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District 3 seat most highly contested in county

In the elections most highly-contested race, an incumbent, a former commissioner and a first-time office-seeker are vying for the District 3 seat on the Pike County Commisison.

Republican incumbent Jimmy Barron, who has served as commissioner for the last four years, will face Democrat opponent Kathleen Forbish and independent candidate Sherrill Calhoun.

Calhoun, a lifelong resident of District 3, was a three-term former commissioner, and Forbish, who is the sister of District 1 Commissioner Homer Wright, has never sought office before.

For Barron, being a county commissioner means being a servant of the people.

“The role would be to provide needed service to the people of the county, such as safe roads and bridges,” Barron said. “It’s to address the needs of the community and listen to the needs and wants of the people.”

To Forbish, a county commissioner’s role all boils down to business.

“I think the role of the county commissioner should be to oversee the business of the county and carry out the business of the county,” Forbish said. “And, it’s to be there where the people in the county and district would be able to contact them when needed.”

Calhoun said being a county commissioner is not just about paving roads and conducting business, but it’s about financial management. “The main role of a county commissioner is to govern your tax dollars,” Calhoun said.

With the county working to dwindle a $10 million debt, candidates agreed there are financial hiccups in Pike County.

Barron said the county has reduced debt since he took office in 2004, and now, the road department is the biggest financial problem in the county. “We need to set aside some money for the road department so we can have safe roads and bridges,” Barron said.

With fairly new revenues from the reallocation of a 1-cent sales tax, Barron said the answer lies in making wiser decisions with this income.

“This was existing tax, and we need to be good stewards with our money to pay toward our debt,” Barron said. “My record is clear on voting against the discretionary fund. It should be lowered or cut out completely.”

Forbish said the county’s financial state leaves little room for addressing needs.

“The financial problem in the county weighs heavily on my heart,” Forbish said. “We need revenues to help with dirt roads and highways that really need to be resurfaced. We desperately need a new county jail.”

Forbish said she doesn’t know how exactly to do it better, but she doesn’t think the county is doing enough to reduce its debt.

“There should be some means of sitting down and looking at it,” Forbish said.

Calhoun said the county commissioners should take several steps to become better managers of the finances, by allowing the community to vote on who the commission chairman will be.

“If I’m not mistaken, the county should be redistricted in 2010, and I think we should reduce the districts to no more than four and finish the modernization act to have the chairman elected by the people,” Calhoun said. “That should help finances.”

Calhoun also said to alleviate debt more aggressively, the county should make better use of its sales tax revenues. “(Commissioners) should have a plan for what they will do with that money and should have a plan to reduce debt,” Calhoun said.

Though all said the county is in need of financial relief, not all candidates support a new county lodging tax.

“I really haven’t made up my mind on that,” Barron said. “I want to wait until I hear more information to decide.”

Barron did say, however, he is opposed to any new taxes that would be paid directly by Pike County residents. “I don’t want to tax the people of the county in any way,” Barron said. “I think we’re taxed enough. I’m for looking for all other possible ways of producing revenues.”

Forbish said if a lodging tax would generate more funds, then she might be in favor of its implementation.

“If it’s going to generate more money to help the county, then yes, but if it costs the county money by causing people to go somewhere else, then no,” Forbish said.

To produce more revenue, Forbish said she would not be opposed to adding new taxes locally. “If the tax could generate more for Pike County and it’s going to help Pike County, then yes,” Forbish said.

Calhoun, however, said he would not support a lodging tax. “I was at the county commission meeting, and people want to say it won’t cost the people of Pike County anything, but if other counties in Alabama do this, it will still cost us the same,” he said.

He also said he wouldn’t want to implement any other type of taxes. “At this time, I’d be opposed to any new taxes, unless something came up,” Calhoun said.

Forbish and Barron both said the biggest needs of the county are resurfacing roads and controlling litter. Calhoun, on the other hand, said one of the biggest needs in District 3 is a new polling place.

Barron said as a native of Pike County and a former commissioner, he is ready to take office once again. “Being a Pike County native, I know a lot of the elected officials and people of the county, and I have experience with the Department of Transportation working on roads and recognizing road conditions that need to be repaired,” he said.

Forbish, who was a school teacher for 38 years and a member of the legislative contact team, said she feels qualified to serve as the District 3 commissioner. Calhoun said his previous work as a commissioner and his 30 years at the state road department gives him the experience needed to handle finances and manage the county.