Candidates tackle issues impacting Dahlonega
With the upcoming city elections just around the corner, The Dahlonega Nugget is running a series of candidate Q&A sessions to help better prepare readers for voting day in November.
The first part of this five-part series will focus on the mayoral candidates.
A total of three candidates are currently vying to replace current Mayor Garry McCullough, who has opted not to run for a fourth term.
Those candidates include political newcomer Rajpal Sagoo and long time city council members Sam Norton and Michael Clemons.
Sagoo is the owner and operator of MDD Holdings, Inc. a small business/startup consulting and holdings company. One of the MDD holdings is the Dahlonega restaurant The EndZone. Norton, who resigned from his Post 5 city council position to enter the mayoral race, is the owner of a trio of downtown businesses (Picnic Cafe, Humble Candle and High Cotton) and owns a 300 acre farm in South Georgia. Clemons, who resigned from his Post 2 position with the city council to enter the mayoral race, is a licensed low voltage contractor who has owned Ace Wiring Systems since 2005.
Q: What do you see as the biggest issue for the city? And, how do you plan to tackle this issue?
"The biggest issue I see for the City is the lack of a job friendly environment. It’s hard for many businesses to start here because of the high barrier of entry that the City imposes. This causes a shortfall in well-paying jobs in the area and drives people to find suitable employment outside the city. One of the ways we can tackle this is by creating a business incubator, something I have been an advocate of for some time and have been working with key leaders in the community to start. This incubator could house small startups and tech companies as a place to build their businesses and utilize the talents we have here in Dahlonega. In addition to the high costs of starting up, we must focus on High Speed Broadband to create a better environment. That means, as a City government, working together with NGN or other partners in expanding the services that are currently limited to the square and select areas. We need to make sure that we are exploring all options to solve these issues."
"The biggest challenges for the city are planning for growth, debt reduction and economic development. All three of these issues are related. They can be addressed with forward thinking and planning while removing obstacles that inhibit smart development and controlled growth. Improved internet, streamlined ordinances and a reduction in water service fees will go a long way in promoting this effort. An attitude of helpfulness and partnership in City Hall will also immediately improve the climate of doing business with the City. As a business leader, I know what we need in the Mayor's office to make this happen and I look forward to leading the city in this positive direction. Good open government can be effective and ethical without sacrificing our values or integrity."
"Dahlonega’s lifeblood is tourism. I believe that one of the biggest issues Dahlonega faces is parking on the Downtown Square. We need to conduct a full review of our resources and take a look at where our funding could be allocated to improving such issues; options such as using 3 percent of the Hotel/Motel Tax or allocating a portion of the upcoming SPLOST. I believe the City and the County should join together on this issue to use the hotel/motel tax. In our town, space for parking is precious. The more space that we have available for parking, the larger potential for economic impact the Square can offer. A beautiful thing about Dahlonega is that we do not charge for parking on the Square. That should never change. It's a sign of our southern hospitality. We say, 'Welcome to Dahlonega!'"
Q: Are you happy about the direction the City is currently moving in? Why or why not?
"I am happy in some of the directions the City is headed. Dahlonega is a tourism leader in the region and it’s historical uniqueness makes us stand apart. While maintaining that, we need to prevent our town from becoming a museum and remember that we are a home first. Right now, our Council acts reactionary, rather than planning and preparing for the journey ahead. It’s obvious we as a City are growing, but we need to be doing this in a smart and controlled way, rather than just taking the biggest payout from any developer. We need to manage our City debt creatively, we owe that to our residents who are paying ever increasing taxes. Additionally, we know that the University plans to keep growing. We need to be working with them on projects that benefit both parties as they continue to expand their footprint."
"Let’s work with residents and businesses in creating a culture downtown that lasts longer than 6pm on the weekends. One, where people of all ages can shop, eat, and play together. It encourages people to explore the shops, allows for the community to bond and socialize, and encourages an environment that people want to continually be a part of."
