Familiar opponents vie in Commission District 5

Published 10:00 pm Monday, October 20, 2008

Pike County Commission’s long-time incumbent Charlie Harris will face familiar opposition in the Nov. 4 election, as of now at least.

Independent candidate Jeff Baker will challenge 16-year incumbent Harris for the third time in a row this election if a judge doesn’t rule Baker to live outside of District 5, where he is seeking office.

After Baker qualified to run as an independent candidate last summer, Harris filed a lawsuit against him, claiming Baker is not a resident of District 5.

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A court hearing held Oct. 6 did not grant a decision on the case, and pending no result stating otherwise prior to the election, Baker’s votes will still count in the race for District 5.

Baker said his desire to help with law enforcement, county debt and ambulance service are some of the reasons he is fighting once again for the office.

“I feel like I bring a unique perspective to the table,” Baker said. “I ran in 2000 and 2004 and here again. Those things show I’m committed to make a change and difference in Pike County.”

Democrat candidate Harris said being a commissioner, to him, is all about service.

“I want to continue to serve the people of Pike County because I feel the need, and I understand their needs,” Harris said. “I work here in the county, and I want Pike County to be the best in the state of Alabama.”

Both candidates seeking office said the need for better ambulance service is among the top of what they want to do in office.

“One of the big problems right now is the ambulance problem,” Harris said. “We have so many complaints about people not getting picked up, and when they make the call the ambulance never gets there.”

Baker said he also has a plan to improve ambulance service in Pike County.

“I would like to see an ambulance service with perhaps a substation in all four corners of the county,” Baker said.

Both commission candidates said the county has financial trouble, but they differed on how they would address it.

“As a commissioner looking at the entire budget for the county, there is a financial problem in Pike County,” Harris said.

“We do not have enough money to do the things the people in the county want to do, but overall we are in good financial shape.”

Harris, however, said the county is doing all it can to reduce its standing debt with a 10-year debt reduction plan, which, he said, it’s working.

“Right now we can meet those debts with out borrowing any money if we keep working like we are now,” Harris said.

Baker agreed the county debt has disabled the commission from providing some needed services.

“I think the county has borrowed itself in a bind, and we don’t have the funds to promote the services Pike County deserves,” Baker said.

But, Baker said he does not think the commission is working hard enough to pay off the debts.

“I think they should try to put a large chunk of money on it annually or find some kind of way to increase payments,” Baker said.

And with the county’s debt, candidates differed on ways to bring in new revenue sources.

Harris, who is on the commission that has agreed to draft a proposal for a county lodging tax, said he supports its implementation.

“The tax will be a great thing for Pike County because it doesn’t tax any people that live in Pike County unless you go stay in the motel,” Harris said. “It will help the county commission generate funds and have that amount of money ($50,000 to $100,000) to help people in Pike County.”

Baker said he is opposed to new taxes on county residents, but he is not certain how he feels about the lodging tax.

“I’m not versed on it yet, but I’m opposed to any new taxes on the citizens of Pike County, and this would only affect people staying in motels,” Baker said. “But, we would want people to stop and stay in Pike County.”

Harris said his experience on the commission qualifies him to serve again.

“My training that I received during the 16 years makes me qualified for Pike County Commission because I’ve served as chairman for two years, on the state board of county commissions for seven years and also on national commission board for four years,” Harris said.

Baker, who is just shy of a justice and public safety degree, said his work in the county will prepare him to represent District 5.

“I worked in the county garbage department, road department and engineer department, and I know all the department heads in this county and most of the county employees,” Baker said.