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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd/ Jesse Vaughn, candidate for the District 5 Georgia House set speaks at the Murray County Senior Center. The Murray County Republican Party hosted a meet and greet for candidates running for the District 5 Georgia House Seat on December 20, 2018. The seat was left empty with the death of longtime house member John Meadows.
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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd/ Matt Barton, candidate for the District 5 Georgia House set speaks at the Murray County Senior Center. The Murray County Republican Party hosted a meet and greet for candidates running for the District 5 Georgia House Seat on December 20, 2018. The seat was left empty with the death of longtime house member John Meadows.

Georgia State House candidate Matt Barton defended his record as a city councilman Monday, arguing his political opponent is not providing the full picture about his history with property taxes.

Jesse Vaughn prodded at one of Barton's campaign mailers in a video statement last week, questioning Barton's claim that he "slashed" taxes during his time on the Calhoun City Council. From 2010-17, when Barton served on the council, the city's tax rate increased by 24 percent.

"He sent out a mailer saying he slashed taxes," Vaughn told the Times Free Press. "In fact, he did the exact opposite. He made the motion to raise taxes, and that's what his minutes reflect."

Barton argues the situation is more complicated than Vaughn insists. Yes, the overall property tax rate increased during his years in office. But some of those years, the overall property values in the city decreased. Raising the rate is only one half of the equation. With the lower property values, the city's actual tax revenue decreased in five of his eight years in office.

Barton accused Vaughn of misleading voters. The day after Vaughn posted his video, Barton posted on Facebook: "Lawyers make a living distorting facts and numbers. They do the same with truth. Do we want a lawyer who talks or a worker who works?"

He told the Times Free Press on Monday, "He's a lawyer. He's using the skills as a lawyer to show facts in one light, only in one light. He's not showing the whole picture."

But Vaughn argued that Barton is the one misleading voters. While the tax rate dropped in five of his eight years, the overall taxation still went up slightly during his time in office. This was highlighted by fiscal year 2013, when the council increased property tax revenue by 15 percent. This covered a hike in employee health insurance and some equipment purchases, such as a brush truck for the public works department and a fire command vehicle.

But even if the tax rate remained flat, Vaughn said, Barton's record fell short of his statement. In the mailer, he said he slashed taxes.

"What people like Matt are missing is that, yes, the tax increase [vote was] unanimous," Vaughn said. "But in this campaign, he tried to tell people he cut the taxes. He didn't. It's a question of trustworthiness and credibility more than anything. His only response seems to be, you got to watch out for these tricky lawyers. Well, you kind of got to watch out for those tricky facts."

In his video, Vaughn also attacked Barton for previously voting to raise the city's water and sewer rate by 3 percent in three different years. Barton said the rates needed to be raised because the water company was losing money.

Through Dec. 31, Vaughn significantly outraised Barton, $44,450-$6,686. Vaughn's backing includes money from nine members of the state Legislature, highlighted by Speaker of the House David Ralston. He also received a donation from the family of John Meadows, the representative who held the District 5 seat until his death in November.

Vaughn was the most popular candidate in a Jan. 8 special election to fill Meadows' two-year term, gaining 33 percent of the vote in a six-candidate field. Because he didn't receive a majority of the vote, he was forced into a runoff with Barton, who finished second with 23 percent of the vote.

Scott Tidwell, who finished third in the race, endorsed Vaughn. Larry Massey, who finished fourth, endorsed Barton.

Early voting in the runoff began Monday and runs through Friday. Gordon County voters can cast ballots at the elections office at 215 N. Wall Street in Calhoun, which is open every day from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Voters in the southwest precinct of Murray County can vote in the elections office at 121 N. 4th Ave. in Chatsworth, which is open every day from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Election day for this race is next Tuesday.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.

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