In an election where distinctions between candidate platforms have been relatively few, Covington mayoral candidates Roger Tingler and Kim Carter do differ on the issues of the airport and city utility bills.
While Tingler (who has served on the city council for the past 18 years) has said he would be in support of spending $5 million of the proceeds from the sale of Covington Cable on developing the Covington Municipal Airport, Carter has said she would like to wait until a strategic economic development plan has been completed for the city.
"Covington has a jewel lying in a rough," said Tingler of the airport at a recent candidate forum held by the Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce.
When asked in a candidate survey, distributed by The News with questions supplied by various local civic organizations, what infrastructure he believes to be critical to the future economic development of the city, Tingler answered the airport.
"At this point in time I believe investing in the airport is the right thing to do," Tingler wrote. "Not only will we get the tax dollars from the operation of the airport but it will be a major factor in getting larger industrial investments. These are investments that you want in the community; they do not require additional funding for classrooms, streets, etc."
However, Carter, the owner of a small business called BusinessWorks Solutions, questions predictions that a more developed airport will result in a windfall for the city. At the same candidate forum Carter said the airport only generates $12,000 in taxes a year.
But Carter has also not ruled out investing in the airport at a later date. Responding to the same critical infrastructure question as Tingler, Carter wrote, "the Covington Municipal Airport is also an aspect of our transportation infrastructure and may require investments over time."
Additionally Carter has advocated not spending the proceeds from the cable sale until there has been a thorough examination of the city's budget. A plan proposed by Carter would leave $14.3 million of the proceeds in the bank earning interest until the completion of a financial report on the city (Tingler has proposed leaving $10 million of the proceeds in the bank).
One of the reasons Carter has lobbied the city council to wait on spending the proceeds from the sale is that she wishes to look for areas in the city's budget which can be cut back on as a means of lowering the city's expenditures which are largely financed by profits from utility sales.
According to the Georgia Public Policy Commission, during the summer months Covington has some of the highest utility rates in the state, especially for residents who use large amounts of energy.
"We cannot continue to support ourselves with these high utility rates," said Carter at the forum.
It should also be noted that during the remaining eight months of the year, the city's utility rates are either average or above average in the state in terms of affordability.
Responding to a question from FaithWorks on what steps the government should take to reduce the burden of high utility bills on residents, Tingler answered that he would look at different payment options for customers struggling to pay their bills such as flat rate billing or the implementation of a round-up system.
Tingler suggests that the system would round up participating residents' bills to the nearest dollar amount and then donate the collected monies to a fund for residents struggling to pay their utility bills.
"In addition, the city could provide some educational resources to citizens on how to conserve energy costs," Tingler wrote. "City government must continue to work on collecting its share of allocated funds by the federal government for utility assistance."
Tingler has said that lowering the city's utility rates would more than likely necessitate a property tax increase for city residents to make up for the lost revenue.
"I'm very much in favor of using utilities to help offset taxes in the city," said Tingler in a previous interview with The News.
While not campaigning on the promise that if elected she will lower residents' utility bills, Carter has promised to look for ways to do so if elected.
"High electric and gas rates are hurting our people and many can no longer pay the bill," wrote Carter in her response to the same question from FaithWorks. "Today, gas and electric profits fund 42 percent of our city government operations, so we cannot change the rates overnight. But when we make a 20 percent profit by hitting our residents with the highest rates in the state, we need to find new ways to make ends meet."
Carter continued that her first priority if elected would be to ensure that the city's budget process made every effort to streamline spending before the balancing of the budget with taxes, fees and utility revenues.
To read the full responses of Carter and Tingler to the candidate survey which also contains questions from Smart Growth Newton County, the Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce, Keep Covington/Newton Beautiful, FaithWorks and the Arts Association in Newton County visit the link below.