Newton County residents packed into the Historic Courthouse Monday for final candidate's forums sponsored by the Newton County Voter's League.
District 5 Board of Commissioners candidates Randy Vincent (D) and Republicans John Travis and Tim Fleming took turns responding to a set of questions from FaithWorks Executive Director Bob Furnad.
Furnad opened the forum with the same four questions he posed to candidates at last week's forum when he asked the three men their stances on alcohol by the drink, banning plastic bags, sales tax increases and the hiring of a full-time employee to seek out industrial development.
The three candidates agreed across the board on all four questions with the exception of Fleming, who opposed raising sales taxes.
"We have to prioritize our resources rather than raise the sales tax," Fleming said.
Vincent added he'd rather freeze sales tax and leave ad valorem taxes alone as a way to "to fill the gap."
In a two-part question, Newton County resident and founder of Adopt- A-Horse Dennis Horian asked the candidates running for the District 2 board of education seat whether they would change the county's policy concerning children who have mental abuse problems in the schools while asking the BOC candidates if they would fund an outside counseling program..
According to Horian, NCSS does not allow outside counselors to come into the schools to offer counseling.
Incumbent Rickie Corley (R), who has served on the BOE for the past 11 years, explained the need to involve parents during such incidents since they are responsible for their children under the age of 18.
"We handle those cases as they have to be handled in accordance to policy," Corley said. "I'm always open to suggestions, and if there is something we can do to benefit the children, I'd be glad to change it."
Corley's opponent Eddie Johnson (D) said he would examine the details before making a decision as he isn't familiar with the current policy. But he added he would encourage input from anyone who was concerned with such issues.
"They (children) should be given whatever they need to be successful," Johnson said.
Vincent added he would look into mental health programs for the youth while Fleming said it is society's responsibility to be proactive.
"I think it would be cheaper to prevent a problem on the front end than perhaps incarceration later on," Fleming said.
Illegal immigration has been a topic of debate on the national level. Local resident Randy Upton asked the forum what they would do to curb the growing concerns in Newton County.
Every candidate universally agreed the county should not bear the burden of illegal immigrants.
Vincent lamented that the county should do what they can to eliminate illegal immigration in accordance to state and federal laws.
Travis echoed his opponent's stance and added the county should be proactive in working with state and federal bylaws. Fleming added he would seek assistance from the Federal government citing section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, a program which offers Federal aid to sheriff's departments throughout the country to aid in deporting illegal immigrants.
Democratic Tax Commissioner hopeful Nicholas Day said the tax commissioner's office can help by alerting officials of illegal immigrants who try and obtain vehicle tags.
In response to Day's comments, incumbent tax commissioner and lifelong Newton County resident Barbara Dingler (R) added the state already has laws in place that prohibit such action.
"As it stands, you can't get a tag in Georgia unless you have a valid Georgia license," Dingler said. "That's effective as of July 2007."
In response to a comment made by Dingler during opening statements, Republican candidate for tax commissioner Doris Strickland, who serves as executive director of the Covington/Newton County United Way, said she would not open a satellite office in the western part of the county and is running on the strength of her community involvement.
"I feel like that's tax payer's money," Dingler said. "We can't single out one particular area for that."
Strickland plans to help senior citizens as she said it's harder for them to survive on Social Security.
Day also added he feels senior citizens over the age of 65 should be exempt from paying school taxes.
"We don't have the same exemptions as some other counties do," Day said. "Most counties now, if you 65 and older, they do not charge senior citizens for school taxes. People on a fixed income are limited."
The first part of the forum concluded with a question concerning changing the school calendar to alleviate transportation costs.
Corley, who has raised the subject of implementing a four-day school week in past BOE meetings said he would be for changing the calendar and pointed to several school districts in other parts of the country that have recently made the change.
Johnson too said he would be in favor of such a change but pointed out that the BOE has not done anything about it to this point.
"This reflects the inability of the school board to make decisions in a timely manner," he said. "The school board should have come up with a definitive answer by now. Not behind closed doors, but come out in front of the people and make a decision."