Four candidates - all vying for two seats on the McDuffie County Board of Commissioners in Tuesday's Primary Election - appeared at a Town Hall political forum on Tuesday night at the Thomson Depot. During the hour-long forum, which was sponsored by WTHO radio and The McDuffie Mirror, candidates answered a series of questions.
The forum also featured two unopposed elected officials, McDuffie County Sheriff Logan Marshall and McDuffie County Commission Chairman Charles "Charlie" Newton IV. Sheriff Marshall is running as a Democrat, while Mr. Newton is seeking his third four-year term as a Republican.
The four commission candidates included J. Robert "Bob" Farr, William "Bill" Jopling, Paul William McCorkle and John H. Seay. Mr. Farr is seeking re-election to the District 2, Seat B post and is being challenged by Dr. Jopling, a local dentist. In the other commission race, Mr. McCorkle, a local businessman and Mr. Seay, a retired state lawman, are seeking the District 2, Seat A post.
Each of the candidates was given an opportunity to make opening remarks about their candidacy. Serving as moderators for the forum were Donna Branch, news director of WTHO radio and Jason B. Smith, publisher of The McDuffie Mirror.
Law enforcement took center stage to the first two questions asked of the candidates by Mr. Smith.
The first question was: Commissioners are called upon to fund a large number of programs with limited funds. Four of the largest departments are the sheriff's department, fire service, recreation department and road department. If you had to prioritize funding, which department would you fund first and why?
All four of the commission candidates said law enforcement would be their number one priority.
On a second question related to Sheriff Marshall's requests during the last several years for additional manpower, candidates were asked what they would do to increase public safety and how they would fund it.
The most difficult part of the question posed to the candidates along that line, perhaps, was: "Would you support a 1-mill increase in the tax rate that is dedicated to emergency personnel?"
All four of the commission candidates had somewhat differing views.
"I would if I saw that the sheriff's department may falter," Mr. Seay said.
Mr. McCorkle said, "I hope I could find it through sales tax, rather than property taxes."
Mr. Jopling replied, saying, "We should consider all avenues to not raise taxes, but I think with the budgets being so tight that we have no other option."
Mr. Farr, a former county commission chairman for eight years, said, "People who know me know that I am a conservative and we have had the lowest mill rate in the state for many years."
The candidates also were quizzed about how they felt about growth, as well as the proposed Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, whose fate now lies in the hands of voters in a special referendum slated for Sept. 16.
On the issue of growth, three of the candidates - Mr. Farr, Dr. Jopling and Mr. McCorkle all concurred that infrastructure would have to be considered their main concern. And while Mr. Seay didn't disagree, he did offer other areas of concern, such as placing an emphasis on the county's growth on the eastern side of the county. He pointed out that he never wants McDuffie County looking like Bel Air Road in Martinez.
"We need to hold developers feet to the fire," Mr. Seay said.
As for SPLOST V funding of a swimming pool and a skateboard park, candidates provided quick answers.
"I am not for a swimming pool, because of the liability issue," Mr. Seay said. "It could cost a lot of money and the skateboard park is the same way. I would hope that we could help the YMCA build it and let them manage it or if we build it, rent it to themâ€¦no lifeguards could cost us a world of money."
Mr. McCorkle responded, saying, "I've known many people who have had swimming pools and have had them filled in. Swimming pools are a poor investment - Thomson has had two in the past and they've been covered up. I'm a little concerned on how we can spend $300,000 on a skateboard park; I just don't see how we can do that."
Dr. Jopling stated, "I swim a lot, but Augusta State University is tearing their's down. If Augusta can't afford it, then I'm not sure we can. I'd rather put that million dollars somewhere else - like the sheriff's department or the hospital."
Mr. Farr followed with adamant comments.
"I'm tee-totally opposed to a swimming pool," Mr. Farr said. "It is only used three months out of the year and because of the liability."
On the question of consolidating city/county government, three of the candidates - Dr. Jopling, Mr. McCorkle and Mr. Seay - agreed that such is not needed at this time, since city and county officials already have such fine working relationship.
Mr. Farr, on the other hand, said, "I'd be in favor of it, particularly for law enforcement."
As to the question about Sunday liquor sales by the drink at restaurants, candidates again provided mixed answers.
"Personally, I think it's sad that restaurants do not come here simply because we do not allow liquor sales," Mr. Seay said. "However, I would let it go on the ballot."
Mr. McCorkle replied, saying, "No doubt, we could get some better restaurants if we had it. And I believe if people are going to drink, they are going to drink. If they can't buy it on Sunday, then they buy it on Saturday. I think it should be on the ballot for the people to decide."
Dr. Jopling offered his answer, saying, "It's kind of a non-issue with me, but we should let the voters decide."
Mr. Farr remarked, "I'm almost 85 years old and have got my first drink to taste. I'm bitterly opposed to it, but I would let the voters decide."