MORROW — What does Morrow need to grow and prosper?
Does it need coordination with its neighboring cities? Does it need public transportation? How much of a role will Clayton State University’s student population play?
These are issues candidates for two Morrow City Council seats addressed in responses to a survey conducted by Clayton News Daily.
Jeff DeTar, a 30-year resident of the city, might be the most familiar candidate to Morrow voters as he ran unsuccessfully for mayor two years ago. He is a 61-year old avionics technician for Precision Electronics. He is running for retiring Councilman Virlyn Slaton’s seat against Hang Tran, a 27-year chemist for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whose family has lived in the Morrow area since 1994.
Randy Anderson, 63, has lived in Morrow for 19 years and is a new account installer for Cintas Corporation. Christopher Mills, his opponent for retiring Councilman Bob Huie’s seat, is a 29-year old retail supervisor for Sodexo USA, and has lived in the city for 17 years.
A synopsis of their responses to some of the questions are below. Because of space concerns, check www.news-daily.com for the candidates complete responses to the survey.
It has been reported that the city recently had to raise its millage rate to avoid laying off employees because of a decrease in municipal court revenues in the FY 2014 budget. What ideas would you bring forward to balance revenues and expenditures without raising property taxes or laying off employees?
DeTar said there is “no magic bullet for budgets and spending” and that the economy was as much to blame as the decline in court revenues. He said improving the city’s economic climate was the key to improving the budget situation.
“Current trends and forecasts do show improvement, and our city does not have the same crisis situation to face during the next budget year,” he said. “There is every reason to be optimistic. The best outcome is to get more revenue sources [businesses] into Morrow. This will not happen immediately so we have to pay attention to every dollar as it comes in and as it is spent.”
But Tran said that while the city should find new revenue sources, it should also prioritize its services.
“There are tough, yet thoughtful decisions that must occur on how we prioritize,” she said. “There is no government that has an unlimited amount of funds, however, there are very dedicated people working everyday to ensure that we still have quality public services and that we are able to maintain those, even in a budget crunch.”
Mills, meanwhile, called for a mid-year review of the budget, and said “the millage rate should be determined mathematically and not politically.”
“One way to refrain from a tax increase and lay-offs is to create an increase in revenue,” he said. “In order to balance that revenue, I believe that a mid-fiscal year budget review will provide clarity to the year’s spending.”
However, Anderson said the council and City Manager Jeff Eady should work together to make sure money is not misspent.
“As a councilman, I would work closely with the City Manager to insure all expenditures are necessary,” said Anderson. “I think the City can generate a plan to insure all city employees know that their job security is based upon performance, not city revenue.”
In recent years, several large retailers have left the Southlake Mall/Mt. Zion Road area for other areas, most notably to the Southpoint development in McDonough. If elected, what ideas would you push for the council to do to revitalize that area?
Tran suggested an analytic look at the reason why businesses have left the city, so those issues can be addressed and resolved.
“When we understand why they are leaving, that’s the first step to push ideas for getting them to stay or even to push ideas to attract others,” she said. “As we examine many different ideas and projects for revitalizing our city and boosting our business community, we also have to consider the effects on the people of Morrow.”
But Mills said transportation and tax incentives would help the city improve its commercial corridor. He added that transportation would help connect Clayton State University’s student population to the economic heart of the city, while incentives would help attract new businesses.
“I believe that the vacancies can be filled with prosperous businesses, but in return these businesses will need incentives,” he said. “A business friendly environment, certain tax incentives and the benefits of location will surely attract growth-minded business.”
Anderson echoed both sentiments.
“I want to analysis any research the City has done with businesses regarding this matter,” he said. “I will work with the City to see what legitimate incentives we can offer all new business prospects having a desire to come to Morrow.”
However, DeTar urged more coordination with economic development efforts in neighboring communities, such as the TriCity proposal involving Morrow, Lake City and Forest Park, as a way to address the issue.
“An improvement in any of our neighbors is an improvement for all of us,” he said.
What are three things you, as a council member, would push/advocate to see done to spur economic development in the city?
DeTar recommended “Vision,” “Promotion” and “Communication” as ways to spur economic development. In essence, he said the city should do more to publicize its vision and its safety.
“The city has had a vision of our future for several years and it needs to be communicated” he said. “We have a diverse and inclusive community.”
Anderson echoed DeTar’s sentiments about promoting Morrow as a safe place, and doing more to advertise itself, but he added outreach to large organizations as well.
“The city needs to reach out to larger organizations through meetings, advertising and information regarding the places and opportunities we have in the city,” he said. “We have the Convention Center facility, the Archives, Clayton State University, Southlake Mall, public parks and walking trails, Reynolds Nature Preserve as well as many more facilities.”
Tran had a suggestion that was along similar lines, by suggesting public-private partnerships like the one being explored to turn the failed Olde Towne Morrow development into a success. She echoed Mill’s thoughts on business incentives, and she also said the student population at Clayton State University should be taken into consideration when devising a plan to boost economic development.
Building on that, she said Morrow should move more towards becoming a traditional college town.
“When I look at college towns like Athens, and others, I realize that there is so much potential for marrying these two great communities into one city that is economically vibrant,” she said.
Mills repeated his sentiment that a bus line should be added in the city, but he also called on inter generational urban development and the inclusion of local businesses in the development of an economic development strategy.
“The work to be done in the city should be done by the city, to keep the revenue in the city,” he said. “An economy that was based on housing and finance has shifted towards a more creative and business focused economy.”