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Infinger a newcomer to politics no more

Commission chairman sees challenges ahead

POSTED: January 26, 2017 6:00 p.m.
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Carter Infinger replaced Jimmy Burnsed as chairman of the Bryan County Commission this year.

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Carter Infinger was a newcomer to politics in 2010 when he ran for and won the District 4 seat on the Bryan County Commission.

Now, Infinger is county commission chairman, and holding arguably the most visible seat in local government - and not because the chairman runs county commission meetings.

"That’s a small part of the job, really," Infinger said. "A bigger part of the job of the chairman is to make sure when we do things, we’re doing them for the good of the county as a whole."

If that’s the chairman’s job, Infinger said his role is to be an advocate for Bryan County.

"I see the chairman’s role as that of being a spokesman for the county," Infinger said. "And to make sure all of us on the commission understand the issues, and understand what we are voting on and the consequences of that vote. I do think we have a good board in place. It’s easy to work with the other members and we all want to be pushing on the same side of the rock, so to speak."

Infinger replaced three-term chairman Jimmy Burnsed, a banker who for many was the face and voice of Bryan County government.

"Jimmy did a great job for our county," Infinger said. "He’s going to to be missed. He told me I could call him anytime I needed advice, and I told him I planned on taking him up on it."

At the same time, Infinger, a pharmaceutical sales representative by trade, makes it clear he’ll do things his way.

"My priorities are to move this county forward," he said, listing infrastructure, vehicle replacement and staffing as issues that need to be addressed.

"We can’t continue to say, ‘this is the way we’re going to do it because this is the way we’ve always done it," Infinger said. "We can’t continue to think and act like we’re a county of 15,000 people. We’re a county of 35,000 people and we’re growing, and we’ve got to act like it."

Change could be costly, a message that isn’t likely to resonate in a county known for its relatively low millage rate and generous homestead exemptions for seniors.

"If you don’t spend money now you’re going to have to spend it later," Infinger said, pointing to antiquated computer systems and an abundance of county vehicles with more than 300,000 miles on them.

"We’re going to have to figure out the best way to do what we have to do without spending much money, and saving money where we can."

Growth an issue

Perhaps the top issue facing Infinger is growth. Right up there with it are finding access to water and getting more industry to move in to help diversify the county’s tax base.

Residential building is once again booming in South Bryan, in large part due to a low crime rate and the school system’s reputation as one of the best on the Georgia coast.

There are signs growth is picking up speed in North Bryan, and the Development Authority of Bryan County is actively recruiting more industry - which likely will spark still more subdivisions.

Trying to manage development isn’t limited to Bryan County, Infinger points out.

"You can’t stop the growth," Infinger said. "You can try to control it. But you can’t tell somebody, ‘I know you have 100 acres you want to build houses on it, but you can’t.’ That’s dictating what people do with their property. So you do what you can to control that growth in a way that preserves what we have here. And I think it’s a good problem to have."

Infinger said he wants to see the DABC succeed in bringing more jobs to Bryan and lauds the job done by CEO Anna Chafin and DABC board members. He noted the recent $29 million expansion by Daniel Defense at its Black Creek facility was important.

"Daniel Defense is a great company," Infinger said. "Those are the kinds of jobs we need in Bryan County. But we’re competing against 159 other counties, who all want those jobs. So what do we do to set ourselves apart?"

Impact

Infinger said it’s also important to take a long view of the county commission’s actions, which is not always easy in the middle of a boom.

"What we do now affects our county 20 or 30 years down the road," he said. "And as more and more people move in, we have more and more people paying taxes. That helps pay for the infrastructure."

But there’s also a point where new residential development doesn’t pay for the infrastructure it requires. In Bryan County, Infinger said it is currently at $275,000 per house - meaning homes that cost less don’t generate enough in property taxes to cover the cost of services a family of four would use.

That’s why the county is trying to steer development and provide enough housing above and below the median price, he said.

But build too many homes over the line and you slow down growth while also making it harder for people who work in the community to afford a home in it. Build too many under $275,000 and you have to raise taxes to pay for services.

Infinger called it part of a greater puzzle.

"You might be an expert in one piece of that puzzle, but there are 10 other pieces there that have to fall into place to make the puzzle complete," he said. "It can be a hard thing to do. And that’s why you want educated people working for you who have a strong background in the piece of the puzzle you want them to work on, be it a planning and zoning administrator or an HR person. But at the end of the day, every piece is important."

Outspoken

Infinger has been known to express his opinion at commission meetings, and as District 4 commissioner he once argued with a frequent critic of county government.

"I’m passionate about it and I enjoy it," Infinger said. "Some people join the military or law enforcement to serve their country. I serve my community this way."

While Infinger doesn’t appear to follow a party line, he also bristles at any suggestion that Bryan County government isn’t open or hasn’t been open in the past.

"People who say we’re doing things behind the scenes don’t understand the process," Infinger said. "It’s as transparent as can be. Our budget is online for people to look at any time. You can come to any meeting, you can participate in any meeting, and you can even watch them online. People who claim we’re doing things in secret don’t understand the process."

That transparency extends to the chairman himself, Infinger said.

"If you call me on the phone with a question I’ll answer it the same way I would if you asked it in public in front of a bunch of people," Carter said. "You might not like it the answer either time, but it’ll be the same answer."

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