Ralston, both SPLOSTs all winners
The predominant story coming out of last week’s General Election, also known as the midterms, was not the candidates elected or amendments, referendums or Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes (SPLOSTs) passed in Gilmer County, but the number of voters going to the polls — either by early voting or on Election Day.
Out of 19,069 registered voters in Gilmer County, 12,518 cast ballots for a 65.65 percentage of the electorate voting. Early voting showed 6,314 ballots cast, meaning 50.4 percent of all votes cast during the election period came early.
That’s far more than less than 20 percent of the electorate voting in recent county elections that did not include the 2016 presidential election.
“I think the voter turnout was remarkable,” said Voter Registrar Nelda Spires. “I’m very happy that Gilmer County voters were so involved in this year’s midterm elections.”
Voter turnout was 61.17 percent statewide, according to the Georgia secretary of state’s webpage.
In contested races in Gilmer County, incumbent Republican House Speaker David Ralston decisively pushed back Democrat challenger Rick D. Day, 10,413 votes to 1,833, to retain his District 7 seat. The News Observer in Blue Ridge reported Ralston totaled 9,250 votes to Day’s 1,715 in Fannin County. In the northwest corner of Dawson County in District 7, Ralston pulled 1,346 votes to Day’s 356.
The overall totals were Ralston, 21,009 votes (84.33 percent), to Day’s 3,904 votes (15.67 percent).
Ralston, who was first elected to the House in 2002, will begin his ninth term in January. and has been speaker since 2010. He spoke at a victory party in Blue Ridge on election night after the votes were counted
“I cherish the honor and opportunity to represent this place in the halls of state government,” he said. “That is why it means so much, on a personal level, to help in some small way to move this district forward so that together we can leave a place that is better than that which we’ve found ... we have battled this year through not one, but two, campaigns. And I could not have done it without the friends (in the district). I want to say ‘Thank you’ from the bottom of my heart.”
Day said he was “honored to be a part of this exercise in democracy” to run for the District 7 race.
“Even though I expectedly lost, I didn’t lose by as much as I thought I would,” he said “From the 2016 election, I got 5 percent more Democrat votes than what was (cast) in 2016, so all over the state we moved the mark a little bit to the left.
“I want to thank Speaker Ralston for running a relatively clean campaign. I wish we’d had more chances to engage and talk about the issues, but he was pretty busy this season, and I can respect that ... It’s important for someone to step up and run in all these political races.”
‘Worked very hard’
The Gilmer County Charter Schools SPLOST passed by a measure of 7,408 votes for (62.57 percent) to 4,432 against (37.43 percent). Gilmer County government’s SPLOST vote was much closer, 6,246 votes for (53.19 percent) to 5,497 against (46.81 percent). Each was a continuation of a 1-cent tax on a dollar spent in the county.
Gilmer Commission Chairman Charlie Paris was re-elected without opposition, as was Karleen Ferguson, who filled the Post 2 seat of outgoing Commissioner Travis Crouch.
“I am very grateful that the citizens of Gilmer County recognized the need to address our debt service without jeopardizing the financial gains achieved over the last few years,” Paris said of the SPLOST vote.
“I am honored to serve as your next Gilmer County Commissioner of Post 2! Thank you for trusting me with your votes!” Ferguson said on her Facebook page.
Commissioner Dallas Miller was not up for re-election, but was pleased the county’s SPLOST measure passed.
“Budget preparation time is always a difficult time for the board of commissioners,” he began. “This year, additional stress was present — the vote on the proposed continuation of the 1 percent SPLOST. Until the SPLOST was voted on, the 2019 budget could not be completed.
“This is because the SPLOST is used, first and foremost, to pay the principal and interest on the debt incurred when bonds were issued for the construction of the courthouse, library, fire stations and other county projects. This bond debt service amounts to about $4 million annually over the next 14 years. This is equivalent to 4 mills on property taxes that would otherwise be imposed.”
Miller said in addition, the board is dealing with deteriorating transportation infrastructure, aging properties (office buildings and equipment), increasing wages and medical costs and an increase in unfunded mandates from state and federal governments.
“We’ve worked very hard to contain these costs and have been able to keep the property tax millage rate from increasing,” he noted. “The only way that has been possible is the ongoing revenues from the 1 percent SPLOST.”