Though qualifying is still months away, the local campaign season is well underway as four candidates for county Board of Commissioners stopped by the Progressive Club meeting Monday night.
Candidates for Commission Chairman Brian Jenkins, running for the Democratic ticket, and Jason Hill, running for the Republican ticket, were in attendance as was Post I Commissioner Oz Nesbitt, who is running for re-election on the Democratic ticket, and businessman Jerry Shepherd, who is running for Post I Commissioner on the Democratic ticket.
During a question and answer session at the end of the meeting, the candidates were asked what were their thoughts on taxes and did they plan to lower or raise local taxes.
Jason Hill began his answer by pointing out Rockdale has the HOST (Homestead Option Sales Tax), a 1 percent sales tax used to pay for the county portion of property taxes for homesteaded local property owners. In the past, when the economy was good, revenue from the HOST tax was able to pay for 100 percent of the county portion of the property tax for residents. However, with retail sales down in recent years, less revenue has been collected so the HOST coverage has been around 70 or 80 percent.
“Now we always try to strike a balance between the quality of life people here and the amount of taxes,” Hill said. “There’s a level of safety, a level of cleanliness,” that people have come to expect in their quality of life, he said.
“Our goal is to keep the tax burden zero. There are going to be hard decisions that are going to have to be made, and I’m prepared to make those.”
“Every time someone asked me what was going to be the biggest challenge, I would say without a doubt keeping the HOST tax 100 percent.”
Jerry Sheperd alluded to a plan he was working on to bring more revenue to the county.
“I’ve got several ideas. I’ve noticed that the county officials, past present, they have not had other solutions about bringing in money.
“I’m working on a plan right now, that when I show, they’ll say ‘Why didn’t I think of that.’”
For instance, he described the importance of keeping the county roadways and properties clean.
He called it having a piece of the “PIE - P for public safety, I for infrastructure, E for economic development.”
However, Sheperd did not elaborate, only saying he would bring it up later in his campaign.
“I don’t take anything lightly. When I step on the basketball court, I’m ready,” Sheperd said.
Oz Nesbitt did not describe his stance on taxes other than to say the county’s job was to market the community to attract new businesses and economic development and to help existing small businesses.
“Everything that comes out of the state government we have to grab it and make sure it doesn't go by.”
“The citizens each year are faced with making a decision. Do you want police protection? Do you want clean and running water?”
He said there were signs the economy was turning around.
Brian Jenkins said, “You don’t have to raise taxes.” Jenkins said Hill had voted to raise the property tax while he was Post I Commissioner and that under current Chairman Richard Oden the number of county employees had grown.
“I’m against taxes,” he said. “We have to control spending in Rockdale County.”
Jenkins said if the taxes were lowered, businesses would be attracted to the county. “It’s simple math,” he said. “Businesses flock to places” where they’ve lowered taxes.
At the end, Progressive Club President Al Sadler said that meeting should answer any doubts as to whether the club needed to hold a political forum.
“This is not the arena for a forum. We will definitely work on getting a forum set up.”
He asked the candidates to be more specific in their answers at the forum and to have simple responses. “Don’t be so vague,” Sadler said. “I get tired of vague answers.”