With the heatedness of last month seemingly behind them, the two candidates in the race for the Board of Commissioner's District 5 seat are buckling down in the last few weeks before the general election and have covered the county in campaign signs.
Candidates Tim Fleming (R) and Randy Vinson (D) are vying for the seat that will be vacated by Commissioner Monty Laster at the end of the year.
Fleming, the son of retiring District 3 Commissioner Ester Fleming, said his number one priority if he is elected would be bringing more businesses to the county.
"I will be an advocate for vigorously attracting commercial development because I believe it is the backbone of our economy," said Fleming, who is the government and regulatory affairs director for KLiP Communications. "We've got the education. We've got the higher institutes of education. We've got the workforce. Now we need to continue to bring these businesses and industries to our county."
Fleming said his other priorities would be improving the county's road infrastructure and ensuring that the county has an adequate water supply for future needs. He stressed the importance of working closely with the state and taking proactive steps by pursuing road projects on the county's own to demonstrate to the Georgia Department of Transportation the county's determination to have an adequate roads system.
Vinson, an architect employed by the Arnold Fund, also said his highest priority will be recruiting new businesses to come to the county. But where Fleming stresses the need for more commercial businesses, Vinson said he believes more agribusinesses are what the county needs.
"I believe we're missing some golden opportunities that I think we should be exploring. I think we're not pursing agribusiness as aggressively as we could be," Vinson said, adding that having more agribusinesses and farms in the county would not only bring in more tax dollars but also reduce the amount of land that needs to be developed with infrastructure. "Cows don't go to school. Agribusiness would preserve thousands of acres very effectively."
Both candidates stressed the tough job ahead of the Board of Commissioners in maintaining a proper level of county services in the face of declining tax revenues.
"We're going to have to be fiscally conservative with the taxpayers' dollars," Fleming said. "The county has done a good job throughout the years and we're going to have to continue operating within our means."
Fleming said that certain projects in the planning stages for the county might have "to be put on the back burner for awhile until we get through this economic downturn."
"I don't want to raise property taxes but then you don't want to cut services that our citizens deserve and expect," Fleming said, adding that he believes the county can get by for the present without raising property taxes and without cutting too many services. "We're going to have to make cuts across the board to continue to operate within our means."
Vinson said his background as a design professional will serve him well in coming up with creative solutions for the county to do more with less.
"We're taught to look at problems in a different way than most people do in order to solve them," said Vinson, who helped to design Clark's Grove of Covington and Mount Pleasant, the college town the Arnold Fund plans to build next to Georgia Perimeter College.
Vinson said he knows what it takes to bring multi-million dollar projects to completion on budget and on time, something he has done for years with the Arnold Fund. Having this experience he said would serve him well in making decisions about expensive infrastructure projects on the board.
"I'm not in favor of raising taxes at all," Vinson said. "I think we would have to look at every department for potential efficiencies. I think the creativity that I can bring to the board will help. I'll be able to help find potential ways to save money."
In addition to his work with the Arnold Fund, Vinson is an environmental design instructor for UGA where he teaches students the principles of mixed-use development and smart growth. He has nearly two decades of experience, planning, teaching and working on growth and development issues. Vinson and his wife, Sara, have lived in the county since 1994 and have two young children.
"I really feel that the years of service I've given to Newton County has enabled me to hear from many, many of the citizens of the county and I know the goals that they've been hoping for the county and I'll work to protect those and strive to maintain the quality of life that they're expecting," Vinson said.
Fleming said his experiences working for KLiP have prepared him for the rigors of serving on the BOC.
"I have several years of experience of working with government on the local level and the state level. I know what it takes to get things done," he said. "I've been there working with local municipalities in my job in the Southeast. I know the hardships a lot of local governments have on meeting budgets, finding the money to support various projects."
Fleming also pointed to the working relationships he has already formed with Newton County's all-Republican delegation to the state legislature as another asset he will bring to the BOC.
He is a lifelong resident of Newton County and a graduate of the University of Georgia where he earned a bachelor's degree in Political Science. He has also worked on several national and state Republican campaigns. Fleming and his wife, Lacey, are newly married.
"I know what's going on in the county. I know the issues at hand and I know what the citizens expect and deserve out of their local leaders," Fleming said.