and a standard of living that you want us to live up to,” Richards said.
Fetterman also expressed concern about government transparency and increases in compensation for council members, noting a recent per diem ordinance passed by council that would reimburse specific expenses for those elected. He also did not support the numerous studies the city has undertaken.
“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.”
Richards, who is a licensed, professional engineer, rebutted his comments, citing fiscal savings after a study explored a water reclamation proposal and found it to be lacking.
“A planned city is a well-prepared city,” she said.
Richards is an avid proponent of city economic development and staying out of business owners’ business.
“We recognize that we have to continue to create,” she said, a city that balances its budget without raising taxes and cultivates a business-friendly environment.
“... Leave it to free enterprise to run their businesses as they see fit,” she said.
Richards also said competitive compensation packages are key to decreasing the attrition of city staff.
Both Richards and Fetterman are military veterans, and both expressed their commitment to serving their country and community. Fetterman said he is asking voters to provide him the opportunity to once again earn their vote. Richards said “relationships are business,” and that “she makes her commitments with care.”
The upcoming municipal election is set for Nov. 5 and will include mayor and council posts 3, 4 and 5.
Last month’s South Hall Republican Club featured Post 3 Councilman Fred Richards and challenger Ed Edwards, and Post 4 Councilman Joe Anglin, who is running unopposed.