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Porterdale mayoral candidates address issues

Editor's note: Coverage of the Porterdale City Council candidates at the forum will appear in a future edition of the Citizen.

PORTERDALE -- Mayoral candidates in the Nov. 8 Municipal election squared off in a well-organized political forum Tuesday night at the Porterdale Mill Lofts.

Candidates Bobby Hamby, inclumbent, and challenger Arline Chapman were given the opportunity to make 5-minute opening remarks, followed by questions from the audience and written questions that were submitted to organizer Michael Patterson, Porterdale resident and chairman of the Candidates Forum Committee. More than 50 people attended the event.

Hamby used his opening comment period to update residents on the status of a proposed traffic signal at Ga. Highway 81 and Crowell Road. Hamby recounted the numerous years and meetings that have taken place to get the intersection widened and signaled since he first took office as a council member in 1997.

Hamby said that changes in leadership at the state Department of Transportation and lack of state funding delayed the project. Through negotiations with Newton County, he said the project is now on track to begin construction in the fall of 2012.

"I am pushing very hard to see that that happens," Hamby said. "I know there is talk about town that I have somehow delayed this project. Nothing could be further from the truth."

In the Q&A session, Hamby was asked to explain his involvement with the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority and explain why Porterdale's water rates are higher than other municipalities'.

Hamby said he was appointed to the authority board in 1994 as a representative of Porterdale. He explained that the authority is a water retailer. The city of Porterdale buys its water from the Newton County Board of Commissioners, he said.

Porterdale's water rates are higher due to Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority loans that the city obtained to replace its aging infrastructure, Hamby said.

"In the process of that, state law requires that we keep a certain profit margin in order to pay that loan back," Hamby said, which contributes to the town's higher water rates.

In a written question, Hamby was also asked about interpersonal conflicts among council members and how he has addressed those issues.

Hamby said he works to keep the council members in line, but at the same time allow them to have their say.

"As I have said to the council many times before, we have to try to work together and get along," Hamby said. "We may not always agree, but when we disagree we need to do so in a civil manner."

In response to a question about the future of Porter Memorial Gymnasium, which burned in 2005, Hamby said it is imperative that the gym be rebuilt and he supports continued public and private efforts to raise funds for that purpose.

"The gym in the past was the heartbeat of this community," he said.

Chapman resigned her Post 3 seat on the council in order to seek election as mayor. In her opening comments Tuesday night, Chapman said she believes in open government and would encourage citizen participation. She said she would focus on obtaining funds to replace aging sewer lines, which in turn, would make the town more attractive to developers.

Chapman also said she would work with responsible landlords to help enforce the city's housing code. The majority of residences in Porterdale are rental properties.

Recreation is another key issue for Chapman, who said she would support development of the Yellow River front in order to offer more recreational opportunities on the river, as well as work to secure outside assistance for funding for playgrounds and other amenities.

"It is my intention to work with all of those involved to move Porterdale toward its potential," she said.

Chapman also promised to "stay in touch" with residents on an ongoing basis, and not wait until campaign season to "get out among the people."

"Those who say they have been in your government eight, 10 or 15 years have little to show for the time spent," she said.

In the Q&A session Chapman was asked what she would do to make the city of Porterdale safer.

Chapman said she supports strengthening the Porterdale Police Department and would work to boost the local economy in order to generate revenues needed to hire more officers or seek funding at the state level. She said the Governor's Office of Highway Safety or the COPS grant program were options the city could consider for funding police officer positions.

In response to the same question, Hamby said he also supports the Police Department but added that state-funded positions come with strings attached.

"These programs Ms. Chapman was talking about, the only thing is after the initial (funding), the city has to continue to fund that officer," he said.

Hamby said it would be better to develop the Porterdale Yellow River Park, which would bring more people to Porterdale and boost local revenues that could be used to fund the Police Department.

In response to the question about how she would handle interpersonal conflicts on the council, Chapman said that she would keep a tight rein on council meetings.

"I think that all the City Council members need to be held to a high standard on how they behave in the meetings or the city hall or any other place they happen to be," she said.

With regard to Porter Memorial Gymnasium, Chapman said she supports the project, but would want to see the Newton County Recreation Department operate and maintain the facility once it is rebuilt.

"I'm a great believer in historic preservation," she said. "I feel that the gym, if it can be completed, will be a real asset to Porterdale, as well as the whole Newton County community."