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By DAMON LAWRENCE
Voters can start heading to the polls next month to choose who they want to serve as county executive for the next four years.
The three men vying for that position shared their views on a number of topics during a candidates forum on Thursday at the Kingston Community Center.
The event was hosted by the Roane County Republican Women. Each candidate was allowed to make an opening and closing statement.
They were also asked questions by a moderator.
Farmer is the incumbent in the race.
He said he’d like to see the county continue on its current path.
“I think we are poised in Roane County to see some wonderful things happen,” he said. “And I think the plan that we have in place already, I think we’re there.”
If re-elected, Farmer said his immediate goal would be to build on the last four years.
“For the first time in our history in Roane County during this last term, the county commission, at my request, approved a retail recruiting effort,” he said. “We have to have a diversified tax base in this county.”
Farmer was asked how he viewed the role of the county commission and it’s relationship with the county executive.
“It’s a hand-in-glove relationship,” he said. “They have to work together. I think it’s been a very good working relationship that we’ve had.”
The county ambulance service has experienced some financial difficulties in recent years.
Farmer was asked whether he plans to put the service on a self-supporting basis or continue to subsidize it with property tax.
“We need to work and make sure that we can get back to a point where it is supporting itself,” he said. “I think that’s a goal that we definitely have.”
However, Farmer added that self-supporting or not, the ambulance service is needed in Roane County.
“I think it’s important to know that you’ve got a well trained ambulance department out there when you need it,” he said. “They do perform a wonderful service for us here in Roane County.”
While Farmer wants to stay the course, his opponents believe Roane County needs a change of direction.
Miles Ledbetter Jr.
Many Americans have been faced with hard times during the economic downturn.
Ledbetter told the crowd he can relate — because he’s been unemployed for two years.
“I’m in the group of people that is hurting in this economy,” he said.
If there’s a segment of the local population that is frustrated with the way tax dollars are spent here, Ledbetter would also be in that group.
“What do I get for my tax dollars?” he said. “I don’t get police service. I’ve had trouble out of them.”
Ledbetter said another thing that frustrates him about the status quo is the county government seems to be run less like a business and more like a good-old-boy network.
“You look at all these take-home vehicles coming up and down the road,” he said. “We’re not allowed to do that out in industry.”
Ledbetter was asked about a house adjacent to the new jail that the county has spent money on to add offices.
“It’s wasted money to me,” he said.
The county paid $132,221 to acquire the house for the new jail project. The county later spent $74,799 to renovate the house for office space.
In January, the commission voted to appropriate an additional $80,662 for the project.
“You could have tore that house down, rebuilt it for less money,” Ledbetter said.
He was also asked what would he do to reduce the county’s debt.
He said he’d like to see a 4-percent reduction in all county budgets during his first year in office.
Another way to reduce the debt, he said, is to start scrutinizing each county budget.
“If employees cannot hold their budgets, if I catch them splurging after I told them not to, they’re going to be fired,” he said. “That’s the way they do us in industry.”
Woody said a lot of things in Roane County are good.
However, he added much needs to be tweaked.
“We need to look at some of our department operations, whether it’s becoming profitable again in our ambulance service,” he said. “We need to look at our policies, take home cars, travel, time reporting, protocols as we run emergency management.”
Woody was asked his plans for creating jobs in Roane County.
“I think we have roughly 2,000 acres available now for industry,” he said. “We need to market it. That’s one of the biggest things. Industry will go where it’s advantageous for industry.”
Woody also said it would benefit Roane County to have more tourists visit.
“The big thing is it’s a new dollar coming into our economy,” he said. “We can trade money around here all we want, but we do not get lifted up. What lifts us up is someone else coming into our economy and we have more money to deal with.”
Woody was also asked his thoughts on a wheel tax.
Roane County does not have one, but he said it’s something the county needs to look at.
“Some people will benefit from a wheel tax more so than if it was a property tax on them,” he said.
“I think it’s an option for the public,” he added, “because that is one thing that the public can vote on — whether they want a wheel tax or not.”
Early voting starts July 16 and ends July 31.
Election Day is Aug. 5.