Brittney Burns – Staff Writer
The Macon County Board of Commissioners has never been noticeably divided, although over the last four years, in the event a vote was not unanimous, which was seldom, the split vote was usually 4-1 with Commissioner Paul Higdon nearly always being the lone dissenting vote.
The political affiliation on the board of commissioners has long since been controlled by Republicans, with Commissioner Ronnie Beale being the lone Democrat on the board since Republican Commissioner Paul Higdon first defeated Democrat Bobby Kuppers in 2012. The split votes have never been down party lines, but rather line up with the promises Higdon ran on when first seeking office.
Higdon, a fiscal conservative, ran on the promise of smaller government, fewer regulations and less government involvement. During his first term as commissioner, many of his dissenting votes lined up with those intents, which often left him as a nay vote on significant county projects such as expanding the Macon County Airport Runway when Higdon voted against providing a $290,000 county match in 2013. Higdon has also voted against county funding on Parker Meadows Recreation Park and other significant projects. His votes aren’t cast without explanation, however. Each time he explains his goal of being a good steward of tax payer dollars and remaining fiscally conservative as his reason for voting no, nevertheless, his no vote, especially after former Commissioner Ron Haven lost his last re-election bid, is typically the sole nay, or at least it had been until now.
Last Tuesday, Macon County Solid Waste Director Chris Stahl presented commissioners with a proposal to replace an existing waterline along Pannell Lane. The waterline relocation was part of the construction of the new landfill and had been previous discussed by the board of commissioners. The replacement of the line is intended to upsize the line from four inches to six inches in order to accommodate the installation of hydrants for fire protection of the new landfill.
Stahl asked commissioners to approve $50,000 to contract with McGill Associates to complete the project. Although no new funds were needed, as the $50,000 was already budgeted in the landfill project, newly elected Commissioner Karl Gillespie showed concerns over the cost of the project. At $21 per foot, Gillespie noted McGill’s estimates seemed high and asked Stahl if additional project quotes were sought in the process.
After learning that Stahl did not ask for additional project quotes, but instead made the decision to go with McGill based on the project being a joint project with the town, and the town is familiar and comfortable working with McGill, Gillespie, a Republican, voted against the funding, citing what he believed as a high cost without shopping around.
Gillespie’s fellow Republicans, Commission Chair Jim Tate and Higdon both voiced their shared concerns over the cost, but ultimately voted for the project, leaving Gillespie to be the lone nay vote.
With the county’s first pre-budget session scheduled for Feb. 6, the dynamic of the board is likely to shift for the first time. Higdon has already made it clear that he believes the county’s $25.4 million fund balance is far too high, something Commissioner Gary Shields has echoed in previous meetings. The Feb. 6 meeting is set to be a mid-year review of the budget and projects that have not yet been completed, but are slated to be discussed. With Gillespie and Higdon standing by their promise to remain fiscally conservative, as well as continued requests for adequate supporting documents and background information on projects and proposals, the first budget meeting will likely be different than those over the past few years.