In a race where big spending and negativity are stealing the headlines, the three Republicans running in the Washington County Mayoral Primary are sharing with News Channel 11 where they stand on the issues of taxes, education and job growth.
Former Washington County Commissioner Mark Ferguson, current County Commissioner Joe Grandy and Johnson City Mayor and former County Commissioner David Tomita all, at one point in their careers, voted for tax increases as members of the Washington County Commission. While the commission, not the county mayor, decides if there’s a tax increase, none of the three candidates completely ruled out supporting one in the future, although Grandy said it appears unnecessary.
“The whole point of the capital projects plan is to take care of the needs of Washington County without a tax increase,” Grandy said. “I don’t see one on the forseeable future.”
“A very last resort for me,” Ferguson said. “I’ve been using the term shut the back door. I think we need to shut the back door, because the money in Washington County is going out the back faster than it comes in the front.”
“It sounds good on the campaign trail to say you’d never do it. I would never paint myself into a corner by saying there would never be an occasion where I would raise taxes or support raising taxes,” Tomita said. “I would never say I would never be supportive of that, but I would always make it the last option after all of the other options have been exhausted.”
The county mayor also does not have authority over the Washington County Board of Education. The school district is currently building a new school in Boones Creek and has a project pending to address Jonesborough’s school needs.
“They need to get this school building project behind them,” Ferguson said. “They need to concentrate on technology and concentrate on the classrooms. The school board runs the school system and I’ll be there for them.”
“They need support from the legislative bodies and support from their communities. They’ve got a monumental job and are very key in our economic development in so far as training a job-ready workforce, so we’ve got to give them support backing what they need to do their job,” Tomita said. “I would be a bridge. I would be a connector. I think it’s very important to remember that the legislative body does not run the school system.”
“For sure we need a way to take our top end students and give them the very best, STEM academy, magnet school and then we’ve got to find a way to take the rest of the students, those that don’t intend to go to post-secondary school and give them tools they need to be job-ready when they come out of high school,” Grandy said.
Grandy and Tomita also both said education is key to economic development, with Tomita putting an emphasis on focusing on skilled trades. Ferguson, meanwhile, said it’s too soon to tell specifically what he’d do to create jobs.
“I’m on the outside looking in now,” Ferguson said. “Until I can actually get in and sort of get a clear picture of what’s going on now, that’s pretty hard for me to answer, but you can bet I’ll be a supporter of economic development.”
“The key is creating education, training and a work force ready program for our young people,” Grandy said.
“Education is key, second is making sure our opioid issue doesn’t remain to be what defines us here,” Tomita said. “We’ve got to get a workforce that can pass a drug test. We’ve got to work with them on the front end and in the midst of it to help fix that problem.”
We also asked each of the candidates to share their thoughts about how negative the race has become.
“I have tried to run my own race and I’ve tried to be positive,” Ferguson said. “I have not gotten negative. I’ve been accused of being involved with a PAC. That’s not so, but my opponents got awful nasty, but I’ve tried to stay clean on this thing.”
“I can’t imagine when I first ran how nasty it would get,” Grandy said. “It’s not just nasty, it’s personal and I think you talk about political issues, you talk about different structures of campaigns, but at the end of the day, the personal piece is just over the top.”
“Nobody likes that,” Tomita said. “You see that sort of activity and all that does is energize the base that you already have. I don’t think you get your message across to people that aren’t polarized like that. The rest of the folks, hopefully they’ll appreciate the fact that I tried to stay out of that as best I could.”
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