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Posted: October 13, 2012 7:53 p.m.

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Candidates speak on future of county

Candidates seeking elected office in Newton County were asked to weigh in on Baxter International's arrival, how the county can attract new residents and business and what the future looks like at a Thursday forum hosted by the Newton County Home Builders Association.

County Chairman
Republican Keith Ellis said he was an optimist, but also a realist. The arrival of Baxter means state officials and governor are more intimately acquainted with Newton County, but he knows the county needs many new jobs before residents' per capita incomes are high enough to attract quality retail and restaurants.

He said the 2050 Plan, which seeks to control growth and create denser, urban communities, mainly in the already developed western half, while protecting rural land, needs to be followed. He said Newton is blessed to have five exits off Interstate 20 and has a lot of development capacity if jobs continue to be attracted.

Democrat Marcus Jordan also said the county was fortunate to have the 2050 Plan and believes the plan will allow the county better serve business in the dense development areas.

He noted people's view that Baxter's arrival is a game changer, and said the county needs to continue to support economic development efforts, as well as investing in commercial growth and workforce development.

He said Freeport (or inventory tax) exemptions for businesses and tax abatements are an important bargaining chip and said he knows how those work because of his experience as a county tax appraiser.

Democratic incumbent Sheriff Ezell Brown said law enforcement plays an important role in recruiting business by keeping rates low and helping troubled youth and adults.

He said the sheriff's office youth drug prevention program CHAMPS, has graduated 6,500 students, while an adult jail program has helped 350 inmates.

Brown said he will continue to build relationships with those in the community and said his office's recent state certification showed the office was on the right path.

Republican challenger Philip Bradford, a captain in the Covington Police Department said, if elected, he will work to use the extra revenue brought in by Baxter and other industries wisely because the cost of public safety will only increase in future years.

He said proper training of school resource officers and other officers in special division was paramount. He felt manpower could be reallocated more efficiently.

Bradford said the sheriff's office needs to do more proactive patrols in the community to have a larger presence and crack down on crime to make neighborhoods safer and more attractive.

Board of Commissioners District 3
Democratic incumbent Nancy Schulz said the future is bright with the arrival of Baxter and the 2050 Plan in place to get the county ready to house 400,000 residents efficiently and cost-effectively.

She said the county needs to get Baxter to partner with the local school system, including the recently opened Newton College and Career Academy.

Schulz's credited the relationships built by the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce for developing relationships with the state in industrial recruitment efforts. She said the county needs to continue to provide infrastructure, like water and sewer, while also focusing on amenities like libraries, parks and a strong public safety force. She said creating a high quality of life is crucial to attract both businesses and people.

Republican challenger Kevin Wade said he moved here during the housing boom because of affordable housing, good schools and a good quality of life. Newton still has those assets but needs to continue to develop each of them.

He said local officials need to continue to work to attract more life science industries like Baxter so that Stanton Springs can become the next Johns Creek industrial park. However, he said the county needs new, young, innovative leadership and he feels he brings that.
He also said that partnering with the school system was crucial to improving the county's overall quality of life.

BOC District 5
Democrat Marcello Banes said Newton's future is promising because it's being envied by other communities after landing Baxter.

He said the chamber needs to have the resources to recruit more industries, and once those jobs will come, retail will come.

Banes also said he was glad the 2050 Plan was in place and said promoting quality of life and good values was a way to attract people because of Newton County's lower cost of living. He said the county can promote its generous nature as shown by the outpouring of thousands of dollars recently to keep the homeless shelter open.

Republican Levie Maddox said he prays the future is bright for his four children, who are in school, and said he has optimism growth is coming.

He said the county needs to supporting public safety, the hospital, education and its roads infrastructure to make Newton as attractive as possible.

Maddox agreed Baxter was a game changer and said Newton County has a great history, abundance of water, a great downtown, diversity and multiple school options to use to lure new businesses and residents. The 2050 Plan needs to be followed he said. He also said politicians need to show each other respect when they disagree.

Board of Education District 2
Democratic incumbent Eddie Johnson said the performance of stability of a school system is one of strongest magnets to attract business. He said Newton's schools can succeed by employing quality instructors using research-based strategies and better technology.

He said Baxter will be an asset to the school system and suggested the chamber continue to be well funded to bring more businesses here. He also said the schools need to continue to work on developing a next generation workforce and said the career academy is a prime example of those efforts with its 17 career paths for students. Johnson said the schools are on the move forward.

Republican Ricky Corley said Newton County can be one of the best counties in Georgia, and he said he would work to make sure the county has a quality education delivery system.

He said board members need to exemplify professionalism and support each other. The board needs good leadership and good communication among itself and with parents and the larger community.

As far as Baxter, Corley said he studied their work in other communities and found that they were very active and great educational advocates.

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