Candidates for Covington's city council seemed remarkably in agreement on their positions on a series of city issues at a candidate forum hosted by Smart Growth Newton County Tuesday night.
The well-attended event held at The Newton County Library was the first of several candidate forums scheduled to take place before the Nov. 6 municipal elections. Paul Oeland, president of Smart Growth Newton County, chaired the event which was attended by six candidates vying for mayor, the Post 3 East Ward council seat and the Post 2 East Ward council seat.
The candidates for mayor are current Post 3 East councilman Roger Tingler and businesswoman Kim Carter.
The candidates for Post 3 East are Ernie Smith, a Geographic Information Systems coordinator for the county and former Oxford Police Chief Keith Dalton.
The candidates for Post 2 East are incumbent Mike Whatley and real estate broker Bobby Sigman.
Candidates showed the most divergence in views when they were asked what the most pressing concern facing the city was.
Carter, Tingler and Smith said it was dealing with the county's rapid growth. Dalton said the most pressing concern was the rise in the everyday cost of living. Whatley said the most pressing concern was alleviating poverty. Sigman said the most pressing concern was traffic.
"We need to take the trucks out of the downtown," Sigman said.
All candidates with the exception of Sigman and Dalton said they were in favor of instituting an impact fee on developers (so long as it is not too restrictive).
Dalton expressed some reservations that an impact fee would cripple developers. Sigman speculated that an impact fee might scare away large franchises such as Ruby Tuesday from coming to Covington.
Smith and Carter gave the strongest speeches in favor of impact fees.
"Every developer in metropolitan Atlanta is used to paying impact fees," Carter said.
All of the candidates praised the high degree of collaboration which currently exists between Covington, the Newton County Board of Commissioners and other governing bodies within the county.
"I'm a firm believer in the idea that so goes the county, so goes the city and so goes the city, so goes the county," said Tingler who has participated in Newton County's Leadership Collaborative.
The candidates expressed varying degrees of support on the idea of annexation.
Sigman said he would like to see unincorporated islands of land within the city boundaries annexed into the city. Tingler said he would like to see all annexations done voluntarily. Carter said she would like to see annexations done on a case-by-case basis.
Both Carter and Tingler reiterated earlier comments on how they would like to see the remaining $22 million in proceeds from the sale of Covington Cable spent. Tingler said he would like to see $3 million spent on fully funding the city's pension fund and $5 million spent on developing the Covington Municipal Airport.
Tingler said he believed the airport was the one thing most likely to earn the city a speedy return on its investment.
Carter said she would like to see the city pay off its short-term debt, fund the pension plan and then bank the remaining $14 million. Carter said the money could earn the city $800,000 in interest a year.
The $22 million is currently earning interest at BB&T at a 5.3 percent rate.
Carter said she was not in favor of spending $5 million on the airport until further research had taken place.
Sigman commented that he wouldn't have voted to sell the cable system in the first place. Both Whatley and Tingler voted to sell the cable system in January.
"Charter has proven that it is not the best company to serve the community," Sigman said.
Whatley said he was in support of paying off the city's short term debt as well as funding the pension plan.
Smith said he was in favor funding the pension plan and paying off the city's short-term debt. He cautiously gave approval to the idea of funding the airport as well spending some of the proceeds on implementing the recommendations of the LCI study on U.S. Highway 278.
Smith said he did not want to see the council spend all of the money in a "knee-jerk reaction."
Dalton echoed Smith's sentiments.
"I don't see what the big rush is," Dalton said. "It seems like they're (the council and mayor) trying to spend the money before January."
Several other candidate forums are scheduled to take place before the elections on Nov. 6. On Tuesday, Oct. 23, there will be a forum for candidates running for Porterdale city office. The forum begins at 7 p.m. and will take place in the open restaurant space of the Porterdale Mill Lofts.
The Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce will host a candidate forum for all contested municipal elections from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 25, at the Turner Lake Community Center.
Smart Growth Newton County is an organization committed to the principles of smart growth and their application in the county and its municipalities