Catoosa County Commission hopefuls said they want to attract more businesses and improve more roads.
Chuck Harris and Charlie Stephens met with members of the county's Republican Party during a candidate forum at the Boynton Voting Precinct on Tuesday night. The two men will face incumbents Ray Johnson and Bobby Winters during the May 22 primary. Though invited, Johnson and Winters did not attend the event.
Harris will face Winters for representation of District 2, located in much of the northwest part of the county. This includes the Boynton community and the area around Cloud Springs Road. Winters, a 15-year incumbent, did not return multiple calls seeking comment this week.
Stephens will face Johnson for representation of District 4, which covers almost the entire eastern half of the county. Johnson, who has been in office since 2015, said he skipped the event because he needed to study for his re-certification by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Johnson is a quality control manager for Munroe, a company that makes boilers.
During his speech, Stephens said Johnson has not represented his constituents strongly enough.
"Residents of District 4 have been forgotten by the bigger districts," he said. "And my opponent has forgotten District 4. Their needs, he has forgotten. The ones who elected him, he has forgotten. I'm not going to be forgetting none of them."
Stephens said he wants to bring more jobs and businesses to Catoosa County. At the same time, he told the audience that governments should not provide incentives to prospective companies, even ones as big as Costco. (The county did not give Costco incentives, though it spent $4.9 million developing the property for the company.)
Stephens' stance drew applause and an "amen" from some of the about-20 people at the event. But when one resident asked how he could lure businesses without incentives, he stumbled. He said he was sure there was some sort of standard for that kind of thing. He later told the crowd that business recruitment comes down to relationships and infrastructure.
If the roads are good, he said, businesses will come. He wants the county to spend more money on paving roads going forward.
The commissioners voted to budget $11.4 million for road and bridge projects on the next five-year Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax cycle, beginning next year. In the 2014 SPLOST cycle, they budgeted $9 million. In last year's general fund budget, the commissioners set aside $2.3 million for roads and bridges, on par with the previous year.
"We've got to get out here and we've got to promote and we've got to get business," he said. "Small business. It could be any business."
Harris also lobbied for business development during his speech. He agreed that infrastructure is key, but he added that the local government's support of education is also important. Unlike in Tennessee, local departments of education can levy property taxes on their own, rather than rely on the county government. Still, the two groups often collaborate.
Harris added that community planning is the most important issue to him. He said there are too many traffic jams because elected officials didn't think through whether they needed to change the roads before signing off on developments.
"Did anybody take the time before they rubber stamped another subdivision, another 400-unit condominium complex or another school on a friend's property out in the middle of nowhere?" he asked, rhetorically. "Did they go down there at 8 o'clock in the morning and see what it's like to get back and forth? Did they go out at 5 o'clock? Or did they just vote on it? That's my frustration."
He said he will study whether a Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax would be a smart measure. That is an extra 1-percent sales tax, which is earmarked for transportation projects. On referendums last November, Walker County residents approved the added tax while Dade County residents voted against it.
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.