"I am pleased that we have been able to retain our feeling of a small town community while experiencing exceptional growth. Our city population has doubled since 2000 while the college enrollment in Dahlonega has nearly tripled in the same amount of time. Infrastructure has at times been strained, but has been continually improving as we digest this new growth and deal with new demands. Now is the time to refine our growth model and encourage low-impact, high tech and better paying business to come to Dahlonega. This well bring much needed tax revenue while making the least negative impact on the lifestyle we so enjoy. Historic preservation and business innovation can co-exist on Main Street."
"I believe there is certainly room for improvement. Many city ordinances need to be addressed as they are antiquated and preventing economic growth for the City of Dahlonega. I plan to revisit some of these issues while keeping the best interest of our community at the forefront. Another issues I would like to address is keeping our millage tax rate as low as possible. Our water and sewer rates are extremely high, and I would like to look for options to lower them. We need to find an alternative to the current internet inefficiencies that our citizens now have available. I will work tirelessly to ensure our town is the best it possibly can be. It is my goal for the City, the County, the Chamber of Commerce, the University of North Georgia and the Downtown Development Authority to all work together as a unified front. As the City continues to partner with the County, both will prosper. I will work to promote Dahlonega as not only a day-trip destination but as a two or three-day adventure. I intend to make a concerted effort to promote Lumpkin County as a whole. Increasing City involvement will help the unique enterprises that Dahlonega has to offer. Hospitality, wedding venues, wineries, merchants, outdoor excursions, musicians and artists are just a few of the industries that draw tourists from near and far."
Q: What, in your opinion makes you a qualified candidate for mayor?
"I am new to the political realm and have no ties to the establishment. Dahlonega needs someone who can lead a council with no hidden motives or agendas. I’ve been a student here and am now a resident and business owner. Each has provided me with unique perspectives and insight to the viewpoint of students, residents and businesspeople. I have seen the ups and downs and know what needs to happen to make this council trusted by the constituency again. I have a vested interest in Dahlonega in that I want to be able to start and raise a family here one day like so many others, which is why I know what it will take to create an environment for young, new families to set themselves up here, and carry on the legacy of our little gold rush town."
"I am the only candidate with the experience and vision to lead Dahlonega for the next four years. I encourage voters to review and compare the qualifications and experience of each candidate to determine who is best qualified to successfully serve as mayor. I have a broad range of leadership experience that includes serving on the High School Charter board as Chairman, President of the Merchant Association, two full terms as a city council member, two terms as Mayor Pro Tem, tax paying property owner, owner of three local businesses and a farm and, most importantly, being a father and a husband. I believe this makes me the most qualified candidate for mayor when compared to the other candidates.My experiences as Chairman of the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission (13 counties, 51 different governments, and 300,000 citizens) gave me the opportunity to work with Mayors and County Commission Chairmen while navigating a budget much larger than Dahlonega’s current budget. I was also voted by this peer group of Mayors and Commissioners to be their elected official of the year twice. I also have extensive experience serving on various state level committees with the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) including serving on GMA’s Executive Board of Directors. My leadership experience will insure if elected, that Dahlonega’s interest will be represented at the Local, regional, and state levels of government. I have the experience to deal with the issues and opportunities that face our City immediately after taking office. Elected officials should lead by example and have the character to represent the city honorably and I am grateful to have this opportunity to make our community the best it can be. I am the only candidate that is ready to serve our community as Mayor on day one!"
"I am honest, dedicated and loyal. I have roots here with four generations of my family living in Dahlonega. Those two things help me understand common issues and relate to the citizens of the city. I have a broad knowledge of Dahlonega, as a 25-year local business owner along with 15-years of experience as a member of the City Council. I will continue to study the issues our beautiful city encounters, and I will listen to all sides. As a team player, I am committed to working together for the best interest of Dahlonega. I am excited for the future of this city and its people."
The Dahlonega Nugget's five-part series of Q&As with the candidates running will continue next week with the candidates for Post 1 and will be followed by Post 2, Post 3 and Post 5.