Candidates for commission spar on difficult issues

Friday, July 9, 2010

Candidates for seats on the County Commission answered challenging questions from the Rev. Steve Thomas, moderator of the Chamber of Commerce Political Forum on Saturday at Lewisburg's Recreation Center.

All tried to convince spectators that their experience and background qualified them to do a good job running Marshall County.

They drew lots for order of appearance, and were all asked how they would choose to balance the budget if the choices were 1) raise property taxes, 2) cut services, or 3) let employees go. Candidates were also asked if they were in favor of raising the sales tax for 9.25- to 9.75 percent.

No one made the choice of the three alternatives easily.

Tony Beyer (6th District) said his first priority would be to reduce services, and this might lead to personnel cuts. Beyer's "least favorite" choice was to raise property taxes, which he said were already very high. He was in favor, however, of the increase in sales tax because "it taxes everybody the same - on what you spend."

Beyer has never run for office before, but says the county needs leaders with business backgrounds like his 26 years' experience in commercial banking.

David Orr (5th District) has worked with Beyer in banking, and promised to be "a vigilant steward of taxpayer dollars." He said a commissioner needs to be a salesman for Marshall County and increasing property taxes does not encourage growth. Orr was also "strongly opposed" to raising the sales tax.

"We need to encourage people to shop in Marshall County," he exclaimed. "We have a severe problem with people going out of the county to shop. We don't need to give them an additional incentive."

As for balancing the budget, Orr said he would take a close look at cutting back on hours for county employees, and this might result in cutting services.

"We've got to live within budget constraints," he concluded.

4th District candidate Will Walker was even more specific: "I can do a better job than the current incumbents." He said the county could save money by establishing a purchasing program and sticking to it. Walker resisted all three of the budget-balancing alternatives, but said increasing taxes was a last resort.

That was also a last resort for Richard Hill (District 8), who complained, "Why don't they learn to live within their budget?" He'd also "hate to see someone lose their job."

"I don't give favors," Hill said, claiming that his common sense and fairness would make him a good member of the commission.

Carla Powell (9th District) also opposed raising the sales tax, saying, "It's already too high. We can find another way."

Powell moved here from Murfreesboro three and a half years ago, and says she loves it.

"I want to make a difference and I feel like I can," she said.

Running against Powell in the 9th District is Tom Sumners, who served on the commission for eight years (1994-2002) and was its chairman for four.

"I'm ready to come back and serve again," he said.

Sumners called the budget alternatives "all tough issues," but said his first choice would be to curtail services, followed by letting employees go, and, as a last resort, raising property taxes. He was opposed to the sales-tax increase.

Anna Childress (3rd District) was a contemporary of Sumners on the commission and stepped off for two terms. Now, she says, people are asking her if she'd like to go back on.

"All three are ideas that hurt somebody," said Childress about the proposed alternatives for balancing the budget. She pointed out that her vote would be one of 18 and all of the commissioners would be trying to make the best possible decision for Marshall County. As for the sales tax increase, she agreed with Beyer that it "does seem even," because it taxes people according to what they spent.

"Yes, we're going to make this better," Childress concluded.