Candidates weigh in on Warner Robins' growth and annexation

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We're less than a week away from the mayoral election in Warner Robins, already 2,393 people have voted early.

WMAZ has repeated extensively about the Police Department's struggles to grow with the city of Warner Robins.

But, they're not the only department that's had to keep up. So, Jacob Reynolds asked the candidates if the city is growing too fast.

Since 2000, Warner Robins has grown by more than 13 square miles and the population has increased by roughly 25,000.  

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In that same time, the public works' authorized staffing has gone up by only 12 people and the utilities department has only gone up by 9.

Some have said in the past, including current Mayor Randy Toms, that departments are overworked and stretched thin.

Joe Musselwhite says the city should focus on growth planning.

“We have got to have more employees, not just police, city wide. And, we have to plan for future growth. Anytime you bring in new properties, new neighborhoods, new businesses, they expect services and if you're not prepared to give them those services you wind up in the situation Warner Robins is in today,” Musselwhite said at his campaign headquarters on Russell Parkway.

Toms says the city does have to play catch up and is working with departments to better handle the growth.

“I think it was just the nature of our city that saw such prosperity that it grew in such a way that it sprawled. So now we got to try to contain things the best we can while we provide the services that the citizens deserve with the tax dollars that they're paying,” Toms said.

Councilman Chuck Shaheen says the city needs to run the departments more effectively, like a business.

“There are stormwater fees out there that we're not collecting that we could collect and now we could hire more crews to do stormwater. So, there has to be a good balance here, but again it's about running a business. And your city is a business,” Shaheen said.

WMAZ did verify that there are uncollected stormwater fees earlier this election season.

The growth has come from annexation, but not everyone in Houston County is convinced it's being handled properly.

Paulette Williams and her neighbors live on Ellicott Drive in Houston County. A new construction project started last month on city property bordering theirs. Neighbors said the work disrupted school bus pickups and drop-offs and they had no idea what was going on.

“We need a little more communication, a little more understanding and involvement with the plans and what's happening instead of just somebody coming in and saying here we go and then we're just left to deal with it. That doesn't sit well with anyone,” Williams said.

The neighborhood, which is on county property, bordered the city's commercial property.

Neighbors also say they didn't know who to go to with questions after the project started causing even more headaches.

Musselwhite says that's why communication about annexation has to improve.

“Anytime there's annexation, a lot of planning needs to go into place. As far as mail, garbage, service. People pay taxes for service and all that needs to be worked out before it becomes a problem in the citizen's neighborhood,” Musselwhite said.

Councilman Shaheen made a similar point, saying these problems would be solved with better communication.

“Right off the bat, who's gonna provide these services? Now if the city does provide you the water and sewer, then that does give us the opportunity to also provide police protection, fire protection, sanitation. But in this particular it just seems like, again, it was miscommunication,” Shaheen said.

Toms says the city should do better fully informing people about annexation and when changes are coming to their neighborhoods. But, he also sees opportunities to work with the County to help each other.

“There's areas in the County I think we can provide fire services for easier and at a cost efficient way for the county and for the city. And I think we need to look at bringing some of our services together,” Toms said.

Early voting continues through Friday at City Hall on Watson Boulevard.

Election Day is November 7th.

Two council seats are also up for grabs, Post 1 and Post 3.