Varner says voters should look at record

COVINGTON - Republican Aaron Varner is seeking his third term in office as Board of Commissioners Chairman.

Varner has encouraged voters to consider his track record over the last eight years: no millage rate increases; passage of impact fees; construction of the Newton County Administration Building; updates to the Future Land Use Map, comprehensive plan and development ordinances; opening of six new fire stations; and the hiring of more than 200 public safety employees are a few accomplishments.

Water resources will continue to be a top priority in the future, Varner said, citing the ongoing expansion of the Cornish Creek Water Treatment Plant and plans to build Bear Creek Reservoir.

"I think (voters) have to look at my record," he said. "Despite what you may be hearing from my opponent, we have a clear vision of where we want to go."

A lifelong Newton County resident, Varner and his wife of 39 years, Anne, have two daughters, two sons-in-law and four grandchildren.

A combat veteran, Varner is a member of VFW Post 2938. He serves on the boards of directors for the Northeast Georgia Regional Development Commission; Newton Roads; and DeKalb Technical College.

He is a member of the Newton County Chamber of Commerce and serves on the Board of Managers for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia; the Stakeholders Advisor Committee for the Georgia Sedimentation, Erosion and Soil Control Certification Program; the GRN Community Board; the Newton County Board of Health; and is a member of the Newton County Republican Party.

What in your opinion is the most pressing issue facing Newton County?

Growth and its impact on transportation, water and the budget are the three biggest issues the county is facing, Varner said.

Transportation continues to be a top concern for citizens. Though the county's hands are tied to a certain extent when it comes to state and federal roads, is there anything more that can be done on the local level to address this problem?

The county is currently trying to maintain the existing infrastructure and several years ago began doing paving projects in-house, devoting 1 mill of taxes for funding, Varner said. So far, almost 200 miles of local roadways have been paved in-house, he said.

The county is also using special purpose local option sales tax revenue for widening and resurfacing projects.

Upcoming state projects include improvements to the intersection of Ga. Highways 212 and 20 and Brown Bridge Road; Ga. Highway 81 and Crowell Road; and Smith Store and Salem Road.

Do you believe that the chairman should be involved in economic development? If so, what can be done in that area?

Varner said the chairman should "absolutely" be involved with economic development efforts, but said commissioners must evaluate the viability of projects before investing county money. The donation of $2.5 million to Georgia Perimeter College is an example of a worthwhile investment, he said, along with the hotel/civic center/conference center project, for which $500,000 of SPLOST money has been allocated.

Such projects should have a peripheral effect on the whole county in terms of providing jobs or recreational activities, Varner said.

An economic development study is currently in the works to provide "a road map of what we need to do and strategies," he said.

Growth is slowing, likely meaning less tax revenues will be coming in, but the cost of operations and projects are increasing. How can the county continue to provide the same level of service to citizens? Will a tax increase be necessary?

"I think fortunately we've been very diligent in our budget process through the years to make sure we did not overspend and make promises on services we could not do," Varner said, pointing out that the county is required to fund certain programs by the state.

"Depending on how long the economic downturn lasts, we need to look on a year-by-year basis to determine what has to be done to provide the services we have to provide and the services citizens request," he said, adding that the board continues to look at ways to do that without raising taxes.

Would you support holding a liquor-by-the-drink referendum?

Varner said he would support letting voters decide whether liquor-by-the-drink should be served.

"All sides need to have ample opportunity to express their views on it. The Board of Commissioners needs to stay neutral on it and let the voters decide," he said.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum