With Dahlonega’s city elections rapidly approaching, The Dahlonega Nugget posed questions to the five candidates who will be running for city council this November. This is the first installment of The Nugget’s Q&A with the candidates.
Question 1: In your opinion, what is the biggest issue facing the city of Dahlonega? And, if elected, how would you tackle that issue?
Tony Owens, running for Post 4:
The City of Dahlonega is currently facing many challenges from traffic to parking, from University growth to potential growth from development at the GA 400/Hwy 60 intersection. The impact of these challenges can only be addressed through smart and creative planning. We need to create an atmosphere of co-operation between the City and County governments giving rise to common goals toward the establishment of joint planning and economic ventures. I have built good working relationships, over my years of work on the Downtown Development Authority, with many of the people involved in both city and county development and planning. I believe I can transition that into a collaborative relationship between City and County, where we work toward a common goal of a better quality of life for all of Lumpkin County.
Johnny Ariemma, running for Post 4:
There is much waste of taxpayer money. Look for yourself and you'll see, city tax rollback you got little to nothing. Taxpayer money went to pay for the Head House for $350,000 and another $350,000 taxpayer dollars will have to go towards repairs, the Development Authority (DDA) is to bring business to Dahlonega, not to spend money like this. The City spent $20,000 on a parking study that they ignore. The parking study said to keep the old kindergarten property on North Park and convert it into valuable parking. The 2020 budget shows paid-parking coming to the square; bad idea. SPLOST was voted on by the people, which included handling our stormwater problem. However, the council has spent tens-of-thousands of dollars on a study to tax every business and residential home for stormwater runoff. Trust me folks, I would never vote for this nonsense. I say no to double taxation.
Ron Larson, incumbent Post 6:
The biggest issue is growth. We need to protect the charm of our historic square. It's critical to maintain the culture that has been created over the years that has received numerous awards. Tourism is our biggest "industry." We need to work closely with the Tourism Director, Chamber, County and UNG to keep this industry thriving. I will continue to work with the Mayor, and my partners on the council, to strategically deal with the growth, through strict regulations and zoning. With continued community input and partnership with the County, the new hospital will bring growth we can plan for - new business, new homes and good paying jobs, all which will enhance tourism as well. Key committees exist to ensure this - the Historic Preservation Committee, DDA and the Planning & Zoning Board. I will be sure our "Hallmark" town continues to be one of the best small towns in Georgia.
Dewey Moye, running for Post 6:
The city has a bond debt of $24,255,00.00 at a 3.62 interest rate. The payment on the bond debt is based on water rates. The tap fees are set at a very high rate which discourages investment and development. The city needs additional revenue to retire the bond debt. The city must engage the County Commission in a very pro-active manner to sell water in the 400 corridor and other parts of the county. This agreement must be beneficial and fair to all concerned. Total cooperation is critical to the city and county to solve the revenue issue facing the city.
JoAnne Taylor, incumbent Post 5:
The biggest issue facing our community is preparing for and managing growth. While we are facing many challenges and welcoming new opportunities, being prepared with needed infrastructure is essential. This means continued cooperation and planning with Lumpkin County and the Georgia DOT; continuing to invest in and upgrade sewers and wastewater treatment; providing more water to the county needed for projects like the new hospital; and investing in parking solutions. We also need to attract more housing, and we will be asking the Downtown Development Authority to take a leadership role in finding ways to attract more developers and develop appropriate housing.
Question 2: How do you think the city handled the recent Sept. 14th rally? And, would you have done anything differently?
I would start by tipping my hat to our City Marshal Jeff Branyon, for his efforts in planning and coordinating the security for the event. Along with our City Manager, Bill Schmid, Sheriff Jarrard, and countless other individuals who protected not only the right of citizens to their First Amendment Right to Free Speech, but also protected our historic downtown from the potential hazards that similar events around the country created. Was it an overwhelming show of force? Yes it was, but if you fail to prepare then you prepare to fail. Our community should be proud of the way it was handled. We learned a lot from the event, and many lost revenue from people not being able to easily make it downtown. In the end, we were able to open our doors that evening or the next day and get back to our way of life.
Sheriff Stacy Jarrard and his team did an excellent job, along with our city workers, and so many others to keep everyone safe in the event things got out of hand. I was there from 8 am until 3 pm, and must say I was very impressed with the thought process in positioning barricades and fencing to protect everyone. If this should happen again, I would recommend setting aside parking for business owners and their staff. Businesses were pretty much forced to close because parking was designated for those who were coming for the rally and to protest the rally and law enforcement. There were hundreds of people staying in downtown hotels with no place to shop and few restaurants open. It is unfortunate that our downtown businesses were negatively impacted by those expressing their right to peaceful protest and assembly.
In one word, excellent. The goal was to maintain public safety and the reputation of our City. The planning undertaken was similar to planning for a Cat. 5 Hurricane - it will be bad, so plan accordingly! Thanks to the law enforcement teams and the staff of the City of Dahlonega who maintained the peace and protected our citizens, visitors and protestors. No property damage, only 3 arrests, and while minimally disruptive to business on the Square, the community understood the significant risks for violence and partnered with the City to make the event a non-event. I would not have done anything differently. Yellow ribbons prevailed and told the story of what our community stands for.
All agencies handled the recent rally on the downtown square efficiently and in a safe manner for all involved. They are to be commended. They were very proactive and professional throughout the entire time. I would not change any action they employed.
Chief Branyon and Sheriff Jarrard led an outstanding response to handling the knowns and unknowns of the recent rally. Cooperation with the many volunteer law enforcement personnel was precise and well executed. Our citizens, tourists, and property were all protected. The ordinances passed before the event gave law enforcement additional tools which prevented individuals with backpacks who refused police scrutiny of their backpacks from entering the rally area. All in all, I would say well done to our law enforcement, it is good to know that our community can marshall this type of protection. I wouldn't change a thing and hope we never have to do it again.