Here are the responses to the Flashpoint Candidate Questionnaire from Madison County Commission, District 1 candidate Bob Long:
1. What is your position on the proposed Sales Tax increase?
AGAINST. I believe better management of our tax payers money needs to be the top priority. With a $7 million budget surplus last year, we should be looking at tax cuts countywide. Our district needs a commissioner who is prepared to make the tough decisions in regards to spending priorities. As District One’s Commissioner, I will work hand in hand with the Madison County School board and form a cooperative working group to review school expenditures and explore alternative forms of revenue to ease the classroom over-crowding.
2. What is your position on raising Property Taxes for schools outside the City limits of Huntsville or Madison?
As the only District One candidate who has children in the Madison County Schools System, I understand how the increased growth of our district has severely impacted most, if not all, of our county schools. As a former Vice President of the Mount Carmel Elementary School’s PTA, I have listened to our county school board make building promises and not follow through with them.
Hence, prior to asking the voters to support an increase in the mill rate for developed property, I believe the Madison County School Board must first lay out all expenditures for public examination and make public both short-term (1-5 years) and long-term (5-10 years) plans that detail all ‘bricks and mortar’ construction projects.
Along with the school board, I believe the commissioners have a responsibility to the taxpayers to make sure our schools measure up to strict standards that will provide an environment that is safe, secure, and conducive to learning. Portables are not the answer. I will do everything in my power to reverse this trend and work with the Madison County School Board for solutions to the over-crowding. This issue will require tough decisions- but in the long run our children will be the benefactors.
3. Describe your approach to Economic Development? Does the County need more Industrial Parks / Sites; would you support development of a TVA Megasite in the County?
District One has excellent potential for industrial growth with the North Huntsville Industrial Park (corner of Bob Wade and Pulaski). With the Toyota plant anchoring this area, there is plenty of room for growth. New development will bring both jobs and additional revenue to our district and county. As a small business owner, I know how important new business growth is to our economy. By supporting both small businesses and industry development, I expect the economy of our district to grow. I would use the increased revenues to fund major infrastructure projects such as a sewer system and improved roads in our district. I would support a TVA Megasite here in the county, however, if either site in Tennessee or neighboring Limestone County are chosen and industry develops there, Madison County could still see a benefit as our residents are employed there.
4. What is your position on ‘Metro Government’?
More important to our voters right now is pushing for and obtaining ‘Home Rule’ for our county. This is one of the most important issues facing us in the next few years, with BRAC, the unprecedented growth of unincorporated Madison County, and tax issues that affect our roads, schools and infrastructure. ‘Home Rule’ is critically needed and is an issue that I will not only support but actively strive to achieve.
As for Metropolitan Government or ‘Metro Government’, there are advantages and disadvantages to some of the main types – Single Tier, Federated, or Regional. For us here in Madison County, a large benefit to a consolidated government would be seeking state and federal money with ‘one voice’. Far too often there are competing priorities between the cities of Huntsville and Madison and Madison County respectively. If properly administered, any one of these variations of metro government could improve services by properly allocating money to the most critical needs. This is similar to the proposal of implementing the ‘Unit System’ vs. ‘District System’ for our roads countywide. By removing each district’s individual county shed and pulling them together under a ‘Road’s Engineer’ it would provide more money and higher priority to our most dangerous roads and intersections.
On the other hand and important to me as a commissioner, I believe that people have a right to move and live wherever they choose. In District One for example, as a Realtor, I see an increase in families moving out of the cities of Huntsville and Madison to Northeast Madison County because the taxes are lower, the schools are better, and the quality of life is more to their liking. Ineffective elected officials will result in bad government and consolidating into a ‘Metro Government’ might produce results we see every year in our state legislature where ineptitude and failure to do the people’s business is the norm, not the exception.
5. Which roads and bridges in the County are most in need of improvement; which roads in your District need improvement?
Countywide the following roads are in dire need of improvement or widening -Highway 53 and Highway 231/431, Wall Triana, Old Railroad Bed Road, and Winchester Road.
The following countywide roads have some of the most dangerous intersections that need to be addressed as soon as possible: Jordan Lane and University; Governors Drive at Memorial Parkway; U.S. 72 East and I-565, Moores Mill and Winchester Road.
For District One – Winchester Road is a top priority, including the old-outdated bridge over the Flint River. While I realize Winchester Road improvements are on the horizon, I believe if you look at the accident statistics, Winchester Road must be moved up on the priority list with aggressive lobbying to obtain more funding to speed up the timetable for completion. Road improvements and maintenance are also priorities throughout District One. Making sure potholes, shoulders (pull outs), and turning lanes are maintained are paramount to improving road safety. Also, after talking with homeowners associations, it appears the county has not assumed responsibility for a number of roads within the newer subdivisions – once elected I will review the entire road network for our district to ensure maintenance planning is underway for all our roads.
6. Describe your approach to public safety. Does the Sheriff’s Department have adequate resources? Does the Fire Marshall have adequate resources? Do the Volunteer Fire Departments have adequate resources; should the County establish a ‘regular’ Fire Department? Does the EMA have adequate resources?
