Porterdale still needs investment in infrastructure and business development, though tough decisions need to be made to make that happen in an era of tight budgets, eight Porterdale candidates said Tuesday as they debated how best to move the city forward.
Several of the candidates - two for mayor and two each for three city council posts - said Porterdale needed to rebuild its police department, enforce new building codes and develop parks along the Yellow River to lure businesses. Others, however, said the city cannot increase spending and must reign in taxes and water and sewer rates, which are among the highest in the county.
"I have voted against every single increase that has come before me," Post 2 City Councilwoman Linda Finger said. "Rate hikes are the last thing to do, not the first."
Finger said she has "nickel-and-dimed" the budget because every $500 or $1,000 makes a significant difference in a budget the size of Porterdale's, which is just shy of $1 million.
Several other candidates for city council criticized the cuts to the police and the public works departments, employee pay cuts and a four-hour weekly furlough.
"We've seen the results of these cuts in the degrading of our city properties," said Darlene Savage, who is challenging Finger for her post. "I would like to see changes that would enable us to hire more police officers and public workers to restore the sense of security in our parks and sense of duty and pride that's possible through the diligent work of our pubic servants."
Other candidates emphasized redevelopment in the city, including building a park along the Yellow River, upgrading the city's old sewer lines, developing the lot across from the Porterdale Mill Lofts and implementing the city's new comprehensive plan. All of those efforts would serve the ultimate goal of luring businesses and residents to the city, which would bring more tax revenue and allow for more public employees.
"Once you start putting money into revitalizing your downtown, then your housing market goes back up and it becomes a more viable place to live," said Tim Savage, who is running for the vacant City Council Post 3 against Terry Barnes. "If Porterdale becomes more viable and revenues increase, then we get the police force back on task."
Arline Chapman, who is challenging Mayor Bobby Hamby, said the city needed to look for grants to upgrade mill-era sewerage and to enforce new building codes aimed at forcing landlords to maintain the homes they rent.
"Let's face it, when potential investors representing the light industry and businesses we need here tour off the main street, they find in too many places areas that look like a third-world country," she said. "They just turn around and go elsewhere, thinking we that are a city that doesn't care."
Barnes suggested Habitat for Humanity could purchase and renovate a number of homes to improve the quality of housing stock. "It would be cheaper than building new ones," he said.
Hamby emphasized the work he has done to get a stop light installed at the intersection of Highway 81 and Crowell Road. "I'm pushing very hard to make sure that happens," he said. "I know there's been talk around town that I have somehow delayed this project. But that is far from the truth. There is nobody who worked harder or pushed more to have this intersection completed than I have."
The comprehensive plan is a good first step toward revitalizing the city, said Anita Rainey, who is challenging Robert Foxworth for his Post 1 City Council seat. "As a first step to that we have established an urban redevelopment committee and are looking into writing a plan to identify the problem areas of Porterdale," she said.
Foxworth said special purpose sales tax funds to renovate the old train depot off Railroad Street and the gymnasium were critical to development. "I was on the SPLOST committee in 2005 and 2011 and we got $500,000 for the gym and the train depot," he said.