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Hamilton County mayoral candidates Jim Coppinger, left, and Mike Carter await their first question at a forum hosted by the Tennessee Valley Republican Women at the Red Bank High School gymnasium Monday night.

The top two candidates for the Hamilton County Mayor's job debated in a public hearing tonight in Red Bank.

Mike Carter, special assistant to the county mayor, and County Commissioner Jim Coppinger, spoke for more than an hour at the forum at Red Bank High School hosted by the Tennessee Valley Republican Women.

They spoke about the ongoing topics in county election cycles- consolidation and taxes - and how they could continue to bring business to Hamilton County. But unlike an actual election, eight county commissioners will pick the county's next mayor and some were present.

Dozens of people crowded into the bleachers and sat in chairs at the high school gym for what will likely be the only public forum related to the county mayor's search. Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey will step down Jan. 11 to join Gov.-elect Bill Haslam in Nashville, and commissioners have been deadlocked 4-4 between Carter and Coppinger; because Coppinger is a candidate, he can not vote for himself.

One consistent theme of the forum was not increasing taxes.

"I can assure you that I would not propose a budget that would include a property tax increase," Coppinger said.

Carter said it would be possible to cut the budget before talking about raising taxes.

"Why is it possible for you to cut your budget (at home) and it's not possible for us to cut ours?" Carter asked the audience.

The commission will meet at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday and plans to vote again on selecting who will replace Ramsey.

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