The Catoosa County Chamber of Commerce hosted its Primary Candidates Debate June 12.
The event at the Colonnade drew about 100 attendees including candidates from races both opposed and unopposed.
Unopposed candidates spoke for three minutes including Sen. Jeff Mullis, Tax Commissioner Sandra Self, state Rep. Jay Neal, George Duncan, Commissioner District 3 Democratic candidate, and Democratic Party Chair Chris Scott who spoke on behalf of Ralph Noble, state Representative District 3 Democratic candidate.
A question and answer session followed with the Republican candidates from the State Representative District 3 Bob Jenkins, Brad Scott, and Tom Weldon, Jr.; Catoosa County Commissioner District 1 Ken Marks and Barbara Wilson; District 3 Jim Cutler and Bud Shadwick; and Chairman Judd Burkhart, Bill Clark, Keith Greene, and Jeff Wolford.
Candidates from each race fielded questions for approximately 30 minutes from moderator Joe Fleming of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.
I am really impressed with the quality of candidates across the board, Fleming said.
Catoosa County Chamber President Martha Eaker said that it was the most successful debate to date.
It went great. We had standing room only and that is always good, she said. The moderator did a wonderful job and was totally unbiased since he was from Atlanta.
When asked if there were any surprises, she said, No. It went pretty much as planned.
Im looking forward to the next one, she added.
Catoosa County resident Cherise Miller attended to hear from all the races.
I was interested in what everybody had to say and what their goals are, she said. We have a bunch of good candidates.
Candidates in the State Representative race fielded questions first.
One of those was What can we do to better promote this area for tourism?
Number one is work with our Chamber of Commerce, Scott said. I think they do a excellent job of providing information to our businesses and to those coming in from outside with tourism helping them educate the public
We have a lot to offer in this area a lot of Civil War, WWI and WWII history, he said. We as a community need to start talking outside our community about tourism and I think word of mouth will spread and bring people into this area.
Weldon said Georgia is the greatest state in the union.
We live in the prettiest part, we got the mountains, we got water, well we got water that Atlanta doesnt have, Weldon said. We got streams and rivers running through Catoosa and Whitfield counties. This is an untapped resource we can tap if we develop a very cohesive marketing plan and fund it and we advertise to other states. We would get the business here. If we work with state Chamber and local Chamber clearly, we can enhance our value.
Jenkins said Scott and Weldon have good ideas.
I would expand on that by we need to look in several directions, he said. We have a reach history in Civil War. I am a Civil War buff and history is one of my loves. Both Indian, pioneer and our textile industry. We need to look at other areas of tourism; for example, there was a water park that wanted to come. There were some economic disadvantages that could not be overcome. Some tax issues and some state approval that did not happen fast enough.
We need to be able to work both at state and locally so when we have an opportunity when someone wants to be here, we need to make that happen, he said. A little bit west of us will be getting that water park. My wish list is a regional university for Northwest Georgia; you might say how does that have anything to do with tourism. If we look at all the different opportunities our university system can provide. Not only the obvious the liberal arts programs, the athletics. There are a lot of opportunities that could open
Jenkins said the key is to bring all the groups working on their own projects together to promote the area.
Education; the GREAT Plan submitted last legislative session making a change in the tax framework, taxes and transportation were all among the discussion.
The three had a disagreed while talking about transportation after the moderator asked, Do we need to increase spending on transportation?
Jenkins replied No.
He said current funds need to be redirected.
Why do we need another lane in metro Atlanta when we have holes the size that you could hide a deer in here in Northwest Georgia that should be addressed, he said. Not only northwest Georgia but the entire state.
He said alternatives modes of transportation such as high-speed trains should be considered.
Weldon said, Yes
Clearly it does. We got road problems up here that clearly needs to be addressed, he said. One of the ways we can address that is the DOT having projects ready to submit to Washington so we can get federal funds. That would be getting back more of our taxes that go out of our state. They need to be applied in District 3 Catoosa and Whitfield counties.
Scott agreed saying Absolutely.
As Chairman of the Republican Party.., Ive worked with former DOT chairman Mike Evans and hearing him hear from other Atlanta officials. We definitely need more money in our transportation system. If we do not do it now, we are going to have a problem in the future.
