The race for Elbert County commissioner is on, and with less than three weeks before Election Day, Democratic candidates Lark Fogel and Jill Duvall seized the opportunity to speak candidly with voters at an open “Meet the Candidates” forum at the Elizabeth Branch Library.
The candidates spoke for close to an hour at the Oct. 4 moderated event, addressing many of the county’s sore spots including growing debt, budget woes and a need for more open government.
Republican candidates Robert Rowland and Larry Ross were invited to participate as well, but did not attend.
“The more I learn about what’s been going on in the county, the more eager I am to serve,” said Fogel, a local attorney seeking the District 3 seat.
Although she has never held public office, Fogel believes her legal expertise and desire for a strong platform of government transparency and fiscal accountability is necessary for the county to move forward.
“We currently have a (county) debt that is amortized with Wells Fargo for a 40-year term,” Fogel explained. “And to retire that debt, I’d first separate the budget into departments and then look at expenses.”
For Duvall, a retired middle school teacher seeking the District 1 seat, putting aside partisan differences is critical, particularly when it comes to water.
“We have to put aside party labels to solve water problems in the county, simply because we don’t have a lot of it (water) and we know that oil and gas are probably coming,” she said. “Residential water use has precedence over agricultural, which has precedence over manufacturing; and metropolitan service districts are also something I’d take a serious look at. I think we should get a handle on the ones we’ve got, take a look at their finances and study them before creating more.”
Both candidates expressed strong distaste for current county spending practices, particularly at a time when revenue is at its lowest in years.
“I know we are really wasting a lot of money on lawsuits,” said Fogel, referring to a recent civil suit filed by Elbert County resident Don Pippin against the current Board of County Commissioners. “We’re facing a potential multimillion-dollar judgment; I’m sure there’s likely an insurance policy out there to cover it, but it doesn’t cover deductibles, it doesn’t cover overages, and it may not cover individual attorney fees. That’s expensive, it’s onerous and completely wasteful, and that’s the kind of thing I can shut down to save the county.”
Duvall said when it comes to retiring debt she’d start by making the county’s budget more “user-friendly.”
“We throw everything in the general fund in this county which makes it very difficult to determine how much money we have for roads and bridges, social services, and such,” she said. “And I’d have each department have its own profit and loss every month, so you could see what the money was spent on and what your income was for that month.”
Duvall is also concerned with county spending.
“One of the things I think needs to be looked at more carefully are things like county vehicles for employees,” she said. “For example, we just hired a new IT person for the county and she got a county vehicle provided — county commissioners also have a vehicle provided to them. Those are the kinds of things that are, in my opinion, unnecessary expenses.”