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Mayor pro tem candidates answer questions: James Collins

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Q: Economic development can be a two-edged sword with new businesses sometimes encroaching on neighborhoods. Are you in favor of continued development and how would you balance its benefits against liabilities to city residents?

A: Growth and economic development is the byproduct of a strong community like we have here in Gray. The goal is to attract companies that compliment and provide the proper, smart growth for your community. We have seen this with the recent opening of the Bent Axle Neighborhood Grille, Farmers Home Furniture, and the announcement of a future Tractor Supply Company store.

Q: Gray has struggled with water production for decades, spending tens of thousands of dollars drilling wells that have not produced adequate amounts of water. Do you see the possibility of working with Jones County to purchase water at a reduced rate as a possible solution to that problem? Other ideas?

A: As I have said from the beginning, working with the county on water and sewer is essential. The city providing sewer capacity and the county having a wealth of water. The issue for water and the city is a geological one which simply leaves the city without great options currently. This is not to say we should abandon future attempts to be water independent but accept that we are better served working together in this area. Any time you can create working relationships that benefit the whole community, it is a good thing

Q: Do you think there should be a requirement for city council members to attend a certain percentage of meetings each year to remain on council?

A: I think city councilmen owe it to their constituents to attend meetings and I feel the best opportunity for residents to weigh in is every four years at qualifying. That being said, I would be in favor of an ordinance seen in some cities that withhold a percentage of pay from a councilman who does not attend meetings.

Q: The City of Gray will be the recipient of over $1 million in American Rescue Program Act funds. What do you believe would be the most beneficial use of those funds?

A: We have started to receive and use some of the money provided by ARPA. Of course, a large portion of the money will be used to continue to improve our sewer system and address the inflow and infiltration that has become a key to success in the past couple years. We are also reviewing to potentially add a kiosk type system as an option to pay your water and sewer bill. Another great area for ARPA funds that will have been voted on when this article comes out is new firearms for our police department. Our officers are due for new and upgraded firearms, some of which are literally from Vietnam, and to bring us strategically in line with weapons used by the Sheriff’s Office.

Q: Gray does not have a city manager or administrator to handle its day-to-day operations. Are you in favor of the creation a position that would act as the city’s chief of operations, and if not, why?

A: I am open to this idea and think it should be an area of discussion in the next term. Between the addition of roads and the complexity and changing needs of a city in the areas of technology, there needs to be someone to tie it all together. To this point, we have been very fortunate to have department heads that go above and beyond and often assist each other in areas outside their own. All elected positions are part-time, a manager position ensures continuity and follow through between departments and a changing council.

Q: The question of package liquor sales is on the Nov. 2 ballot along with the Mayor Pro Tem election. Are you for or against having package liquor sales in the city limits of Gray?

A: I think the package liquor sales referendum highlights one of the great parts of living in a small town. It provides an opportunity to have the community decide the direction we wish to go. Personally, I am leaning against having liquor sales in the community. Statistics show liquor stores and the areas around them contribute to more crime, which may offset any increase in revenue from tax. There are pros and cons to both sides of this discussion though and I continue to discuss the matter with members of our community and weigh all the factors. I would finish by saying I hope money isn’t the sole reason you vote for this measure. Let’s not send that message to the youth of our community, that any measure is worth it just for money. Remember, the city is in a great financial position while not raising taxes.

Q: Your opponent, Rick Tipton, is a member of the Jones County Blight Committee that would like to see the ordinances in the city strengthened to be able to stop littering and clean up blighted areas. Do you have any ideas of how the city can address this issue, and do you think it should be a joint effort with the county?

A: Keeping Gray clean and beautiful is important to all of us. I am on the Downtown Review Committee that helps ensure the downtown and surrounding areas maintain an image, look and appeal for now and the future. Public Works crews work hard every day to keep the grass cut and garbage picked up. It was said in a meeting recently by a resident of Gray that the city looks great. But it is a constant effort, and we all work hard every day to maintain that. To bring attention to that, we partner with the county for the Community Pride Clean Up Day every year. I would support stronger ordinances for litter control and a continued, aggressive promotional campaign that brings us all together to keep Gray and Jones County beautiful.

Q: You have made it clear that you are in favor of Gray and Jones County working together in the areas of water and sewer. What other ideas do you have for the city and county working together?

A: There are so many areas for us to work together and that we do work so well together. From little things like helping the school system where we can to the police and fire departments where we assist each other sometimes daily. I have had the opportunity to ride with our police department and see firsthand how integrally these brave men and women keep the city and county safe. I think soon you will see us working together to bring more broadband to our residents also. Currently, the city, county and school board meet quarterly to discuss ongoing and future areas of cooperation.

Q: What are you most proud of during your time of public service?

A: We have accomplished so much in just three years. For those that may not remember, I came into office after a special election in 2018. In that time, we have purchased a new fire truck, adjusted our public works job descriptions and duties that led to a massive improvement in our inflow and infiltration issues with the sewer system, kept taxes the same, helped fund the Butler Hall project and unanimously passed the 2 nd Amendment Resolution. My proudest moment was standing up on behalf of the city to deliver a speech during the SPLOST negotiations. Standing there representing all of us and speaking to the commissioners about our projects needing funding, the strength that a strong county and city commands and the importance of upholding all of that for future generations. The Commissioners later approved my proposed breakdown which will lead to additional funding, projected to be over $100,000, for city projects.

Q: You and your opponent are both politically conservative, sharing many of the same views. Why should the citizens of Gray vote for you?

A: I am conservative and made no excuses or tried to hide that. I imagine most of us in the community want someone conservative with your money and views on taxes and fondness for small business. Someone who feels the government shouldn’t pick winners and losers or be overly burdensome on regulation. A conservative that understands a strong community is a safe community. Early on I voted to raise pay for our police and when this article comes out, we will have voted to update their firearms.

I also firmly believe that the goal is not to be right and wrong but to win people over through discussion and debate. I have focused from the beginning on building friendships and connections locally and throughout the state. The last three years have been my proof of concept that leadership is about conversation and working together. I have shown it can work and have the experience now. I have been consistent in my representation, true and committed in my reasoning, and transparent in my actions. I promise to continue putting the residents of the City of Gray and Jones County first in my decisions and actions. It has been an honor to serve my community and that is why I ask the citizens of Gray to vote to re-elect James Collins when they go to the ballot box on Nov 2.