Commissioner Harry Johnston is running for re-election to his District 1 seat, representing the northern part of the county, against challenger Steve West.
The two are vying for the Republican nomination in the primary election Tuesday. But no candidates from other parties have signed on to run, meaning the primary will decide the winner.
As Election Day nears, the candidates are expressing their stance on the issues and trying to sway the voters in their favor.
Asked this week what the most pressing issue for District 1 was, Johnston said north Georgia as a whole is blessed with great quality of life, but has a few serious issues, one of which being the major commuter route Highway 20.
“It’s a state road, so the county has only limited influence,” said Johnston, a 61-year-old account manager at Southern Company in Atlanta. But “short term, we need completion of the long-planned improvements between I-575 and Scott Road. Longer term, we need improvements all the way to Cumming, done in a manner that causes the least disruption to residents in that corridor.”
Johnston also mentioned the district needs to increase park space, which can in part be accomplished by building “the huge new East Park planned for construction next year on Highway 20 at Water Tank Road.”
“And of course we need to sign up a new operator for the Ball Ground Recycling plant,” he added, referring to the vacant facility the county has been trying to sell since the former operator vacated the property, owned by the county.
West said the Ball Ground Recycling situation is one big issue the district is up against because residents worry “that taxes will rise due to the mismanagement of funds” in the deal the county made to guarantee $18.1 million in bond debt to open the facility.
“There are provisions in these bonds that can mandate increases in our millage rate,” said West, a 53-year-old who owns and operates a steel and metal fabrication company based in Cumming.
West said there is also a concern the county has neglected northeast Cherokee County in terms of recreation.
“These youth need ball fields for soccer, football and baseball,” he said. “There has been a need here for over 15 years, but the need has not been addressed. The population, as a percentage, has grown more in northeast Cherokee than any other area of District 1.”
When it comes to economic development, Johnston and West seem to differ on what needs to happen.
Asked how to foster development in District 1, while still keeping quality of life in mind, West spoke of things he feels need to change in the county’s government to improve economic opportunities.
“Business owners need to know they can depend on consistent and smart fiscal and tax policies,” West said. “They also need to trust that county government will always provide fair and ethical treatment. Making advanced educational opportunities available for our workforce will also attract businesses and economic development.”
The Cherokee High School graduate and grandfather added “integrity” needs to be restored on the Board of Commissioners.
Johnston, however, spoke of how he feels the county is already doing well.
“While holding residential development to moderate and sustainable levels, we need to continue our recent success in promoting quality business development that creates good jobs,” said Johnston, who has degrees in finance and accounting from Georgia State University. “We’ve traditionally done that through excellent relationships with state-level economic recruiters, and by building office and industrial parks so we’ll have good sites ready for these prospects.”
Johnston added the county’s efforts have paid off and it’s now moving into an “outreach mode,” by advertising and attending trade shows and conventions to catch the attention of corporations.
Who’s the best candidate?
The candidates were asked what makes them the best to represent District 1 on the board.
Johnston pointed to his “lifetime of extensive community involvement,” education, experience as a certified public accountant, his conduct in office and his “integrity that’s been proven now more than ever.”
“But mostly, it’s my proven track record of overall success for our county,” Johnston said. “After my 14 years on the BoC, Cherokee County enjoys one of the lowest tax burdens in Georgia, some of the best county services and facilities and a quality of life that’s second to none.”
He added: “Nobody can be perfect for 14 years, but the overall result of my time in office is one of the very best-managed counties in Georgia. Arguably the best. I’m the candidate you can trust to keep it that way.”
Asked about his qualifications, West mentioned his status as a lifelong county resident and his business.
“As a third-generation local businessman, I know the challenges facing the small businesses in starting and maintaining a business,” he said. “Small business is the lifeblood of our local economy, and I can help foster a small business friendly environment to provide additional jobs for our citizens to reduce the commute facing our residents as most travel to areas outside Cherokee to work daily. This will improve family life and quality of life in our county.”