Taxes, elections top government stories
by Jason Lowrey
Jan 01, 2014 | 880 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The year 2013 in government stories saw a tax increase, new faces on city councils and a Bartow County-based runoff for the state Senate, among other stories. As chosen by the newsroom of The Daily Tribune News, in no particular order, the following stories represent the top government stories of the past year.

Millage rate increased 25 percent

As approved in a July 24 meeting, Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor approved a 25 percent increase to the millage rate. The increase bumped the unincorporated rate to 9.68 mills, while the incorporated rate rose to 10.97 mills. The increase was the county’s first since 2005.

Taylor later defended the millage rate increase during a state of the county address at the Cartersville-Bartow County’s quarterly luncheon in August.

“The millage rate has been falling at the same time the tax digest has been falling. That’s, folks, that’s tough when your millage rate falls down and the tax digest falls, because our values are not going down, but the millage rate is slipping at the same time. ... I commend Commissioner [Clarence] Brown for starting the reduction in the workforce,” Taylor said.

After his speech, Taylor said the county refused to close departments in order to keep the millage rate from going up.

“Most of the people in Bartow County has an awareness of what’s going on and the financial shape we’re in. Most people realize we’ve been in a recession six or seven years now, locally especially, and I think they know the revenue situation and they know we’re working really hard to keep cutting expenses,” he said. “But we’ve been caught up into something that we’ve got to help the situation in county, and unfortunately, it meant a millage rate increase. It wasn’t real popular to a lot of people, but I think that most people will understand and we refuse to close some of the departments that were asked by some of our opponents to close. I think they’re very important departments and we’re going to make it through this.”

Elections see new municipal officials

Though there were no county-level elections in 2013, voters across the county still made their voices heard at the ballot box.

In Adairsville, Connie Morrow was

defeated in a three-way race with Kenneth Carson and Lee Castro. Castro later won the runoff with 195 votes versus Carson’s 156.

Emerson voters also elected a challenger to the city council. Donnie Bagwell received 96 votes, putting him at the top of the list for an at-large city council seat versus incumbent Brenda Tidwell’s 42 votes.

Euharlee elected a new faces to the city council and mayor’s seat. Ronald Nesbitt won an at-large seat, defeating incumbent Sammy Carden and challenger David Stout. Dennis Thayer won the mayor’s race by a seven-vote margin, defeating incumbent Kathy Foulk 230 to 223.

“We have to rebrand the city and clean up its image,” Thayer said election night. “We can’t expect our citizens to keep their property up if we fail to take care of city property. People have an image of us as a sleepy little town and we must bring that image up to date. Our city is ranked 71st among Georgia cities with a population below 10,000. Why are we 71st? We need to bring our town up to date; we need sidewalks, better streets and cleaner signage.”

Kingston voters chose a new mayor and council member as well. Mike Abernathy defeated incumbent Ed Miklas in Kingston’s Post 4 election 91 to 9. In the mayor’s race, Wanda Penson defeated incumbent Ron Casey 76 to 54.

“I just want to say I’m very happy right now and excited about getting the votes that I did, and very happy that the ones who did come out and vote,” Penson said. “[I] just want to say I will stick to what I’ve said all along about I will treat everyone the same no matter who you are. If I can help in any way, I will be here to help you. I think all people should be treated the same and equal and fair. So that’s what my goal is — just to treat everyone the same.”

White voters approved two measures relating to alcohol sales. Sunday package sales were approved with 35 votes, while sales by the drink was approved with 32 votes.

Thompson wins District 14 race

Following a five-way race to the November election, and a runoff race against a local opponent, Bruce Thompson became Senate District 14’s voice in the state Legislature.

Thompson defeated Bartow County businessman Matt Laughridge in the runoff race, 2,981 to 1,356 votes overall. District 14 covers most of Cherokee County, roughly half of Bartow County and a small section of Cobb County.

The night of his victory, Thompson said he was already discussing what he could do in the Legislature as he finishes former Sen. Barry Loudermilk’s term. Loudermilk resigned in September to run for Rep. Phil Gingrey’s District 11 seat.

“As I said earlier to a couple of people that have asked, I was fortunate to have senators and House of Representative people here tonight, so were able for a little, shortly go to a room, and start talking, alright, how do we immediately get me involved in being part of the solution? So there’s really no time to rest,” Thompson said.

Emerson creates Red Top CID

In a boon for the LakePoint Sporting Community, the Emerson City Council approved in June the creation of the Red Top Community Improvement District. The district allows LakePoint to tax businesses only within the district for material improvements such as infrastructure.

“The community improvement district is kind of like a homeowner’s association for an area, but it’s only for businesses,” said Assistant City Manager Todd Heath when the CID was approved. “What they will do is, they will impose a tax but the tax is only on the businesses within the district, which is LakePoint, and then, with that tax money, they can use it to do improvements, such as sidewalks, street signs, street lighting, water, sewer, basically all the things that a regular government would do.”

Emerson had been discussing the idea of a CID since February. City Manager Kevin McBurnett then said the CID would be beneficial for both Emerson and LakePoint.

“There’s a way that it can work for our good. So I don’t have a problem with it, after I read it, so long as the infrastructure gets to be conveyed back to us — any infrastructure that’s built — and I believe it does in what I’m reading,” he said. “... When you read all this you’re going to say you just created a new city inside of this city. Essentially, the same as Emerson was created inside of Bartow County.”

The Red Top CID will be governed by a five-member board. Three of the members will be elected from within the CID, while the remaining two representatives will be appointed by the Emerson City Council.

Kingston battles Dawson Street well issues

Beginning in January and running through most of 2013, Kingston fought fecal coliform and E. coli in its Dawson Street well. After months of work, which included clearing about approximately 30 feet of sand and silt and installing a new filtration system, Kingston was able to operate with two wells again.

When the issue was first discovered via testing, then Water Operator Billy Baker attempted to flush out the bacteria over a period of days, but it was not enough to clear the well.

“You crank it up and we close the valves and flush it out on the ground,” Baker said of the flushing procedure. “We have an emergency connection to the Bartow County water system if we have to use it. We’ve used it before when we [did] some repairs when we had one well.”

Kingston operated with one working well throughout summer, with the Railroad Street well dropping 20 feet of water from January to June. Baker told the council during a June work session the city was pulling 90,000 to 100,000 gallons per day from the 97-year-old well.

Repairs to the well were approved in April, with the council paying $44,000 for the repair and an additional $12,000 to have the sediment removed.