Jenkins in response to the others said, If you are going to increase funding for a program then you are going to have to look at making allocation choices. That means increasing taxes. You cant lower taxes and raise spending.
Northwest Georgia needs more funding but the state does not need to increase its funding, it needs to redirect it, he said.
District 1 Commissioner candidates Marks and Wilson debated issues from the operation of the Colonnade, fire department operations, and consolidation of county and municipal governments. Several of these issues are covered in another article highlighting this race in this weeks edition of The Catoosa County News.
District 3 Commissioner candidates Cutler and Shadwick broached subjects from controlling growth, roads, and cooperation between county governments, attracting industry and raising taxes for improved infrastructure.
Both agreed raising taxes is not in their playbook.
People cant afford no more taxes, Shadwick said. The economy the way it is. Ive not looked into all of it but if elected I would look into cutting spending. The county spends a lot of money. There has to be ways to cut out a lot of spending. That has got to be the answer.
Cutler said as a conservative Republican he would look to other sources.
I am not going to sit here and say I am going to look forward to raising taxes. I dont think we need to raise taxes, he said. What I think we will have to do is work with the businesses that are coming in to try to make sure the infrastructure is in place. One of the things we got going for us is SPLOST I hope that we will have money in SPLOST to tap into for the growth of new businesses and for the infrastructure. I hope that will take care of itself.
The four-man County Chairman race drew upon a wide variety of candidates comments for the competition that could end a runoff with no one candidate carrying 50 percent of the voters plus one.
Initially, each candidate reviewed their professional experiences and their debate session largely rolled from one candidate to another as most built or offered alternatives from topics other candidates or the moderator mentioned.
What is the most significant issues facing Catoosa County? brought four ideas at where candidates see the county:
The most significant issue is it such a nice place to live, Clark said. Everybody wants to live here. Consequently, the people moving in are developers had outrun the infrastructure..
Clark said the economic slowdown offers the county a window of opportunity to improve on infrastructure, which he said is happening with additional sewer and water lines.
Roads are not in that bad of shape its the intersections, he said.
Wolford pointed to a need to plan for gaining industry and subdivision growth.
Unlike most Georgia counties where they are rural, most are run by large land owners. There are not many people that live there, he said. This is a very small county in a state with a lot of counties. . Small business and tourism (is what is pushing this county.) We need to get SPLOST in and we need to start thinking how we are going to plan this out.
He points to working with the Northwest Georgia Development Authority to increase chances for industry and said that smart subdivision planning could better assist in these days of rising gas prices.
We dont need to be driving the car everyplace Greenspace isnt big yards with green grass. Greenspace is to plan subdivisions on a lot that the developer chooses, he said. We are not worried about the size of your lot. We want the developer to put in better houses, sewer curb and gutters and underground utilities. Assign some greenspace the housing association owns to build whatever they want jungle gym, skate park, grill out. Put some space for commercial development for a store close by so you dont have to get in you car again .
Greene sees a lack of vision for the future as the biggest problem.
What we need to do is get a planning commission together, he said. There is one, but I think its pretty much ineffective at this point. What we need to do is start working with Fort Oglethorpe, Ringgold and the county, get all three together, and plan how to have planned growth.
He also pointed towards the need of better industry to create local jobs.
We need to have higher education, college, technical universities that will increase the education for the workforce that we have here, he said. That is the bottom line. That will take care of the economic growth and everything else. It will provide for the quality of life for citizens of the county.
Burkhart said concentrating on the basics roads, bridges, intersections and red lights will make the county strong.
I disagree with Mr. Clark, our roads are not in good shape, he said.
They are narrow. Our ditches are filled in, greenspaces at the side of the roads not being taken care of. There is nobody to take care of them. The road department has been decreased in the last six to eight years.
He said the county should hire more people in that department and bring a different approach to fire services.
We need to start worrying about fire services in rural areas and leave the professional people alone, he said. The volunteers, give them more incentives to be volunteers in the city areas. Start worrying about getting a better fire rating for our rural areas.
He said then is when combining organizations should be considered rather than the current approach of hiring 25 full-time firefighters that will cost the county millions in the end.
It would be less money to have paid volunteers, he said.
CLICK ON THESE LINKS