While early voting for the runoff race began the same day, incumbent Jim Hubbard and his opponent, former Cherokee County Fire Chief Raymond Gunnin, who retired in 2011, participated in a second and final debate to make their stances known.
Gunnin edged out Woodstock attorney Channing Ruskell by 21 votes in the July 31 primary to earn his spot in the runoff election with Hubbard.
Despite Ruskell’s request for a recount last week, the results did not change.
Hubbard is seeking a third term on the commission.
Early voting for the county’s sole runoff election will continue through Friday at the Cherokee County Elections and Voter Registration Office at 400 E. Main St. in Canton. The polls will also be open this week from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.
Area precinct managers Jeff Duncan and Pete Castello moderated the evening’s event, which had no time limits for candidate’s responses to questions and did not have a media roundtable, as the party previously had at all of its previous debates.
The recurring theme amongst all local candidates of the down economy and budget cuts came forth once again and brought discussion of how each candidate would trim the BOC budget.
Gunnin said he does not have all the answers, but hopes to talk with all county employees to find the best way to reduce cost.
“We need to tap that resource and find out from them on how we can cut things,” Gunnin said. “I’ll reach out to them and find out ways on how we can save money and how we can save taxpayers’ dollars.”
Hubbard, who has sat on the BOC for almost eight years, said the board has had to do more with less money. He was the only commissioner to vote against the revenue-neutral millage rate increase at the Aug. 7 meeting.
Gunnin blasted the incumbent’s opposition to the board and said he would not have voted the same.
“I would have just went ahead and voted for it,” Gunnin said. “When you’re (on) a board, election year or not, the board has to have a consensus for what they’re doing to get along and do it. I’ve seen this done several times, and it’s always the one or two (board members) that are up for election that don’t vote for it.”
Hubbard said he was approached by too many constituents who were against the increase to vote in favor of it. He also mentioned former opponent Ruskell’s alleged accusations as an influence on his vote.
“At that time, we had a third candidate and his rhetoric was very accusatory towards me and that was a factor,” Hubbard said. “I was hearing from a great number of residents that said, that’s a tax increase, you can’t vote for that … I just heard from so many people that I felt like I had to say no to show the people I was listening.”
Rather than the millage rate increase, Hubbard said he is considering some of the suggestions from constituents, including potentially outsourcing fleet maintenance.
“I personally, unless it saves a lot of money, would be against that,” Hubbard said. “But that’s a decision we’ll have to make once we get some numbers.”
Also, following the failure of the transportation sales tax, or TSPLOST, in Cherokee County, both candidates said they would have to further examine the county commission’s budget on how to get funds for needed road improvements in the county.
Hubbard said the two Cherokee projects on the referendum’s list — improvements to the Little River Bridge over Bells Ferry Road and the widening of Highway 140 from Interstate 575 to the Fulton County line — are still high priority.
A third project, Highway 20 widening throughout the county, is also on top of the list.
“There are plans in place to four-lane that first section of 575 to East Cherokee Drive,” Hubbard said. “Then there’s a plan to improve the intersection at East Cherokee Drive.”
Hubbard said it would have been nice to get the TSPLOST money, but the referendum also would have cost the county.
“Unfortunately, a lot of that money was going to projects that we didn’t support,” Hubbard said. “We are revamping our priorities … so as the state funding becomes available for the state roads and as our SPLOST funds and impact fee monies become available for the local roads, we will be continuing on our projects on a priority basis.”
Gunnin said the Little River Bridge has been on the project list for a long time and federal funds typically come with “too many strings attached” to be able to adequately fund local road projects in a timely manner.
“We are going to have to find a way to fund these projects ourselves, it looks like,” Gunnin said. “It’s a lot of money, but it’s got to be fixed.”