COVINGTON -- Candidates were asked three questions focusing on the future of the county at the 2012 and Beyond political forum hosted by the Newton County Homebuilders Association Thursday evening.
The questions were:
1) What does our future look like and how are we going to get there?
2) How can we capitalize on the arrival of Baxter International?
3) How can we draw new residents and businesses to Newton County?
Keith Ellis, Republican candidate, said the per capita income in Newton is so low, "Most people can't afford to go out and buy a house." Better-paying jobs are necessary to attract retail and restaurants, he said. "Restaurants are not going to come until people can afford to go out and eat on Tuesday night, not just Friday and Saturday," he said.
A member of the Water and Sewerage Authority, Ellis said he was involved in the recruitment of Baxter and helped author the 2050 Plan. He said the plan will help promote the county going forward.
He said Baxter is the "tip of the iceberg of what Newton County can now do. We've opened up the route for these other companies. We know what to do to get them here. The governor knows where Newton County is."
Democrat Marcus Jordan said the 2050 plan approved by local governments identifies areas for commercial development. "I strongly believe our community will be better served by attracting businesses to build in those development nodes," he said.
Jordan said Baxter will be a "game changer" and the county needs to invest in workforce development programs and work in partnership with the educational system to provide Baxter with skilled workers.
Newton's close proximity to Atlanta and its place along I-20 make it attractive to residential and commercial markets, he said. He said there are tax abatements the county can use as a bargaining chip in attracting new businesses. His position as assistant chief appraiser in the Tax Assessors Office "prepared me for understanding and knowing how those incentives work and how to apply them to benefit our county as a whole," he said.
BOC, District 3
Democratic incumbent Nancy Schulz said officials have prepared well for the future with the 2050 plan, and approval of the Almon Overlay. An overlay regulating growth in the Salem Road area will be adopted by the end of the year, she said.
"I don't think we can compare our workforce development program to anything else in the state," she said. Baxter will have a training center on site giving the county an opportunity to partner with them "so they can assist us in educating our young people," she said.
Schulz said the county needs to expand current industry. The BOC's responsibility is to provide the infrastructure to support industry, such as roads, water and sewer and public services like libraries and recreation, she said.
"We have a great quality of life here but we can make it even better," she said. "We must continue to demonstrate we will be up for the challenge and I'm convinced we will succeed."
Republican challenger Kevin Wade said he chose to live in Newton after getting a job with Delta airlines in Atlanta. "I believe this county can be vibrant and thrive once again, but that can only happen if the government becomes more transparent and fiscally responsible," he said. Wade said there are two options in the coming election: To keep going with the status quo or take a chance on "fresh, innovative and young leadership."
Baxter puts Newton County on the map as a key player in the life science industry, he said. "We must capitalize by electing leaders who are proactive, innovative leaders, and not just put the same people in office to give us the same results we continue to receive."
If elected, Wade said he would listen to citizen concerns and support public safety and work with the Board of Education, as well as support marketing efforts to continue growth in the local economy.
BOC, District 5
Democrat Marcello Banes said with the impending arrival of Baxter "Newton County is being envied all over the state. Baxter is going to bring a great deal of increase in population and growth but I'm glad we've got a plan in place called the 2050 plan to help lead the way with the increase in growth and population."
Banes said the county needs to put the Chamber of Commerce "in the right position to make sure they have the resources they need to recruit companies to come here." He said the Chamber needs adequate funds to "sell Newton County."
He also said it's important to promote quality of life as the center of values in the county and promote a loving and caring community that answers when an emergency strikes, such as the recent impending closure of the homeless shelter that was averted through donations. Banes said entry and exit points into the county should be kept clean.
Republican challenger Levie Maddox said that with four children in the local school system, "I hope and pray the future is bright." He said tax dollars need to be used to support public safety, the hospital, eduction and better roads.He said Newton has character, history, an abundance of water, open land, a great downtown district, diversity, scholastic opportunities and roads. "As leaders we need to put those attributes in front of them and let them know who we are," he said of how to attract business and industry.
Maddox said new businesses are coming: The question is how fast and the quality of the businesses. "We need to enhance the quality of growth; we do not need to let that slip," he said. It's vital the next BOC "establishes the 2050 plan as our path," he said.
Maddox also said elected officials "need to display respect toward each other at all times. We need to disagree but we need to work together over coffee, over breakfast, over lunch."
Board of Education, District 2
Republican Ricky Corley said the Board of Education's priority is to "make sure we maintain a quality eduction delivery system" and to "exemplify professionalism, working together, supporting each other." He said the board needs to maintain a good working relationship with all government entities while at the same time keeping the focus on the students.
Corley said his research shows that Baxter contributes to education in the communities where it is located and the school system needs to partner with Baxter.
To draw new businesses and residents, services have to be attractive and it's the job of elected officials to make sure services run correctly, and there's good customer service and accountability, he said. Corley said to attract businesses and jobs and generate revenue, "We all have to work together and pull in the same direction."
Democratic incumbent Eddie Johnson said the performance and stability of the school system is the "strongest matter when trying to attract business to a particular area." He said improvements have been made but there is still work to be done. "We're going to get there by building the capacity of the Newton County School System to develop and deliver quality high-powered instruction; utilize research-based instruction strategies; and use integrative technology in the classroom."
Johnson said the Career Academy "is a prime example of the latest commitment as to what can take place in Newton County in increasing career paths for our students." He said there are 17 categories of career paths for students. "We are doing outstanding things in promoting and getting students aware and involved in those new technologies."
Republican candidate Philip Bradford said the future will be challenging from a public safety perspective. The cost of services is going to rise, increasing the burden on law enforcement, he said. At the sheriff's office, Bradford said he would make sure manpower is allocated in the right places where crimes and problems arise. He also said he will make sure deputies are properly trained for their specific jobs, from school resource officers to patrol to special divisions. He said the county needs a sheriff who "will be fiscally responsible with tax dollars and not go over time and time again on our budgets."
If elected, Bradford said he will take a proactive approach to patrols and crime-fighting. "You can't sit an empty car on the side of the road and call that crime-fighting," he said.
Baxter will provide an opportunity for decreased crime by providing jobs to citizens and an increased opportunity for education, he said.
Democratic incumbent Ezell Brown said the sheriff leads the charge to protect the community.
Brown noted that the NCSO has graduated more than 6,500 students from the C.H.A.M.P.S. program that addresses substance abuse and violence. More than 350 inmates have graduated from a re-entry program for substance abusers and none have returned to jail, he said.
"We realize the importance of prevention, intervention and also working with them on substance abuse," he said.
Brown added that "We continue to bring criminals to justice; we have a jail full."
The NCSO is also one of only three agencies in the state to receive the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services grant earmarked for hiring veterans. The NCSO received $1 million.
Brown said he has already had a briefing with Baxter security and the operations division. The NCSO recently attained state accreditation from the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, he said, and during that process, developed policies and procedures that "have prepared us to welcome this new industry."
The General Election takes place Tuesday, Nov. 6. One other local contested race in Newton, for coroner, is on the ballot, pitting incumbent Republican Tommy Davis against Robert Bradley.