Tax commission, BOE candidates state their case

COVINGTON - The following is a summary of responses given by candidates for Board of Education District 2 and Tax Commissioner at a candidates' forum held Thursday night.

Board of Education, District 2

In order to improve test scores and student retention rates, what current initiatives would you support and what others would you suggest?

Republican incumbent Rickie Corley said parental involvement and responsibility are key, along with after-school enrichment programs. With the rapid growth of the school system, it's not surprising that there are issues such as low test scores to contend with, he said.

"It's not where we want it to be, but education is a work in progress and is a journey, not a destination," he said.

Democratic challenger Eddie Johnson said there is little parental and community involvement in children's education and that must change. He also said afterschool programs are needed. Johnson said a change in leadership is needed on the school board to get results, and he can provide that change. He challenged everyone to ask parents of students the question he's been asking during the last six months of campaigning: "Are you completely satisfied with the Newton County school system; and if you get a yes answer, let me know."

How do you affect the ability of the school system to deliver an excellent education while providing exceptional value to the residents of Newton County?

Hiring and recruiting good teachers is the best way to do that, said Johnson, who claimed that morale of school system employees is at an all-time low. Johnson is a bus driver for the school system. Employees should be better rewarded for a job well-done, he said.

During his opening remarks, Johnson said his parents made it only through the third and seventh grades but managed to send all their children to college, and he wants to share his experience with students and show them that education is important.

"We cannot afford four more years of failed leadership in Newton County," he said.

Corley again emphasized the importance of getting parents and the community involved.

He said the school system is working to address low test scores and improvements will be a work in progress. The public should remember that a variety of factors contribute to low test scores, including absent and special needs students.

"Children are expected to all perform on the same level and that's not going to happen, but that doesn't mean all children can't be successful," he said.

Corley said a vote for him would be a vote for experience and proven leadership.

Tax Commissioner

What specific actions do you plan to improve tax collections and fairness to Newton County taxpayers?

Democrat Nicholas Day promised to keep taxpayers informed about all rules and laws related to tax payments, including homestead exemptions. Taxpayers may not be aware of exemptions they can get, he said. Day said he wants to implement a program where taxpayers can put in data and available exemptions will be displayed.

Republican incumbent Barbara Dingler said tax collections have improved during her two terms, with collections at 99.8 percent during 2006 and prior years, and at more than 97 percent in 2007.

The office mails out a taxpayer's bill of rights to all new homeowners detailing exemptions and exemptions are also explained on the tax commissioners Web site, she said.

Why do you seek the office of tax commissioner?

"I really enjoy the job I do," Dingler said. "I have the leadership, experience and dedication to serve all of you, the citizens of the county."

Dingler also pointed out her experience, having worked 23 years for Newton County and nine years as tax commissioner. During her two terms, Dingler said she has worked within her yearly budget and all laws governing her office, improved service by implementing an online payment option, moved homestead exemption forms to the tax commissioner's office and is working to implement a credit card payment option for in-person office visits.

Day said his platform is simple: He wants to eliminate school taxes for senior citizens. While he admitted advocating for more exemptions is not part of the tax commissioner's job, he said he feels strongly that he can be a voice for the people on this issue.

Conservation and sole survivor exemptions, and others like them should be explained to citizens, for example, so they are aware of ways to save more money, he said.

"I will be there for you and not there to blindly take your money and look away," he said.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.