COVINGTON - Republican T.M. "Mort" Ewing is seeking a third term in office as District 1 county commissioner.
Though Ewing has said he wants to represent the interests of all citizens, and not just those in his district, the lifelong Newton County resident admits the people in District 1 are "a little bit special."
"The thing that pleases me about my constituents in District 1 is their willingness to give back to the community and give to the county as a whole," Ewing said, noting that residents in the district have donated land for three fire stations in the past eight years and frequently serve on county committees and study groups.
"The people, developers and volunteers in District 1 try to set an example for others to follow. We are a very unselfish district, and I think the people deserve credit for that," he said.
District 1 still has a lot of undeveloped land. Is preserving greenspace important to you? If so, how can that be done? Do you support transfer of development rights?
The county's goal is to set aside 20 percent of land as greenspace, and Ewing said he believes TDRs are necessary to achieve that goal. He also supports the comprehensive land use plan, the master plan for Gaither Plantation and the development plan for Stanton Springs, all of which call for preservation of greenspace.
What can government do to promote economic development?
Ewing wants to find ways to maintain the county's strong agricultural base and encourage the agriculture and forestry industries to stay in Newton County. One option is to develop an incentive program for young farmers, much the same as is already done for industry.
The county's agricultural base "helps our quality of life by growing crops on land instead of growing houses. Pine trees and strawberries don't need police protection, you don't need a library for them," he said.
Focusing on high-quality development should also be a priority, he said, pointing to the recent development of a convenience store at Ga. Highway 11 and 142. The store has a rock facade and two chimneys, and looks more like a bank than a gas station.
"As we grow, we have to have more convenience stores, but we don't have to build like we did years ago," he said. "We can enhance the quality of the convenience store so that it's not an eyesore at county intersections."
Working with the county's municipalities to strengthen their downtown areas is also important, he said.
Do you believe Bear Creek Reservoir is the best option for meeting the future water needs of the residents of Newton County?
"In my opinion, Bear Creek is by far the best site for the next reservoir," Ewing said.
There has been misunderstanding over the funding of the reservoir, he added. Bear Creek is being backed by water bonds that will be repaid with the sale of water, not by ad valorem taxes, he said.
The reservoir is on target to be completed by the time it will be needed, between 2018 and 2020, with the expansion currently under way at the Cornish Creek treatment plant meeting water needs until that time, he said.
Is there anything more the local government can do to address transportation problems?
Ewing said commissioners have long been trying to find creative ways to address transportation issues, including allocating one mill of property taxes, special purpose local option sales tax revenues and impact fee revenues to road projects.
With federal and state funding dwindling, the county will have to find ways to handle most projects locally, he said.
"We have done everything we can do to enhance the transportation system and we have worked with the state officials to get more state and federal money," he said. "There is no easy answer, no easy fix."
With less revenue coming in, how can the county continue to provide the same level of service to residents?
Ewing said he hopes whomever is elected to the board will "work as hard as we have to address the needs of the people without an increase in the millage rate."
He pointed out that there have been no millage rate increases, and the county has operated on a balanced budget, for the past eight years.
"That sounds very easy, but it's been very difficult. Every year we've had many more requests for dollars than we've had dollars to spend," he said.
The county began addressing the economic downturn and slowdown in the growth rate 18 months ago, by freezing open positions, reducing certain positions and offering transfers to other departments, he said.
The county is mandated to provide certain services, he said, and in the future, the board will need to look closely at those mandated services and other needs of citizens and determine how to best meet those with the available money.
Crystal Tatum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: T.M. "Mort" Ewing
· Age: 69
· Party: Republican
· Occupation: Farmer; agent and branch manager of Jones, Ewing, Dobbs and Tamplin Insurance Agency
· Education: Newton County High School
· Political and Community Experience: Two-term BOC commissioner; treasurer for Newton County Land Trust Alliance Inc.; named one of the 10 most influential men in Georgia by Georgia Trend Magazine; served as president and CEO of Georgia Farm Bureau and vice president of American Farm Bureau
· Family: Wife Faye; two sons, Ben and John
· Phone: 770-786-5006