The three candidates for Warner Robins mayor met at Central Georgia Technical College for a forum that stayed civil and respectful on Tuesday night.
The forum stayed calm as the three men discussed important city issues.
Former public works director Joe Musselwhite, former mayor and current councilman Chuck Shaheen, and current mayor Randy Toms are vying for the top spot.
In light of recent spending, the candidates were asked about raising taxes to balance the budget.
Shaheen said one way to avoid raising taxes is to bring in industry.
“Robins Air Force Base, Perdue Chicken, Cogen, and Frito Lay that spend millions of dollars on our water, sewer, and natural gas. If you can bring in an industry you increase your tax base, create jobs, and you sell more utilities. That's the way you keep your tax dollars low, by selling your enterprise fund,” Shaheen said.
Shaheen added that a businessman mentality looks to solve issues without raising taxes.
Toms said he's not in favor of a tax increase but said you have to look at it as a possibility as the demand for services grow.
“I think that we have to find ways to save money, not spend money that we don't need to spend. And we need to find a way to grow the economy in Warner Robins, which if you look around at the growth that's taking place in Warner Robins we've got to be well on our way to getting there,” Toms said.
Toms also mentioned using enterprise funds correctly and smartly to lower the burden on taxpayers.
Musselwhite said existing funds are more than enough, especially SPLOST funds collected since 2001.
“I won't raise your taxes period. It's not going to happen. I stood on the podium in 2001 and told the people of Houston County and Warner Robins if they vote for this SPLOST that that would be the ticket to not have to raise your taxes. That was told County wide, it's worked everywhere in the County but Warner Robins,” Musselwhite said last.
Musselwhite said there was no reason to spend money above what was already coming in.
The forum lasted roughly an hour as the candidates answered several questions. At no point did they interrupt, talk over, or argue with each other.
The candidates were asked about making a potential change to the form of government in Warner Robins. Debates at Council meetings about creating a city administrator or city manager have become heated in the past, but on Tuesday they answered calmly even as they disagreed.
Shaheen said too many administrative tasks were taking valuable time away from the mayor’s office.
“Do you know that your mayor sits and listens to employee disputes? Your mayor does, whether two employees fight, your mayor sits there and listens to this where he could be working at the 78th Wing Commander's office at Robins Air Force Base, working at the state level with your chamber of commerce. That's where you need to do, get your mayor to redefine his roll,” Shaheen said.
Shaheen added that he would be willing to serve as a part-time or full-time mayor.
Toms said he could use some help, but did not support a charter change.
“I'm not in favor of changing our form of government to a city manager or city administrator form of government. Do I think there's certainly grit to the argument that we need some form of city administrative help? Absolutely, I'm not intimidated by that, but I can tell you this, as your mayor of the City of Warner Robins I work more than full time,” Toms said.
Musselwhite said the position was a waste of taxpayer resources.
“With my training and experience and background, I am a city administrator. I'm not for paying anybody anything that the tax payers don't need to pay. We admitted earlier that we have spent above our means, we've spent more than we take in,” Musselwhite said.
Musselwhite said he had concerns with the idea since the Council passed an ordinance earlier this year creating a city administrator, but it did not specify a salary.
The three candidates did agree they had concerns over public safety and city spending.
Early voting starts on October 16, and Election Day is November 7.