The local races to watch in July 20 primaries

It's a tough time to run for local office.

Faced with declining tax revenues and painful budget cuts, counties and cities have slashed spending, offered early retirement buyouts, and, in some cases, raised taxes to make ends meet.

Area school systems have cut teacher positions, increased class sizes and trimmed the school calendar.

Here's a closer look at a few prominent local races ahead of the July 20 primaries:

Cobb County

The next County Commission chairman has big shoes to fill with the departure of Sam Olens, who is running for state attorney general. This month's special election pits former Commissioner Tim Lee against retired businessman Larry Savage.

The new chairman faces a county with an uphill financial battle. The amended budget for fiscal 2010 was $804 million, and revenue for fiscal 2011, which begins in October, is projected to be down about 12 percent. Tight finances have left the county with hundreds of laid-off teachers, uncertainty about a proposed light rail system and residents opposed to paying more taxes. Both Lee and Savage have said they will not raise taxes.

Gwinnett County

The District 4 race is the one to watch, with the departure of pro-development Commissioner Kevin Kenerly and a brewing controversy over the privatization of Briscoe Field.

Kenerly and other commissioners' connections to developers are under investigation by a Gwinnett grand jury.

For voters in District 4, which includes Lawrenceville, the proposed expansion of the airport has become a political hot potato. None of the five GOP candidates supports the privatization.

In Snellville, a referendum over Sunday alcohol sales in restaurants will settle a 6-year-old debate. Proponents argue that it's about the city's economic prosperity. Opponents maintain that it will lead to alcohol abuse and is an affront against God.

DeKalb County

Four Democrats are competing for the District 7 Commission seat: Bryce Farbstein, Kathryn Rice, Stan Watson and Tierney Grier. No Republicans are running.

The District 7 winner will face several big financial decisions, including the proposed redevelopment of the vacant GM plant in Doraville. The county CEO and the developer have proposed using $36 million in federal stimulus bonds to pay for part of the development. The current proposal calls for residents to pay for the debt service through a tax increase.

Farbstein, Rice and Watson said they are reluctant to support a tax increase. Grier, whose phone was disconnected, could not be reached for comment.

Cherokee County

The three seats open on the Board of Commissioners will be decided in the Republican primary, and there are only three candidates running. Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens and Commissioner Harry Johnston will retain their seats. Newcomer Jason Nelms will take the seat held by Derek Good, who withdrew from the race after it was discovered he had lied about his military service and educational attainments.

The news out of solidly Republican Cherokee County this year is that Democrats are showing up: Tony Guice will challenge the winner of the GOP primary for Board of Education Post 3; Alice M. Archey will face the GOP winner in Post 6.

Clayton County

The hottest races involve two candidates on the comeback trail: Jewel Scott, who was defeated after one term as Clayton County district attorney in 2008, is running for District 4 commissioner; and Victor Hill, the former sheriff who also was defeated after one controversial term, is running for state Senate. Jewel Scott is running against incumbent Michael Edmondson and Dabouze Antoine for the Democratic nomination. If she wins, she’ll face her husband, Lee Scott, who already is on the November ballot as a Republican. Hill is running for Senate District 34 as a Democrat against his former political mentor, and the eight-year incumbent, Valencia Seay.

Fulton County

Now that Mary Norwood has lost her bid to run as an independent for chairwoman of the Fulton County Commission, only District 6, which covers the central and eastern sections of Atlanta, features a contest next week. Four Democrats are vying for the spot: Sally Smith, Joan Garner, David Holder and Keisha Waites. The winner faces no opponent in November.

Staff writers Ralph Ellis, April Hunt, Megan Matteucci, Christopher Quinn and Jeffry Scott contributed to this article.