A Hall County commissioner is seeking his fifth term on the board and a Gainesville Fire Department inspector and business owner is challenging him for it.
The two Republicans are running for the District 2 seat on the June 9 ballot and face no Democrats, so the winner will secure the seat for a four-year term. District 2 includes portions of North and West Hall and only those in the district cast votes for the position.
Residence: North Hall
Experience: 27 years with the Gainesville Fire Department, where he works as an inspector. He also owns a flooring business. This would be his first elected position.
Residence: North Hall
Experience: Powell was first elected to the board in 2004. He works in commercial real estate.
Billy Powell was first elected to the board in 2004. He said the current board has a strong record and works well together.
David Gibbs said he “could bring a fresh set of eyes” to the board if elected.
“Your commissioner needs to be a good steward of the benefits we have reaped because of our growth and prosperity in Hall County. … We need to make sure that citizens of Hall County have received the services they are entitled to in Hall County,” Gibbs said. “I believe this starts with transparency and community involvement where all the citizens in Hall County have a voice.”
Gibbs said his career with the fire department gives him a unique perspective to bring to the board, as he has firsthand experience with building codes and public safety issues. While he works for Gainesville, he said he has heard concerns from county employees about benefits and employee retention, particularly among first responders.
Powell said commissioners have positive relationships with municipalities and other community groups such as the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce and have worked to retire county debt.
“It’s a good make-up and a good balance of the commission right now. It’s good and as strong as I’ve ever been a part of,” he said.
The board will soon be facing the challenge of helping the county recover from COVID-19, with likely shortages of sales tax and other revenue.
“Over the last six weeks, people have been sheltering in place. Other than groceries, they’re not spending a lot of money. I’ve seen Home Depot and Lowe’s parking lots full, but I’ve seen restaurant parking lots empty,” Powell said late last month. “We haven’t seen the impact because there’s about a two-month lag in the (Georgia) Department of Revenue sending in sales tax monies to the county. We won’t see the full impact until it’s budget season.”
The county’s fiscal year restarts July 1.
Gibbs said he also predicts COVID-19 recovery will be a challenge for the board.
“Who knows how long that’s going to continue?” he said.
Both candidates still anticipate growth in Hall. Gibbs said the county government can play a role in mitigating the impacts of development.
“You not only have to look at the growth, you have to look at all the people it brings and the traffic and getting in and out of certain areas,” he said. “It brings a lot more things than just voting to allow a subdivision to come in. … It takes money to support that growth.”
Powell said one planned road project has been long-needed.
The Sardis Connector would run from the Dawsonville Highway/Ga. 53 area in West Hall to Thompson Bridge Road/Ga. 60 in North Hall.
“Back when I was first running in 2004, I went to a public forum at the Civic Center talking about transportation projects. Everybody in the audience got to vote on what they thought the biggest priority for the area was,” he said. “The Sardis Connector got the most votes, and that was 16 years ago. The need hasn’t changed. It’s only gotten greater.”
The candidates on 3 issues
Gibbs: He is opposed to any tax increase that is not voted on by county residents, such as special sales taxes. He said his own taxes have about doubled over the past seven years, and he said property assessments have played a role in those increased payments. He said he hopes to look at the process and see what could be adjusted to offer taxpayers some savings.
Powell: His goal is to avoid tax increases. “We have to look at the digest as a whole. It’s not by neighborhood. It’s not by house. It’s not by property type. It’s the digest as a whole multiplied by the millage rate,” he said. “If at all possible, barring another 2008 catastrophe, my goal will always be to roll back the millage rate to be revenue-neutral.”
Development and infrastructure
Gibbs: The county has different zonings based on what is appropriate for the area, Gibbs said, and if a property use is permitted in the area, Gibbs said property owners should be able to use their properties while following those guidelines.
Gibbs also said infrastructure needs such as roads and sewer should be considered when planning for growth.
Powell: While he works to encourage businesses to come to Hall County, he said effects on neighboring properties should be considered.
“We will do anything and everything possible to encourage and help businesses come to Hall County. It’s the location that requires a lot of due diligence on our part,” he said. “You have to balance the impact of the commercial development and the residential areas around it.”
He said he is “very pro-business but will always protect the safety and integrity of our neighborhoods.”
Employee recruitment and retention
Gibbs: Employee benefits, particularly for first responders, should be reevaluated so employees stay with the county.
“We’re training these guys and spending thousands and thousands of dollars to get them certified as firefighters or paramedics, and then they leave to go to another county to have better benefits,” he said. “You just have to find a way to take care of these guys where they will want to stay and put in 30 years and retire in Hall County.”
About 100 current and retired county employees, many of them first responders, have challenged Hall County’s freezing of pension benefits. A judge granted summary judgment to the county government and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia in 2019, but an appeal has been filed.
Powell: The county tries to “balance the benefits, the pay package and the work environment to make it a great place to work.”
“We have fabulous employees from public safety all the way to administration. Every department has strong leadership in it,” Powell said. “I wouldn’t say you’re going to get rich working for the county. I think you will have a good career path with the county if you were to join us. We try to take care of our employees.”
Powell cited the board’s April 21 approval of COVID-19 hazard pay for employees as a recent example.