The candidates for District 4 Forsyth County commissioner took center stage during a debate Tuesday night.
Organized by the Forsyth County Tea Party Patriots Alliance, the debate for all commission candidates was the second this year leading up to the July 31 Republican primary.
The five District 4 opponents addressed the issues proposed in written questions from audience members or sent to the tea party.
Incumbent Patrick Bell is facing Tim Hubbard, Charles Meagher, Cindy Jones Mills and Bill Mulrooney for the northern district post.
One of two District 5 candidates attended. Of the two seeking the District 2 post, one took part only in the closing remarks.
Moderator Bradley Wilkins asked each question of the six candidates present and allotted one minute for each response.
“This is a tea party debate, so you’ll hear a lot about taxes and spending in all the questions,” Wilkins said.
Candidates discussed their positions on areas of the county’s budget that could be cut and ideas other than reducing spending to keep property taxes low. The possibility of an inventory tax exemption for retail was also covered.
Across the board, those present said they would not be willing to sign a pledge that they wouldn’t raise taxes because they need to do whatever is most fiscally responsible.
All had plans to do everything possible not to increase taxes, including ways to cut spending or lift revenue.
Bell said the county has cut more than $20 million from the budget during his first term, and he is working to be ready for “the next wave.”
“We’ve got to make it easier for businesses to come to Forsyth County and get government out of the way,” he said.
Meagher also expressed optimism that the economy is turning around, but cautioned that the county needs to not expand government as the area grows.
“I’m for cutting 100 percent of nonessential spending,” said Meagher, adding that he would speak with the community to determine those expenses.
Several candidates pointed to the parks and recreation department as an area to review spending.
Mills, who previously served on the parks board, said she believes the department can increase its revenue.
She also suggested that master planning for the parks and other county facilities could be less expensive if it was done in-house.
A proposed equestrian center for the future Lanierland Park was added to the plans after initial approval, which added cost to an expensive process, Mills said.
Mulrooney said he’d need to review the in-depth budget that commissioners are privy to in order to find the areas that can be cut, but he also wants to raise the tax base by bringing in businesses that are moving back home.
“We need to be out on the forefront of that and let them know that this is a good place to be,” he said.
Tim Hubbard agreed with that sentiment, also stating that exempting certain taxes for businesses needs to be done to attract them to Forsyth County instead of others.
“If we go ahead and start cutting the budget across the board, we’ll already be able to start weaning off what we’re used to,” Hubbard said. “By that time, we’ll be able to work this [exemption] in.”
Incumbent Jim Boff, who’s seeking re-election to the District 5 post, said focusing on the long-term savings can merit spending in the present.
The county will continue its “balancing act” of spending wisely to keep the “good level of service we have now,” Boff said.
Boff was the lone District 5 hopeful present at the debate. Opponent John Derucki could not attend due to a prior commitment to participate in a competition sponsored by the Georgia Department of Defense.
Neither of the two District 2 candidates was present for the question-and-answer portion.
Incumbent Brian Tam was serving a dinner for members of the Forsyth County Schools’ Food and Nutrition Department.
Challenger Dennis Brown had scheduled a meet-and-greet event for the same night, but did arrive for the closing remarks, stating the tea party “represents the true citizens of America.”
“I wanted to be here if I could only be here a minute,” Brown said.
The tea party patriots will continue the debate series with the sheriff’s candidates at 7 p.m. Monday in the Forsyth County Administration Building.