Since the Great Recession, and particularly over the last four years, Hall County has rebounded with robust residential and commercial development.
Though much of this development has centered on the southern part of the county as Gwinnett seems to overflow into the area, as well as within the city limits of Gainesville, North Hall has seen its share of growth, too.
And Scott Gibbs, who has served as the county commissioner representing North Hall since 2011, has seen the economic rebound up close and personal.
It also has been a little political.
“I came in at the height of the recession,” Gibbs said. “I saw what my business had been through as far as cuts and struggles, and I felt like I was equipped to help the county get to where it needed to be.”
The impact the recession had on state and local government budgets came to roost during Gibbs’ first year in office.
The county was running an $11 million deficit, and dramatic spending cuts included employee furloughs, layoffs and service reductions.
The county also had just $6 million in reserves, plus mounting debt, and was having to borrow money to pay its bills.
“It was a horrible thing,” Gibbs said.
But reserves are now at $23 million, some debt has been paid down, and sewer service has been expanded to more rural parts of the county, Gibbs said.
Those are just a few signs of an economy that has bounced back – for now.
From the completion of the North Hall community center to the ongoing buildout of the Gateway Industrial Centre off Ga. 365 (including the recent announcement of an “inland port” or regional terminal to serve the Port of Savannah), Gibbs said managing growth in the area has been the most satisfying and most difficult part of his job as an elected official.
Lanier Technical College’s new campus at Howard Road and Ga. 365, though located in the district represented by commissioner Jeff Stowe, also has helped push new growth toward North Hall.
“If I’ve got to pick one thing I’m so proud of, it’s industrial development along Ga. 365,” Gibbs said.
Zoning issues, however, can be some of the most contested and bitter disputes that come before the county board of commissioners, Gibbs said.
Just a few years ago, there might be 200 or so building permits issued. Now, there are more than 1,000 annually.
“If you’re for it, there’s one winner,” he said.
And that means a lot of losers.
The best outcome, as is often the case when it comes to politics, is when a compromise can be made, Gibbs said.
For example, a recent 275-lot proposal was reduced in density before receiving the board of commissioner’s approval.
And, sometimes, commissioners will require more traffic-reduction measures, or additional setback requirements, before approving a development plan.
“It reached a point where a successful zoning was where both sides left unhappy,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs, who has served two terms over eight years, lost his re-election bid in the Republican primary last spring to Shelly Echols, who ran unopposed in the general election and will be seated on the county commission in January.
The result came as almost a relief to Gibbs, who had considered not running, but was encouraged by friends and colleagues to seek one more term.
Two terms “tends to be the life of a county commissioner,” Gibbs said. “It was time for a change.”
Gibbs said he’s been helping Echols with the transition any way he can.
“I try to make sure she’s included,” he said. “I do want to see her succeed. I still live in that district.”
Though he hasn’t given up on politics entirely, Gibbs said he’s happy to get back to a life less public, spend more time with his family and focus on his business, Gibbs Grading & Utilities, Inc.
“It’s been a good experience,” he said. “It’s just time for somebody else to do it.”
One project that remained elusive during Gibbs’ tenure is the proposed Glades Reservoir in North Hall.
The county has sunk about $16 million into the project, which lost state support as Georgia fought a protracted legal battle over water rights with Florida and Alabama.
And the rains returned, too, washing away a prolonged drought.
But, “I don’t think Glades is dead,” Gibbs said, adding that he expects it back on the table when the next drought hits as support for it could ebb and flow on the climate.
“What people lose sight of is (Lake) Lanier was supposed to be a chain of about 14 lakes, but only four got built,” Gibbs said.
He added that he expects state and local governments to pursue more regional reservoirs such as Glades in the years to come.
Gibbs said the county commission also was tested in recent years by new funding mandates handed down by state legislators, such as approximately half a million dollars in new annual spending on juvenile justice reform measures.
So, while Gibbs said it’s the right time to leave the limelight, he knows he’ll miss the people of Hall County and their trust in his service over eight years.
“If you’re not doing this to help people, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons,” he said of elected office.