The two candidates for county chairman — incumbent Republican Aaron Varner and his challenger, Democrat Kathy Morgan — both agree that the county will be facing rough financial waters in the coming months.
The county chairman is a full-time position. In the event of a tie on the Board of Commissioners, the chair will cast the tie-breaking vote. The chair is charged with implementing the policies adopted by the board and also serves as the head of the public works department.
"Our budget will continue to get tighter simply because of the economic issues of the past as we begin to find that a lot of the money that we got in the past is going to be cut or reduced," said Varner, who is seeking his third term as county chair.
To get through the bleak economic times ahead, Varner said he would work with the county’s Finance Department to ensure that the BOC was given the most accurate finance numbers for the county.
"We’re going to literally take a critical view at every line item in the county budget, every department," said Morgan, a local banker and the widow of former county chairman Davis Morgan. "[Department heads] do the job every day. They know where we have room to cut."
Morgan, who if elected would be Newton County’s first female chair, said she believed the economy would dictate much of what the county government is able to accomplish over the next year. If elected she said she would put together an economic development team and would approach economic development from both the standpoint of small businesses and the standpoint of industries.
"I have no intention to raise the taxes nor do I have any intentions to let anyone go," Morgan said, adding that one area she is not looking to cut back on is public safety. "Other areas that could be cut back in are new projects for the roads department."
Varner, whose father, Roy Varner, served as county chairman in the 1980s, said he would also look to not raise taxes but look instead for areas in the county’s budget that could be pruned.
"I think this board has stated all along that they do not want to raise taxes unless it is just a last resort," he said. "I think we’ll look at our services and see if we can adjust it to a point where we can get it under budget."
He said he will also work closely with the board and the department heads in the months ahead to determine what areas could be cut back.
"I just carry out the policies of the board and advise them as best as I can," Varner said. "I’m also in the public relations end of this thing to. I’m the one people want to hear from."
Varner pointed to the work he did helping the board to overhaul the county’s development regulations and zoning ordinances at the beginning of the century to give them a more conservationist bent.
"I think when I took office in 2001 people were looking for someone to protect their quality of life. We took on the controversial subject of impact fees and we defended it successfully in court," said Varner referring to a suit filed by the Newton County Homebuilders Association several years ago. "I think to continue running, we will need this experience that I do possess going into the next four years."
Morgan said her 16 years of experience as a real estate development banker and turnaround specialist with client portfolios exceeding $200 million has given her the necessary qualifications to serve as county chair.
"My experience as a banker has taught me about managing budgets, efficiency models. It’s given me the experience to understand what developers and what business owners are looking for in order to be profitable," she said adding, "I have been on the fringe of politics most of my adult life. It gives me an understanding of what it takes to bring people together."
While her immediate priority if elected will be managing the county’s budget, Morgan said she would also meet with each county employee in person "to make sure they understand what their job is and they feel comfortable talking with me." She said she would also look to create more volunteer opportunities within the county to more fully utilize some of the available local talent.
"I believe in living within my means and operating within my budget and I think that is going to be the most important thing in the next 12 months," she said. "I think the style of my leadership is inclusive."
Morgan attended Emory University and has continued her education through several banking programs. She moved to Newton County in 1968. She is a board member of Smart Growth Newton County and of the Learning Center and has three daughters, three son-in-laws and four grandchildren.
"I have a vision for Newton County. I think that anyone who lives here is very fortunate to be able to live within this community," Morgan said. "It is going to be challenging for the next couple of years but I believe in the people [and] the county employees."
If re-elected Varner said he would focus on improving the county’s roads and intersections and making sure that the county has an adequate water supply for the future.
"I think water will be a big thing," he said. "Water has taken a backseat. That is still a very important issue that we have to make sure we’re still protecting our natural resources."
Varner serves on the board of directors of a number of local organizations including the board of directors for the Northeast Georgia Regional Development Center and DeKalb Technical College. A native of Newton County, he and his wife, Anne, have two daughters, two sons-in-law and four grandchildren.
"I think I’ve demonstrated that I have a desire to be fiscally responsible while realizing at the same time that you’ve got to invest in the future," Varner said. "We just continue to do the things that the people tell us that they want done."