Unlike many other communities, the governance of Columbia County likely will be decided Tuesday.
No Democrats qualified to run in local races and many of the Republican candidates face no challengers. The only contested races in the county are for two Commission seats -- chairman and District 4.
Incumbent Chairman Ron Cross takes on retired businessman Brett McGuire, and District 4 incumbent Scott Dean again faces a challenge from retired truck driver David Payne.
The District 4 race recently took an unexpected turn when WGAC radio reported that Dean admitted exchanging inappropriate text messages with a county employee.
Dean did not elaborate on the nature of the text messages and refused to release the texts in response to an open records request.
The former Harlem mayor took the county office in July 2008 to fill the unexpired term of Lee Anderson, who resigned to make a successful run for the state House.
As a mayor, Dean said he oversaw two millage rollbacks and recently voted to cut the county's property taxes by a quarter mill.
Payne unsuccessfully ran against Dean in 2008 for the District 4 seat.
In a questionnaire Payne filled out for the Columbia County Republican Party, he lists his previous political experience as a short stint as a justice of the peace.
Payne's platform includes cutting county spending and slashing financial support for state-run agencies. He also wants to institute a series of town hall meetings with his constituents.
Like Dean, Cross also voted to cut the county's millage. He contends that his financial governance of the county and dedication to building a healthy reserve fund during the past eight years made the quarter-mill cut possible.
Cross often notes that Columbia County has prospered far better than most other counties during the economic recession. In April and May, he said, sales tax revenues were the highest they have ever been.
Prior to the quarter-mill tax cut, McGuire advocated a half-mill reduction in property taxes, which he said is possible by increasing government efficiency.
McGuire has criticized commissioners for asking departments to eliminate 5 percent of their expenses from the budget. He believed a more thorough examination of department budgets was required to seek out wasteful spending.
Some departments might be able to cut 30 percent, while others might need more financial resources to be effective, he said.
A former plant manager at Lily Tulip Cup Corp., McGuire touts his business acumen as his qualification for office. One of his supporters recently noted that he managed to save 300 jobs by cutting wasteful spending from the company's budget.
District 1 Commissioner Ron Thigpen, an executive with Georgia Bank and Trust, is running unopposed.
In addition to commission candidates, voters will be asked to continue a 1-percent sales tax and approve a $45 million bond referendum for schools.
School officials are projecting to raise as much as $148.6 million through the 2012-17 penny tax.
The money would be used to build larger versions of Columbia Middle, Evans Elementary, Martinez Elementary and the system's alternative school in Grovetown to meet the demands of the growing school system. Much of the money from the bond referendum, which would be repaid with sales tax proceeds, would be used to pay for construction of a new Columbia Middle.
Once the new school opens in 2012, the former site would be used to provide more space for the system's Nutrition and Transportation departments. Its gym would be used as a warehouse.
Once Evans and Martinez elementary schools open, sometime between 2012 to 2014, Bel Air Elementary would be shut down. Those pupils would be split between the larger Evans and Martinez schools. The Bel Air property would then be sold.
The $2.5 million project to build a new alternative school would allow for 24 classrooms, many of which also would be used for vocational studies with students attending from all area high schools. That location would give vocational students easy access to an Augusta Technical College campus on Horizon South Parkway.
Future construction projects from the education sales tax would include rebuilding North Columbia, North Harlem and South Columbia elementary schools and Harlem Middle School. Projects likely to be included are upgrading athletics facilities, buying buses, upgrading auditoriums, roofing projects and paying off about $37 million in debt.
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