House candidates take on smart growth topics

COVINGTON — State House candidates in the May 20 Primary Election answered questions related to growth and development at a forum Monday night sponsored by Smart Growth Newton County.

Questions for House candidates covered topics such as transfer of development rights, support for Newton’s 2050 Plan and Baxter International.

Republican candidates for House District 112 Aaron Brooks and Dave Belton were asked about their positions on transfer of development rights. Belton said he supports the practice that allows property owners in low-density rural areas to sell and transfer their rights to develop their land to developers in high-density areas.

“I do support TDRs and I really support everything that Newton 2050 is all about,” he said.

Newton’s 2050 Plan is a collaborative effort of governing entities in Newton County designed to ensure sustainable growth through the year 2050.

Belton said planning is the key to smart growth.

“If you don’t plan, you are planning to fail,” he said. “I think planning is more important than party. That’s why I like this TDR thing. TDRs are like any other market force, you are selling one commodity for another commodity.”

Brooks said he neither supports nor opposes TDRs.

“I have a few concerns about TDRs,” he said. “It ends up being a market manipulation … I’m an economist and free markets tend to work more fluidly. Now there is a need for ordinances, but whenever they get too expansive they tend to devalue certain properties. Therefore, you have wealth destruction. The one thing I do like about the TDRs is that there is choice in it. People that have these large plats of land do have the choice of whether to take part in this.”

His one caveat, Brooks said, would be to make sure that TDRs don’t restrict property rights for future generations.

Belton and Brooks were also asked what they would do as state legislators to ensure that Newton residents could successfully compete for jobs at Baxter International.

Education is the answer, Brooks said.

“We want to make sure we are receiving the benefit of Baxter being here,” he said. “We don’t want people from other counties coming in here and getting these jobs because they have an educational leg up on everybody.”

He pointed to the state-funded training center under construction in Stanton Springs, across the street from the Baxter campus. As a state representative, Brooks said he would work to get the message out about the opportunities available at the training center.

Belton said making sure that Newton students are hired at Baxter is one of his top priorities.

“I want our children to get those Baxter jobs, and right now our children are not going to get those Baxter jobs,” said Belton. “Those are going to people in Atlanta and people in Gwinnett.”

To change that, Belton said Newton students need to be trained and prepared, something that the Newton County School System is already doing.

“I want our children to be uniquely qualified, and the way you do that is what you are doing right here with the Newton Career Academy,” he said.

In the state House District 113 race, two Democratic candidates faced off — incumbent Pam Dickerson and challenger Sharon Sawyer. Each candidate was asked what they would do at the state level to help ensure implementation of the 2050 Plan.

Dickerson called the 2050 Plan a “win-win” for Newton County that provides sustainable growth and opportunities for all segments of the community.

“I’m looking forward as a legislator in doing everything I can to make that plan go forward,” she said.

Sawyer said the 2050 plan could is “on course for the future of our community.” However, she pointed out that funding to implement the plan has not been secured.

“We have to make sure we have to funds to make sure the 2050 plan for our county will go forward,” she said.

Sawyer was called away from the forum due to a family member’s illness and was unable to elaborate further on her response.