No consensus for unit system

Published 11:52 pm Monday, October 20, 2008

Despite its being touted as a possible solution to the county’s current financial crisis, most candidates for commission in November’s General Election said in Monday’s political forum they don’t support moving to a unit system.

Some, however, are willing to talk about it.

Candidates were asked a variety of questions ranging from the possibility of converting to a unit system, if the county needed more ballparks and how to bring the county back in line financially.

Attending the forum, which was jointly sponsored by the Andalusia Civitan Club, WAAO and The Star-News, were chairman-hopeful Johnny Mac Weed (D); newly elected District 2 commissioner David Ellis; the incumbent District 2 commissioner Bragg Carter (D); and District 4 candidates Eugene Nall (D) and the incumbent Carl Turman (R).

Unit system

There was only one outright supporter of the proposed unit system – David Ellis.

“It’s something we need to look at,” Ellis said. “There are 67 counties in Alabama; 55 of those are on a unit system. People say it won’t work for Covington County. I ask how come it works in 55 counties and won’t in ours? Eight of those are bigger than us.”

“We can’t depend on tax (revenue),” Ellis said. “We have to find ways to cut expenses for the county. I’m not saying that it’s best for the county, but I am saying we need to look at it.”

Carter maintained a borderline approach, stating he’s is “not for it or against it;” however, he believes the key is to not “single out” one specific area.

“I think we need to take all the aspects of the county as a whole and see what can help the county the most,” he said.

Nall said in order for the county to make the unit system work it would require unity among the commissioners and the county engineer.

“That’s a big commitment,” he said. “You have to have all four commissioners and an engineer to give a full-fledged effort. I believe that at the present, we don’t have that. I want to be responsible for my district. If a man needs a load of dirt, I want to be able to fix it and not wait for the engineer.

“I don’t support (the unit system),” he said. “But I’m a broadminded man. If it’ll save the county money, I’ll sit and listen.”

Turman was adamant in his opposition to a unit system.

“I am against the unit system,” he said. “We don’t have the workability to operate on a unit system. I’m not against talk, but I think if (the districts) work within their budget and be careful, we can make things turn around. We can’t be spendthrifts. It’s like your checkbook. If you ain’t got the money, don’t write a check.”

Ball fields

Carter said the county currently owns 70 acres on the south Bypass, which would be an ideal location for the fields – if the county pursues the venture.

“There’s a need for sports fields in the county,” Carter said. “Johnson Park needs work. We’ve always looked (at the project) as a joint effort between the city and the county to build the fields.

“If we don’t do what we need to do – what the children need – I feel like we let them down,” he said.

District 4 candidates Nall and Turman were on opposite sides of the park in their opinion.

“Until we get out of debt, I can’t see how we can afford the ball parks,” Nall said. “If someone can come up with an idea….We’re struggling. We’re up to more than $900,000 in debt. It’s like someone was watching the store, but not minding the cash register.”

Turman said he has always supported the ball field project.

“Since day one,” he said. “Our system is growing. We got to do something, but what I don’t know. I don’t know where the money is going to come from. I don’t want to lose our kids (to other recreational programs). When I was raising my boys, sometimes I had to do without. Maybe the county should look at it the same way.”

Turman suggested talking with other counties who have experienced the same situation to determine a solution.

District 2 commissioner hopeful Wiley Ward was out-of-town because of a medical emergency of a family member. Republican party chairman for the county William Blocker spoke on Ward’s behalf.