Job growth, taxes and Bartow County's budget were discussed repeatedly Tuesday night during the second debate among the five candidates running for Bartow County Commissioner. The event, sponsored by NewsTalk AM 1270-WYXC and Advance Adairsville, saw no fireworks or harsh critiques, but rather each candidate highlighting their individual viewpoints.
Questions ranged from supporting law enforcement to privatizing the county landfill and the answers often tracked back to the county budget and spending, such as in Mike Abernathy's response to a question about public safety.
"We know where the drugs are. We could shut them down tomorrow if we wanted to ... I want to tell you something. They're there and everybody in Bartow County knows where the drugs are at," Abernathy said. "We need to get the money behind them [the county sheriff] and shut them [drug dealers] down, get them out of town and let them all run over to Polk County."
All the candidates agreed that public safety was the highest priority, and that it was acceptable for law enforcement to have a large portion of the county budget.
The candidates were asked if privatization was an acceptable method for balancing the county's budget, and all agreed that it could, so long as it were used properly.
"As a government there's certain things and services that we have provided that cannot be privatized ... like the court system for instance," said Steve Taylor. "And there are a few departments that we probably could privatize, but before I would do that I would try to look at it and see how we could make it more profitable. But it's an option that's going to be out there. It would be irresponsible if you didn't look at privatizing a few of these departments."
Departments such as emergency medical services and the county landfill came up in the debate as targets for privatization. However, all five candidates were reluctant to make a decision about which departments would be privatized. They cited a need for more information, which they would not have access to until they were elected.
Tony Tidwell made a further point of what privatization could cost the county.
"Keep this in mind. Any time you privatize something, the county loses a certain amount of control over it ... As long as it's run by the county you expect that the county employees that are running that service -- they're going to take care of people, their home people," Tidwell said. "It's not profit driven, so they're more likely to take better care of the citizens they're serving."
To spur job growth and expand industry within Bartow County, all the candidates supported a 100 percent Freeport Exemption, which would remove a tax on manufacturer's inventory. Bartow County now stands at an 80 percent exemption, which Abernathy and Tracy Lewis said cost the county the Lowes warehouse that is now in Floyd County.
All candidates agreed that job growth and a higher average median income were vital to Bartow County's future. During the debate, a question asked how Bartow County's average income was lower than counties in the surrounding area.
Lewis said the lower average income meant that jobs of all levels needed to come to Bartow County, not just the higher paying jobs advocated by Taylor.
"Yes, we need to increase our median household income in comparison to other counties that you have mentioned and yes that would be a high priority of mine," Lewis said. "And I would want to be more involved in economic development and in getting these jobs to Bartow County more than any commissioner than you have ever seen. Not only in the state of Georgia, but in the nation."
All the candidates agreed that the next year would be a difficult one for whoever is elected commissioner. They all agreed that each department budget would be reviewed line-by-line and that some services may be cut or reduced. Each candidate stated raising taxes was the last resort in keeping the county solvent. In an answer to a question about public safety, Mike Bearden summed up all the candidates' attitudes to their potential job.
"There's nothing more important than fundamental safety and protection," Bearden said. "We can't compromise that, but these are tough times. I don't know the specific answers on the level of budgets ... and I'm eager to roll my sleeves up, I'm eager to learn from the ground floor up the ins-and-outs of every part of the budget, especially the law enforcement side."
The candidates for commissioner also will take part in a political forum featuring a panel of media professionals from The Daily Tribune News and WBHF AM1450 Tuesday, June 12, at 6 p.m. at The Grand Theatre