“I feel good. I think we’ve had a successful year. We’ve had a lot of big decisions throughout the year. The economy looks like it’s doing really well, and maybe we’re on an uptick as far as the economy goes. I think so at least,” Taylor said in December. “With the companies that have announced, and it looks like, to me, it looks like — this is just my opinion — but mid-2015 there’s really a lot of jobs that’s going to be coming on board with Toyo and Shaw and voestalpine.
“... Those are some really exciting new companies that looks good for Bartow County. Not to mention LakePoint and what might happen down there. We don’t know how far along that will be at that time. Hopefully by next year they’ll be playing ball and maybe by the end of next year Bass Pro will be open, maybe.”
Olson agreed with Taylor’s assessment of the economic opportunities Bartow County will have throughout 2014. As for his first year as county administrator, he was also positive about his work.
“You know, I’ve enjoyed it tremendously, tremendously the transition and the change. ... I really enjoyed working for the commissioner here,” he said. “I think we work together well and I have a good sense of what his decision’s going to be on things, so I can predict how he’d want something to go pretty well, I think.”
Arguably Taylor’s biggest act for 2013 was increasing the millage rate to 9.68 mills for unincorporated areas and 10.97 mills for incorporated areas. Although he ran into resistance during a public hearing on the matter, Taylor said he did not get much negative feedback when he was out in public.
“I think we didn’t get much at all, considering the amount of comments that I personally got was most people were understanding of it. Then, of course, we had some folks that wanted to start shutting down county services,” he said. “For instance, we had some calls wanting us to shut down the entire recreation department. That’s a department that has taken 30 years to get where we are right now and during this recession to wipe it out and shut it down completely would have been very shortsighted, in my opinion. Because as we come out of this recession we’re going to have a better rec department than ever before. So that would be irresponsible to do things like that.
“... The rest of the savings would have been like, for instance, the fire department — shut down three or four of the more rural fire departments, which, if you live in the city or close to populated areas, yeah, great, shut down those fire departments. But what if you live out around those fire departments and your insurance rate goes up so high — rather your insurance premiums, rather, go up so high? It’s a lot more than the tax increase would have been.”
Olson added that shutting down the county’s recreation department would have saved half as much as the county needed to not raise the millage rate. He said there was nothing left to cut from departmental budgets that had not already been cut under previous Commissioner Clarence Brown.
“The strategies that Commissioner Brown had pursued, I think would have worked better if the recession had been shorter. I mean, nobody predicted the length of this recession. At some point, I think, it just got to the point where there’s no nook and cranny where there’s any money left, there’s nothing left to do, you just have to bit the bullet,” Olson said. “Everything had fallen so much and the reserves had been pulled down and things like that. ... If the economy had turned around after a more reasonable period, I think ... there wouldn’t have been a problem.”
Another important act, Taylor believed, was increasing the minimum housing size from 800 to 1,100 square feet and setting a minimum roof pitch of 12 degrees. The purpose of the ordinance, Olson said, was “to try and increase the sort of aesthetic harmony and the consistency and the quality, too, of homes, especially manufactured homes in the county.”
In addition to the increased minimum square footage, which was approved in September, the county is also increasing its code enforcement.
“Just enforcing the code that’s been on the books for quite a while,” Taylor said. “We just, I think, we’re maybe more conscious of doing that. It’s more, you know, to protect neighborhoods and your neighbors’ property values.”
When asked if he felt pulled in multiple directions as the sole commissioner for a county with more than 100,000 residents, Taylor said no.
“Not really. We try to be fair, and there’s some areas of the community that just need more certain things in certain areas. For instance, we’ve got the southeast corner of the county; everybody knows it’s a poverty-stricken area — the Glade Road community I’m speaking of,” he said. “... They don’t have a fire station down there. They don’t have a compactor site down there. One of the things I’m proud of, we got a [Community Development Block Grant] ... the state issued it — actually the money comes from the federal [government], but it’s $500,000 and we’re about to start on that.”
Olson said he hoped to see the resource center by the end of 2014.
Looking to the year ahead, Taylor believed the county’s economic growth would become more apparent.
“Adairsville’s going to get the Shaw plant. That was something Melinda Lemmon and the folks at the economic development [department] worked really hard on them, and that’ll be around 500 jobs that’s hitting that community hopefully within the next year and a half. That’s going to be a great stimulus for the Adairsville community,” he said. “... And then in the center of the county is Highland 75. It’s starting to come along with voestalpine finally getting open and they’re just starting to hire. We’ve got at least two others — Surya Rugs is going to go across from voestalpine and then there’s a couple of other companies interested in going in the park. So I see that park developing over the next three or four years. Hopefully it’ll be developed out by then, but who knows how the development process works?”
When talking about the businesses and investments coming to Bartow County, Olson added it was possible only because of the work prior officials, volunteers and organizers put into laying a groundwork for such growth.
“That’s all due to years of hard work. It’s the fruition of years of hard work, which Steve was involved in, of course, in being [in the] JDA and the Bartow Development Authority. But it’s nice to be able to — and I hope Commissioner Brown from his retirement enjoys seeing these announcements — because it was a lot of hard work for those guys over the years to get us where we are,” Olson said. “But the state, one of the things the state folks said, is it seems just about every project they talk to that wants to locate at least takes a look at Bartow. They obviously don’t all pick it, but that’s just [an] exciting prospect for us because bringing in jobs is the best thing to help the whole community.”