Home Politics Elections County Commissioner candidates debate sales tax, Baileys Trail at virtual forum

County Commissioner candidates debate sales tax, Baileys Trail at virtual forum

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Athens County Board of Elections. File Photo by Morgan McCarthy.

Current Athens County Commissioner Charlie Adkins and challenging candidate Bill Hayes answered community-submitted questions in a virtual debate hosted by the League of Women Voters of Athens County on Tuesday night. 

The candidates covered a range of topics, including a proposed tax increase for the county 911 system, safety, the Baileys Trail System and improving the local economy. 

Hayes, an Athens native, spoke about his desire to distribute wealth throughout Athens County to improve the lives of its citizens. 

He said he wanted to be a commissioner “to bring together some of the non-governmental organizations and the entrepreneurs in this county to essentially help spread the wealth” and “to ensure that more people in this county have the opportunity to earn a decent living.” 

Adkins, who has been commissioner for the past eight years, spoke about his passion for serving Athens County. He also described projects he hopes to continue if re-elected, including a sewer project on U.S. Route 50 West. 

“I got some unfinished work,” Adkins said. 

Proposed 0.25% tax for 911 system funding 

Both candidates were asked about the proposed sales tax increase that will appear on the Athens County ballot in November. 

Hayes acknowledged the Athens County 911 system’s needs for additional funding, but highlighted the importance of wisely spending existing county funds. 

“I think that going forward we’ve got to understand that we need to do a better job of controlling our expenditures,” Hayes said.

Adkins said he fully supports the proposed tax, describing it as necessary in order for the 911 service to continue. He also pointed out that the 911 service was originally funded 24 years ago by a 0.25% sales tax like the one proposed. The service has not received any money from the county budget since its establishment. 

Adkins said that the county has done a “bad job” explaining the economic impact of the tax to community members.

Safety in Athens County

Hayes expressed his belief that job creation can lower the crime rate in Athens County by giving people something to do. 

“Desperate people steal things,” Hayes said. “If you have more widespread economic opportunity in this county, more jobs, we’re going to have a lot lower crime rate.”

One of Adkins’ top priorities is ensuring the safety of Athens County by using tax dollars to properly fund safety services. He also believes that a continued focus on safety will create more jobs and support local businesses. 

“When you make a phone call, you want someone to show up,” Adkins said.

Baileys Trail System

Many community members raised questions regarding the Baileys Trail System. Both candidates view the trail as an important draw for tourists, but are wary of how it could financially drain the county. 

Hayes, who volunteers for trail maintenance, said he believes that it could lead to increased tourism, but only if the county helps local entrepreneurs create and sustain businesses related to tourism. He also fears that the burden of maintaining the trail may eventually fall on Athens County. 

Adkins remarked on the importance of the trail but said he believes that if citizens have a desire to increase funding for it, there should be a vote to establish a park district, which could allow for more out-of-county funding. He also dispelled the myth that the county did not give the same amount of funding to the trail as the city of Athens. 

“There’s folks out there that apparently don’t understand what the county has given to the Baileys Trail, and it’s the same money as the city of Athens gave to the Trail,” Adkins said. 

In July, the Athens County Commissioners approved $35,000 of funding, which was matched by the city, for the next ten miles of trail construction, according to The Athens Messenger

Athens County has not passed the original funding ask for the Baileys Trail — $90,000 minimum per year for 20 years, according to The Athens NEWS

Improving the Local Economy

Adkins said he hopes to create jobs in Athens County through improvement to local safety, such as potentially increasing staff at the sheriff’s office.

Hayes expressed interest in increasing opportunities for local entrepreneurs to start businesses. He also discussed his desire to create more jobs in Athens County. 

“There are many people that live in this county that are happy to work with their hands and love the outdoors,” Hayes said. “We need to do a better job of making sure that 20, 30, 40 years from now they are doing exactly that, and having a wonderful life right here in Athens County.”

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