Sylvia Martin can remember when Grovetown and Harlem were “the red-headed stepchildren of Columbia County.”
The Grovetown City Council member said those days are over and discussed plans for the cities’ growth with other candidates for both councils Tuesday night at the Harlem Library in forums presented by the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, the Columbia County News-Times and Harlem Merchants Association.
Candidates answered a series of panel questions concerning issues facing the cities from tax increases to business growth. Roxanne Whitaker, the lone candidate for Harlem mayor, was also present.
Approximately 30 people attended Grovetowns forum and about 45 were at Harlem’s.
Grovetown candidates discussed the proposed millage rate increase that did not pass, which could lead to possible cuts in services.
“The citizens should not have to suffer because of the decisions of the legislation of the city,” candidate Allen Transou said. “Grovetown hasn’t had a millage increase in six years or more so if we would have started six years ago with a gradual increase then there would be no need for a large increase six years later.”
Current council member Vickie Cook and candidate Deborah Fisher agreed that Grovetown citizens living on a fixed income could not afford the millage rate increase, which was expected to be as high as 9.0, but each had different solutions to the issue.
“We need to have a budget that fits our revenue instead of a revenue that fits our budget,” Cook said. She and Martin voted against the millage increase in July.
Fisher discussed bringing in revenue without taxing citizens, including renting out structures owned by the city or charging builders more.
“The price we charge builders are not comparable to the same price Columbia County charges to build,” Fisher said.
With Harlem residents facing similar growth that Grovetown has experienced in recent years, business growth and traffic were hot topics for candidates. Danny Bellavance, Al Reeves and John Thigpen noted that growth is not only inevitable but already coming to the small city and business growth is necessary.
Thigpen, who is mayor pro tem at Harlem, discussed tax incentives to drive business to the city. Bellavance, a city council incumbent, did not feel that tax incentives would be possible. “The budget is just too tight.”
Reeves focused on growing existing businesses especially in the city’s downtown area. “If you don’t grow as a human, you die. If you don’t grow as a business, you go out of business,” said Reeves, who is running for one of the two open Harlem council seats.
Early voting for the city councils begins Oct. 16 and election day is Nov. 7.