Commission candidates take forum spotlight
by BRIAN GRAVES Banner Staff Writer
Apr 23, 2014 | 1393 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Democratic candidate for the 6th District County Commission seat, E.J. Laughter, center, responds to a question during Tuesday’s forum. Laughter did not take the opportunity to address the controversy surrounding questions on claims about his military service. At left is incumbent Commissioner Robert D. Rominger. At right is 6th District commission candidate Tom Ledford. Banner photo, HOWARD PIERCE
Democratic candidate for the 6th District County Commission seat, E.J. Laughter, center, responds to a question during Tuesday’s forum. Laughter did not take the opportunity to address the controversy surrounding questions on claims about his military service. At left is incumbent Commissioner Robert D. Rominger. At right is 6th District commission candidate Tom Ledford. Banner photo, HOWARD PIERCE
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A near-capacity crowd watched Tuesday night as 22 candidates for Bradley County Commission occupied the stage at the George R. Johnson Cultural Heritage Center on the campus of Cleveland State Community College and talked about the issues at hand for the county they seek to serve.

The forum, co-sponsored by the Cleveland Lions Club, the Rotary Club of Cleveland and the Cleveland Bar Association, was moderated by local attorney Jim Logan and ran just over two hours long.

Commission candidates were questioned in two groups, with Districts 1-4 on the first panel and Districts 5-7 on the second.

A consensus among the candidates could be placed into a single sentence: We’ve got a lot to do with not enough money and we wish the city would be a more agreeable partner.

The format and the large number of candidates prohibited lengthy answers or a large number of questions.

The following are brief excerpts of what each candidate said during the forum. The responses chosen for excerption focus on county revenue and also the need for new schools and school renovations.

Every attempt was made to place them in the proper context:

- Terry Caywood (1st District - R): “We’ve given voters an opportunity at wheel-based tax. The voters decided they didn’t want it. To say you’ll never need a tax increase is like saying you’ll never need a raise. Our record speaks for itself - 12 years without one.”

- Denis Collins (1st District - R): “I think the answer is zero-based budgeting. Every year, you start a budget at zero, that way most of the fat will be cut.”

- Tammy Wingo-Salmond (2nd District - R): “We need to look at the budget as it comes. We can get grants. I’m used to working with budgets and sometimes you have to reconstruct it and use every resource you can.”

- Louie Alford (2nd District - R): “I think Mayor (D. Gary) Davis and his staff have done an outstanding job keeping our budget at as low a level as we can keep it right now. I think we run a tight ship. I don’t think there’s much fat in the county budget.

“Sooner or later, I think we may have to raise taxes. We haven’t done so in 12 years now. But, at this point in time I don’t think it’s necessary. We need to look at all the alternatives. I think our property tax burden will get better [with the arrival of Wacker]. We should have money coming in soon.”

- John Burns (2nd District - R): “I believe there comes a time when taxes need to be increased. If you ask a lot of the men and women who are driving their children to ... school, and it takes an hour to an hour and a half to get their kids to and from school, they’d agree on it. I think a [new] middle school is very important. If you’re working a full time job, it’s hard to pick up your kids.”

- Thomas L. Crye (2nd District - R): “I do believe we need some belt-tightening and some streamlining within the central school system offices, not the principals and the schools. The emphasis should be down on the schools and in the classroom and gut some of the fat in the central office and get some of the supervisors in the sheriff’s department on the street. We need to get the biggest bang for the buck.”

- Jeff Morelock (District 3 - D): “It was my opinion we were all in agreement something needed to be done at Lake Forest. It is something for those students and teachers who serve in those buildings [for something to be done]. I brought a resolution for a tax increase to support Lake Forest and I’ll stand on that and I’m not ashamed of that. We had a need and here was a way to address it. You can’t get blood out of a turnip. Our departments do a great job of keeping budgets down. But, we don’t have enough money now to do it without a tax increase.”

