Warner Robins City Council candidates met at a forum Tuesday night to discuss the big issues before the election.
One of the bigger stories we've been following in Warner Robins is the City's recent spending.
Money has been flowing out of the savings account for things like recreation, city employee pay scale adjustments, and new police officer positions.
But as questions swirl over how to pay for it, the three candidates for the Post 1 at large seat were asked if they would raise taxes in the International City.
Post 1 is an open race with no incumbent due to current Councilman Chuck Shaheen’s decision to run for mayor.
Daron Lee, Eric Langston, Jim Taylor, and Jeffrey Walker are running for the seat. Walker was not at Tuesday's forum.
When asked their thoughts on raising taxes, Daron Lee said if the city does not find other sources of revenue, they'd have to.
“To be honest with you, if we continue to operate the way we're currently operating, and the tax payers, their dollars are the only resource that we have? Yes, taxes will have to be raised. Yes,” Lee said in front of the crowd.
Lee said they needed to find other sources of revenue besides raising property taxes, but did not give specifics.
Jim Taylor says the first question is how is existing revenue being spent and brought in.
“I think we need to look first at what are expenses? What are fees, or what are moneys that we're leaving on the table that we're not collecting?” Taylor asked.
But Taylor said Warner Robins needs a competitive millage rate to keep up with growing demand for services.
Eric Langston says raising property taxes should be a last resort.
“We should get in, dig deep, dig our heels into the city budget, evaluate each department, identify efficiencies or inefficiencies, any duplications, remove those, those internal barriers,” Langston said.
Langston also said they need to find a way to tax local internet sales and bring in new businesses and industries that would add to the tax base.
All three mentioned finding other sources of revenue besides increasing taxes.
The three also were asked what should be done to improve relations with Robins Air Force Base. Taylor said more conversation is key.
“Bottom line, communication. I met with the new base commander the other day, and basically what Colonel Drew was telling me, he said listen he goes we love the community, we love to do stuff here in the community, but one thing about it is we're good at taking care of ourselves, take care of Warner Robins and you take care of Robins Air Force Base,” Taylor said on stage.
Eric Langston said communication and collaboration are needed to strengthen the bond.
“You've got to get senior leadership on that Base in the same room with mayor and Council. Now, it's concerning when you have folks on both sides of the fence that aren't really understanding of each other's mission, or what their capabilities are, or what they can do for one another,” Langston said.
Langston continued saying a new relationship focused on teamwork is needed. Lee says the city needs to do its job the right way since it partly represents the Base's reputation.
“Our actions, our actions in Council, our actions in the street, how we handle the business of the city, is not only a reflection of Warner Robins, Georgia, but honestly it's, at times, a reflection of Robins Air Force Base,” Lee said.
Post 1 isn’t the only seat up for Council in Warner Robins.
The two candidates for Post 3 also were at the forum. Incumbent Keith Lauritsen and challenger Terri Murray discussed the issues before the Post 1 candidates.
The two spent most of the evening discussing the City’s rising crime rate. Councilman Lauritsen said the focus should be on growing the police force to match the demands of Warner Robins.
“We need boots on the ground, we need cars out there in the streets, we need officers patrolling and we need to increase our numbers. That comes through recruiting highly qualified officers and making sure that they do represent a micro chasm of the community. And that's the first step, and we're doing that, we approved five new officers recently,” Lauritsen told the crowd.
Murray says the focus should be on diversity in the police force to better represent the City.
“If we have African Americans in one area or Latinos or whatever we need to make sure that the police force is representation of the population that it's policing. If that's in place, then you have a better way of understanding the people you're trying to deal with,” Murray said.
Early voting in Warner Robins starts on October 16th. The election is November 7th.