I firmly believe the county government should fully fund our police, fire, and rescue personnel and departments, also important in that equation is making sure that our public safety servants receive the best training available. A critical need of all these agencies is communications equipment. As District One’s Commissioner, I will fully fund this critical need.
I will work with the Sheriff and fire protection agencies to make sure that the services they are providing keep pace with the growth of the district. Our residents are entitled to have the very best police, fire and emergency medical services.
Having been a volunteer fireman for more than eight years – I can think of no better program where men and women volunteer their time, risk their lives and yet receive no pay. These firefighters demand our respect and the counties full support. I will personally visit, on a regular basis, all fire departments within my district. I want to make sure the fire engines at each department are serviceable and meet the needs of our district. The volunteer fire departments are not only needed but provide an invaluable service to a district as large as District One. As members of the community these volunteers are intimately familiar with the citizens they support and the area they protect. Funding is always an issue for them, and I will do everything I can as their commissioner to help wherever possible.
7. How would you improve County Mental Health services?
The subject of funding and supporting mental health services has come up in a couple meetings I have had with local residents, I strongly believe the Mental Health Center of Madison County should be fully funded. This public, nonprofit community mental health is a benefit to all citizens of Madison County. In addition, I support other mental health resources that support our community such as The Arc of Madison County, which is “committed to securing for all people with mental retardation or developmental disabilities the opportunity to choose and realize their goals of where and how they learn, live, work, and play.”
In 2006 the Children’s Policy Council Assessment noted two main issues concerning Mental Health services for children in Madison County. First, were the unmet [monetary] needs of mental health and substance abuse services, and second was a lack of funding for substance abuse treatment for teens and delinquents. Their policy recommendation was an increase in funding for mental health, substance abuse, and mental retardation services. I too want these services supported and believe through cooperation with local, state and federal agencies we can make sure these services are available to those children in need.
8. Does the County need more Parks / Greenways and if so, where?
First, let me start by saying Sharon Johnson Park is a great asset to all residents of District One and to all of Madison County. As a little league softball coach for the last four years I am acutely aware of the status of most of the parks and recreational leagues in and around of District One. As commissioner, I would direct more money to improve all of the intramural parks in District One that currently exist – I would do this by providing funding for each park to improving baseball and softball fields, build a soccer/football field (or enhance those that already exist). I will fund the addition of play sets or update those that currently exist. Also, I want to make sure each park has a pavilion and picnic areas so the entire family can enjoy each of these great parks.
How to pay for the park enhancements – parks are vital to the community, as such it will be a line item in my budget to fund each park out of the discretionary budget I receive as a commissioner. In addition, a portion of this funding will come from the benefits that I would return to the District One budget. Such as the car, gas and maintenance provided by the county. It is my intent to work directly for and be available to the people of District One so I would need no secretarial services. Finally, as a retired military member, I would not need the healthcare provided by the county. This should give District One an additional $45,000 or more per year to make sure our parks are second to none.
9. What do you propose for protecting the Flint River?
I live directly on the Flint River, my family and I canoe, fish and swim in the Flint River so I have a vested interest in protecting this valuable natural resource. I will work hand-in-hand with conservationists to make sure the river is clean, safe and environmentally balanced (new construction, industrial growth, and recreation). I would ensure that as necessary, I will provide support to some of the volunteer and state organizations that are chartered to preserve the Flint River such as; the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) and the Flint River Conservation Association (FRCA).
10. What is the biggest problem facing your district?
The lack of short and long term planning! Due to a lack of planning the entire district has to endure insufficient and unsafe roads, school overcrowding, and no plan for improved infrastructure such as a sewer system, improved tornado alerting system and sirens, traffic light management, and business development.
Plus a softball: Are there any questions you wish we had asked? Go ahead and answer it.
Why should the voters of your District elect you?
I have both the practical experience (planning, acquiring funding, and successfully executing Army budgets for construction projects that ranged from a $500,000 renovation project in Colorado to a $6 million dollar storage facility in Kuwait) and educational know-how (Master of Science in Management from Troy State University) to move Madison County’s District One forward. As a life-long conservative I understand the issues that face our county and I am optimistic I can solve these tough issues by implementing both short and long term solutions. I am a decorated Iraqi war veteran; and a retired military officer who understands what the BRAC move means to Huntsville and Madison County, as well as the impact to our countywide infrastructure. As a father with three girls in the Madison County School System I see first hand the over-crowding of our schools and the lack of planning and foresight that has plagued District One for far to long. As a small business owner I realize the negative consequences illegal workers have had on our economy and I will support tough fines on businesses that hire illegal immigrants. I will make sure the people know my voting record and how I intend to spend their money. I believe in an open government and will provide details of every cent that the county collects as well as how every cent is spent to include all discretionary funds. I understand, once elected, that I work for the people of District One and I will be available to my constituents for any problem big or small. Furthermore, I will not unilaterally raise taxes as a commissioner, I believe that any tax increase should be voted on by all registered voters of this county and the money should only be spent as promised – once that project is complete I believe there should be a provision to return the tax rate to it’s previous level.