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District 3 candidates spar over future
Ethan Underwood, bottom left, and Richard Ward, bottom right, greet District 3 candidates, from left, Joshua Shorr, Todd Levent, Mark Venco and incumbent Jim Harrell. - photo by Jennifer Sami
Question after question, the four candidates running for the District 3 Forsyth County commission post talked about how they would solve the most pressing local issues.

Incumbent Jim Harrell, Todd Levent, Josh Shorr and Mark Venco discussed issues from the budget to transportation during the Forsyth County Republican Party debate Monday.

On improving transportation, Harrell said he’s been working with the state during his term, and through the county’s 1-cent tax, improvements are currently being made across the county.

Shorr said the issue was more about spending, suggesting adding turning lanes and other alternatives as opposed to making all roads four-lane highways.

Levent suggested putting new businesses and other destinations on roads that have already been widened.

Venco favors aligning the county with others in Georgia’s mountain district to benefit from a recent state transportation funding bill.

The four men meet in the July 20 Republican primary. If needed, a runoff election will be held Aug. 10. There is no Democrat running, so the winner will become the next District 3 commissioner.

When asked Monday if the county should offer incentives to attract businesses, Venco said the first ones he would work on would be filling up strip malls with “‘small mom and pop’ businesses.”

“It’s families, it’s all of us,” he said. “I want to see Forsyth County as being perceived as a family-friendly attraction county that has those small businesses.”

Levent said large corporations would come to the county regardless of whether incentives were offered.

Harrell said the best incentives for businesses would be keeping up the quality of life in the county.

Shorr said the county should offer incentives to attract high-paying jobs, such as those in the medical field.

While all candidates agreed the county needs a new detention center, not everyone agreed on the details of how best to replace the aging, crowded facility near downtown.

Shorr suggested putting a new jail on the next 1-cent sales tax referendum, instead of a bond referendum.

Several times over the years — most recently a bond referendum in 2008 — county voters have rejected proposals to fund construction of a new jail.

Venco suggested a vertical jail option, or building a facility that is several stories tall.

Levent said the $7.2 million spent for the proposed jail site was a poor purchase, noting the property near Hwy. 9 and Ga. 400 is worth less and is less usable than anticipated.

Harrell defended the county’s purchase, saying “the piece of property that we bought, that folks like to say we wasted money on, that’s where it will go in my opinion.”

“We looked at other places and got push-back,” Harrell said. “We picked out that particular piece of property and I didn’t hear from one person. It’s close to the courthouse and it has close access to Ga. 400.”

Levent fought back, saying the property “wasn’t where the sheriff wanted it.”

“The people were up in arms,” he said. “There was quite a bit of opposition ... it was quite a bit of a stink.”

With the county facing a $13.3 million deficit in the 2011 budget, candidates were asked how they would propose closing the gap.

Harrell noted the only problem for 2010 is the sheriff’s budget, which is exceeding projections, adding the 2011 budget is going to rely on negotiating good deals.

Levent said the law is to always fund public safety first. Instead of cutting 10 percent across the board, he suggested each department should be looked at individually.

Venco said the department heads should be held accountable for what they submit, to make sure they don’t ask for inflated budgets.

Shorr saw the key factor as implementing fiscal discipline.

“We need to make sure that the expenditures do not exceed revenues,” he said. “We cannot justify increased taxes without tightening the belt. We do not do that in business, we don’t do that with our own home budgets.”