Among the items on the Nov. 6th ballot will be three seats on the Floyd County Commission. Only one of those seats, Post 1, is a contested race between Incumbent Rhonda Wallace (R) and Democratic challenger Stephanie Wright. Incumbent Larry Maxey is unopposed for Post 4 and Incumbent Scotty Hancock is unopposed for Post 5. Hometown Headlines offers interviews both Post 1 candidates. The interviews and profiles were complied and written by Natalie Simms. Next week, we will feature candidates running for State Senate District 52 and State House District 13.
Rhonda Selman Wallace, 58, is a native Roman who has been serving on the Floyd County Commission since July 2012 and has been chair of the commission for last two years. She is currently a Vice President, Professional and Executive Banker at Synovus Bank where she has worked for the past 15 years of her 35-year career in the banking industry. As a commissioner, she serves on the Airport Commission, Chair of the Administration and Finance committee, Rome Development Authority, Joint Services Committee, Fire Overview committee and 2017 SPLOST project planning. Her community work includes the Children’s Open Door Home, Rome Exchange Club, Coosa Valley Fair Association and Rome Floyd Chamber. Her honors include Heart of the Community Award of Honor, Wesley Johnson Leadership Award of Merit, Woman of Excellence Award and graduate of Leadership Rome program. She and her husband, Ronnie, have been married 25 years and have three adult children and five grandchildren.
Stephanie Wright, 48, is a psychologist and associate professor at Georgia Highlands College and an educational technology startup in Rome. She holds a master’s and doctoral degree from NC State University, where she studied social cognition, juror decision making, and capital mitigation. She’s worked in the social, developmental, and higher education fields for the past 16 years, during which she led a statewide mental health program for substance abusing juvenile delinquents and served as a legal advocate for women in three states. Her political involvement includes serving as a precinct chair, a state delegate (in two states) and as a national delegate for the 2004 election cycle. Her volunteer work includes serving as a regional ambassador for Girl Rising, an international organization promoting girls’ education in developing countries; coordinating location events for UN’s
International Day of the Girl Child; and serving as a children and women’s advocate in Floyd and Bartow. She is the mother of three daughters.
QUESTION: What is the most critical issue facing Floyd County in 2019 and what steps are necessary to address it?
Wallace: “The budget has been and will continue to be very critical. It’s very difficult to balance the budget, as well as project into the future, attempting to meet the needs of our community with inconsistent revenues. For some time, we have experienced slow growth in our tax digest.
“Growing the economy through the digest and sales tax receipts rather than taxing more with higher rates, is exactly what this commission has directed its efforts toward. Focusing on supporting our existing industries and attracting new industries is the key. Our commission desires to assist our existing industries, maintain stability and create growth. We need to focus on higher paying jobs that will attract people to our community. Sales tax and digest growth will increase with good paying jobs.
“From a safety perspective, our commission has worked to provide for our law enforcement in a way that keeps them safe and allows them the ability to keep us safe. We have worked to create and maintain an excellent working relationship between the City, County, Sheriff and all first responders.”
Wright: “Although we’re still three-quarters of a point lower than we were last year this time, our unemployment rate has been on the increase over the back half of 2018. Upward-trending creep is something to concern us. Unemployment is such a powerful indicator of other economic outcomes, however, and also a driver we have some degree of long-term control over. We should be proactive rather than reactive.
“In recent months, Floyd County has seen a number of longtime local businesses close due to lack of clientele. This is the moment to expand the Opportunity Zone and/or create local government support structures (even if temporary) to support those businesses.
“We should work with the Chamber and the City Commission to develop the Chamber’s All Things Digital, an idea that holds promise but has yet to live up to that promise. To stave off unemployment, we must help local merchants keep their doors open, but we must also help local entrepreneurs develop their new ideas.”
QUESTION: The next special purpose local-option sales tax begins April 1 and will last five years. Please specify which projects should be included in an extra penny-a-dollar tax vs. what should be funded with traditional revenue sources (property tax, other fees).
Wallace: “Capital Expenditures for Equipment and Paving/Milling of our streets and thoroughfares. These items would typically be funded with our property tax, however losses in sales tax during the recession and unfounded mandates from the state (TAVT) created an environment that placed us extremely behind in these two very important areas. Property owners alone – shouldn’t be responsible to fund all the improvements to our roads or all the needed capital expenses for our public safety and public works. All citizens use these services and drive on our roads, so the SPLOST is a good tool we have to meet some of the needs. It is extremely critical that the SPLOST sales tax forecasts our needs as we anticipate growth. We should never be guilty of inadequate planning so long as we operate very diligently in our efforts. A failure to plan is a plan to fail.”
Wright: “The commission has spoken previously about the need to expand the medical facilities at the jail, and I believe this is the most urgent need our community faces for earmarked funds right now. The approved expansion plan that includes a complete medical wing is not only needed in Floyd County, but would bring our inmates what they desperately need, while making Floyd County a leader in inmate care. While I fully support restoration projects, such as the Courthouse, and believe we need to better provide for the judiciary in our county, I also believe general taxes and fees can support this work, while the taxpayers have twice said the jail project is a critical SPLOST project. They aren’t wrong.”
QUESTION: The SPLOST package approved by voters last November included a county ag center. To many, it was the most attractive issue in the projects package. What steps are needed to jump start the project and in what general area should it be constructed?
Wallace: “The county had 14 projects provided for in the 2017 SPLOST. The Ag Center is the largest of the group at $8 million. The decision has not yet been made between the alternatives of a pay as you go method or to use specific borrowed funds to avoid additional costs associated with inflation. Concerns in addition to those are:
1. Cost of the bonds plus interest
2. Engineering and inspection costs could be greater with multiple projects being started consecutively as opposed to several begun simultaneously so that model will have to be determined
3. The cost of waiting to start projects three to five years away with inflated costs of construction
The Ag Center model that was presented to the SPLOST committee was a centrally located facility with a retail aspect that will need support through visitors. This will obviously have to be located in a high traffic count area with optimal access. Multiple sites have already been under consideration by county management taking these parameters under consideration.”
Wright: “There are a number of viable locations for the ag center (which I understand is a bit of the delay). Despite prior controversies, Burwell Creek offers significant advantages. With ready access to Ridge Ferry Park and, thus, footpath access to Broad Street, this land also offers easy access to Miracle Field. While the Commission works to shore up contract renewal with the Braves, bringing additional visibility and value to the immediate vicinity of the stadium is a win-win. Other communities that have participated in agricultural-sports partnerships reap long rewards. If it’s possible for Floyd County to do the same, we should. If Burwell Creek isn’t feasible, other regions, such as the Coosa Valley Fairgrounds and large tracks in south Rome, also present themselves. Jumpstarting is another matter altogether. Local citizens have expressed a large degree of interest in the ag center. We need to re-energize the public with a series of forums and, only if necessary, issue some short-term bonds.”