Washington County mayoral candidates answer Johnson City Press questionnaire

Zach Vance • Updated Apr 21, 2018 at 11:06 PM

Washington County mayoral candidates David Tomita, Joe Grandy, Mark Ferguson and James Reeves answered five questions posed by the Johnson City Press, ranging from future capital project needs to how they plan to communicate their decisions to the public, if elected.

The following are their answers verbatim.

1. If elected, what are four capital projects the county should pursue during your first term in office? List the capital projects based on priority.

Tomita: Work together to find a plan to move the Jonesborough School project forward; Continue improving rural infrastructure, primarily providing water to unserved areas; Provide funding for school technology equipping our schools and students for the jobs of the future; Preserve and update our historic courthouse.

Ferguson: The only way to answer your question is as history, what has been done. I'm not going to do that. The tax rate and the budget is set by the county commission, so they set the priorities. Helping the school system get a good, workable plan should be a high priority.

Grandy: Education will be a top priority for the county. I will promote advancing the Jonesborough school project. Improving third grade reading and math there is critical. Next would be restoration of the Historic courthouse to prevent additional damage. Third will be additional waterline extensions in unserved areas of rural Washington County. This will improve access to clean drinking water and enhance fire protection. Fourth, improve courtroom security systems in the Justice Center for the protection of all citizens.

Reeves: When elected Mayor, I will do everything possible to see the Jonesborough K-8 school gets done properly. There is likely a list of capital project needs the mayor and the Washington County School Board have compiled, and they will be considered, along with any other reasonable project. The County Government increased our property taxes by 20% in 2016 and the county government has gone on a spending spree. It is time to give some of those tax dollars back to the people, where it belongs.

2. Will you have an open-door policy to constituents and how will you regularly communicate your policies, decisions, proposals, and opinions to the press and public?

Tomita: Throughout my career in public office I have always maintained an open line of communication with the press and would continue to do so. Additionally, I have always made myself available to the public by phone, email, and in person. As County Mayor these policies would not change.

Ferguson: Just like Congressman Quillen, my door will always be open. I have said that from the beginning. With social media I believe it is much easier to get the word out to the public than it ever has been. 

Grandy: In the thirty plus years of my professional business career I have always maintained an opendoor policy and will continue that policy as Mayor of Washington County. Time for one on one meetings will be made available as needed. The county web page will provide the basic background and record for all county information available to the public. Alerts could be sent when new information of significance is uploaded. Additional releases would be sent via email or text.

Reeves: Yes, I have no hidden agenda, time will be allocated for any citizen in Washington County who needs the Mayor's ear. The plan is to have a pilot Mayor's office in Johnson City at no cost to the county. Obviously, not all information can be aired out publicly, county attorney's fees are approaching $300,000 this year, and there are some things best left in private.

3. What is your plan to address the needs of Washington County's fire departments? Would you consider allocating the necessary funding to jumpstart a full-time fire department?

Tomita: We must insure that our County Fire Departments are properly funded and equipped. Yes, I would be supportive of funding the day shift positions currently being discussed.

Ferguson: We depend on the brave people in our fire departments. I know many of them personally, and they know they will always have a friend and supporter in me. And yes, of course I would consider it.

Grandy: The first step is to work on finding a funding source to pay several volunteer fire fighters per station during day time hours. The critical need is to be able to roll the equipment in the shortest time possible. Several stations are planning to use existing EMS personnel that can be cross trained to assist firefighting. Building on that framework will lead to full time firefighters as funds and waterlines development become available.

Reeves: I have scanned over the plan to incorporate some full time county firemen and it seems like a sound policy. There needs to be a discussion/agreement with Johnson City to aid the county firemen when the need arises, as we are all in this together.

4. Despite living in the 21st century, many rural Washington County residents still lack access to clean, filtered water. Will this be a priority for you, and what would be your plan for getting it accomplished?

Tomita: Providing clean drinking water to all of Washington County will be a high priority to me as Mayor. I would propose to utilize several available, and unused to date, State and Federal programs. The standard has been set with the Ford Creek Water Project in Gray, we must keep the momentum going.

Ferguson: I'm not sure what the 21st century has to do with it. People need what they need. Instead of worrying about limiting us to 50 words now, you should have been going into this issue more deeply, and help people understand the regulations and limits of what can be done.

Grandy: Access to clean drinking water with an adequate supply for fire protection is among my top priorities. I will use my knowledge of running an underground utility supply business to improve the third world drinking water conditions in our county. Despite being in the 21st century, many citizens in rural Washington County live with these water conditions. A recent study revealed over 9,000 homes are without access. The next step is to develop a plan to extend waterlines using that study to unserved areas. Finally, appeal to state and federal officials for funding to support the plan.

Reeves: There needs to be a real plan or a clear message on what the county can do and what the county is willing to do. There are, from my understanding, funding mechanisms in place at the state level to see viable water projects are completed. The county will need to work closely with local municipalities who are in the business of providing clean water to see these projects through.

5. In your view, should Washington County be funding nonprofits? Knowing you can't fund them all, what criteria should a nonprofit meet in order to receive taxpayer dollars?

Tomita: This is always a sensitive topic and there is not an equitable solution when donations are being allocated. There are hundreds of deserving nonprofits in Washington County and choosing winners and losers is difficult. My preference is paying for services provided by these agencies rather than making donations however, the ultimate decision lies with the County Commission.

Ferguson: That type of funding is a touchy subject with many taxpayers. We have several fine organizations doing good work in Washington County, but we only have so much money to go around, so we have no choice, but to prioritize.

Grandy: During my term as county commissioner, I have promoted accountability of the organizations that Washington County has supported in the past, by requiring them to submit full financials and status reports. We have added no new agencies and have reduced the supporting dollars by more than half. The goal would be to move them to receiving zero funds over several years giving them opportunity to prepare. The supported organizations all provide desperately needed services. Their funding needs to come from individual support rather than local taxpayer dollars allocated by commissioners.

Reeves: Plenty of habits are "grandfathered" and this is one of them. Government should not be in the business of providing tax dollars to nonprofits. This funding will not come to an end, however there needs to be extra scrutiny, making sure 100 percent of the money stays in Washington County. Children charities would be my first choice. Any charity that can provide for the care of Washington County citizens receives special consideration.

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