- Johnny Mull (District 3 - R): “Hopefully within the next year Wacker will come on line and that will help alleviate some of the [revenue] problems we have and we can move forward with some of the issues we have. It will pay for Park View and that’s a start.”

- Milan M. Blake (District 3 - R): “I believe we did have a tax increase. We went from 9.25 to 9.75 on our sales tax. It’s not always, you go in and cut spending. You go in there and find a better way to do things that are more efficient.”

- June Montgomery (District 4 - R): “I’m experienced with a tight budget. We can look at what needs to be allocated and what needs to be taken care of the most.”

- Howard Thompson (District 4 - R): “We need to tighten our belts.”

- Charlotte Peak-Jones (District 4 - R): “I would not support increasing taxes. What we need to do is get better relationships with education and other departments and figure out in their budgets ... what we can maintain, and do the things we need. There’s a lot of things we can do better. We are cutting in some places. Some people may not like the current budget that we did on animals, but we are saving city taxpayers up to $120,000 next year and saving Bradley County close to $300,000 in taxes.”

- Bobby Goins (District 5 - R): “I think we need to build new schools a little bigger than [needed] and grow into the facility.”

- Jack Burke Jr. (District 5 - D): “I don’t like new taxes. But, our district is probably the hardest-hit economically in the county. Forty percent of the people are below the poverty level. To ask for a tax increase is almost absurd. But, Bradley County is growing and with that growth comes more demands. So at some point we have to tighten the budget and see where we can get that money and reallocate to other avenues and at some point we may have to look at raising taxes.”

- Jeff Yarber (District 5 - R): “This is a 100-year problem. There is no overnight fix. If we raise taxes, it’d be gone the next day. I proposed tightening from the top down. My daughter went through Lake Forest and they do a great job. She scored on her first attempt on [a college admission test] as a sophomore a 24, so I’m proud with what we have.”

- Dan Rawls (District 6 - R): “I think we need to understand the difference between wants and needs. Needs are things that should be funded by the tax dollar. Wants are things that should be privately funded through revenues that are brought from the private sector.”

- Robert G. Rominger (District 6 - R): “We really need repairs to Lake Forest. We really need a new middle school and better roads and pay law enforcement more. I think the budget is tight and it’s hard to spend more money than you bring in. I’m looking forward to good things with Wacker and other companies that are coming in.”

- E.J. Laughter (District 6 - D): “Taxes are a very passive way to collect revenue. I think we can be a little more innovative in our revenue collection. I’m sure there are all kinds of ideas for it. Maybe a local theater might be a good idea to raise funds. Or a music venue or something.”

- Tom Ledford (District 6 - R): “Sometimes we have to budget in our family. We have to pay as we go. I think if we want a tax increase, we should give it to the people and let them decide.”

- Bill Winters (District 7 - R): “I believe you have to look at all the resources. You look at all the opportunities. I appreciate Mr. Morelock making a very tough motion. I voted against that motion because city taxpayers are already paying 25 or 26 cents. But, my son goes to Lake Forest school and I had the greatest conflict. But, we made what was the best call for our constituents at that time. We need to look at all the options and not take anything off the table.”

- Mark Hall (District 7 -R): “In the 7th District we have the largest percentage of senior citizens — many on a fixed income. I don’t want to place a burden on them with an increase in property tax. We pay both city and county taxes and it’s already a burden to some. We can do what the Veterans Affairs office does which is probably the lowest-funded department. We have 50,000 veterans in a 50-mile radius of Bradley County. That’s a perfect illustration of how we can do more with less.”

- Pam Edgemon (District 7 - D): “There are other revenue sources besides our property taxes. We lost four officers in the line of duty and two in traffic accidents. It’s tragic when you have to go to a family and tell them they’ve lost their breadwinners. I do not think we provide enough compensation for our law enforcement. I’m not trying to promote for a property tax or anything else. But, I really do wish we could upgrade our law enforcement and firefighters equal to the city.”