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Posted: July 14, 2012 5:28 p.m.

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Foursome faces off in Dist. 5 BOC forum

District 5 Republican board of commissioner candidates Ronnie Dimsdale, Wesley Dowdy, Levie A. Maddox and Jared Rutberg fielded questions Thursday about a proposed civic center, rails to trails and T-SPLOST at a Newton County GOP forum.

Though the candidates agreed on some issues, they began to distinguish themselves a little bit as they took on some of the prominent issues of the past few years.

The opening question of the forum asked what process the candidates would use how to solve any issue that would come up during their time in office.

Dowdy responded first and said, "First and foremost, I would look at the short term and long term impacts for not just the citizens of District 5 but for the county as a whole. I would look specifically to see if there would be a return on investment, whether tangible or intangible along with what other markets would be impacted from a pure business approach."

Maddox said, "I spend about 95 percent of my day in this county. So I am in tune with what the people want." He added that, "money is also a major factor in terms of budgeting. It's not just about what the people want, it's how do you get there and where it's [going to] go short term and long term."

Dimsdale wasted no time in touting his experience.

"First, I would look at my own experience and what background I have in that particular issue. Next would be to do as much research as possible. Lastly, and most important, would be to reach out and consult the people who have success and are doing well in whatever endeavor we are talking about so we can come together as a community," Dimsdale said.

Last up to answer the question was candidate Jared Rutberg.

"I approach government and other things from a business standpoint," Rutberg said. "We need to look at every expenditure we make, to make sure it makes business sense and has a return on investment for the residents of Newton County."

The four contenders next answered one of the most prominent issues from past years - whether to buy the Norfolk Southern railroad corridor and convert to a trail.
"Theres two issues there: rails and trails," said Rutberg. "For tax dollars, trails is a no; however, on the rails side, there's opportunity for Newton County."

Dowdy also gave a resounding no.

"Even if we could nail down the future cost, the answer's no. The government has no place in my mind investing in things like this," Dowdy said.
Maddox also firmly replied no.

"County dollars should not be involved and this should not even be on the table," he said.
Dimsdale rounded out the group in agreement.

"I don't think that the county should be involved in an issue when the citizens of Newton County have no idea of what they'd like to have. County shouldn't get involved until the two sides and talk to one another and work out a peaceful solution," Dimsdale said.

After fielding more questions, the tone of the forum took a turn towards more personal matters as the candidates were asked if they felt they had the moral, financial and business character to win the race. Without hesitation, all four candidates simply answered, "Yes."

Another issue from past years that remains relevant is whether a pre-approved civic center for Newton County should be built and, if yes, where it should be located. Each candidate had a different take.

Dowdy was blunt with his opposition to the idea of a civic center. "I don't believe this is a good investment for Newton County. I don't really care where it's located."
Rutberg was willing to consider the project and said, "What it really comes down to is where will it make financial sense and where it will be least expensive."
Dimsdale did not think now was the right time to look into the issue.

"We need to take a look at this issue once the economy gets a little better and re-address it once the market turns around. We need to be very careful about its location. The civic center should be here in downtown Covington to keep the vitality here," he said.

Maddox said he would support it because the voters had.

"The voters have voted for it. I think at some point it's going to come here and with today's economic climate, the only thing we can do is think about where, when and if. As far as the where, it would be a draw for the community and would enhance the community," he said.

The final question asked candidates their thoughts about the T-SPLOST, which would dedicate a 1 percent sales tax to specific road projects.
Dowdy said, "I do support the T-SPOLST. It will be a great return on investment."

Maddox agreed.

"I did vote for the T-SPLOST. I view it as a well-needed investment," he said.

Dimsdale answered emphatically.

"I hope that Newton County and the state of Georgia reject the T-SPLOST. I think it'd be extremely bad for the county and for the state."
Rutberg said he already voted in favor of the T-SPLOST, but he did not like the way the system was handled.
"The state has set up a system that made us vote with a gun to the back of our head. I did vote for it with a great amount of pain but unfortunately, we have to deal with the rules with which we have to," he said.


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