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Johnson City Commission candidates tackle regionalism, tax hikes in Chamber survey

Zach Vance • Oct 6, 2018 at 5:08 PM

The Johnson City Chamber of Commerce’s biennial candidate survey, released Friday, provides voters with a deeper understanding of where the City Commission candidates stand on key issues, including regionalism and property tax hikes. 

 All five candidates on the November ballot participated in the 11-question survey, and their responses were submitted to the Chamber before noon Oct. 1.

The candidates seeking two open seats on the five-member governing body include: Vice Mayor Jenny Brock, Johnson City Board of Education member John Hunter, perennial candidate William “Bud” Hill Jr., East Tennessee State University student David Adams and Gray resident Jeff Clark. 

When asked how they planned to achieve more collaboration in the region, often referred to as “regionalism,” the candidates offered a variety of responses, but they were all attuned to fostering better relationships between all the Tri-Cities’ governing entities. 

Adams said competing against our neighbors is “mutually destructive,” and while he acknowledged the Tri-Cities are separate entities, he proposed “reducing collisions between individual business sectors, cultural events and long-term plans.” 

Brock, who’s long advocated for more regional partnerships, said cities and counties that collaborate are more capable of addressing significant challenges, such as health care, economic development, workforce development, economic robustness and qualify of life attractiveness. 

Clark said he would propose “projects” that would benefit all, including the creation of an official “Neighboring Communities Liaison Office,” and Hill said he’d call on leaders and citizens of the region to showcase “how exceptional our region is,” compared to others. 

Saying collaboration is crucial, Hunter said the economic impact of collaboration is “undeniable.” 

“We must include all stakeholders at the proverbial table to unite around some key goals that are attainable in order to build a trust for one another and regionalism,” Hunter said. 

Candidates were also posed with the delicate, but necessary question, of under what circumstances would they raise property taxes. 

Hill was the only person to say he would never raise taxes, whether property taxes or another local tax, presumably under no conditions. 

Clark said he would first look at what programs “do not” benefit the city and reduce them, but if push came to shove, he would support a “tiered property tax” system so that all “pay their fair share.” 

Hunter and Adams both said tax increases must be considered only after all other reasonable options have been exhausted. 

Adams did note that there is “discretionary fat to trim first,” and took a jab at the current commission for paying what he said was “210-plus percent market value” for the Wilson property beside Winged Deer Park. 

Brock said she would support a property tax increase, “only if natural growth begins to decline and services are negatively impacted.” 

All five candidates were also asked what improvements to Johnson City’s government they would seek. 

Hunter mentioned more strategic planning, which “involves succession planning and staff development to ensure continuity in quality of services provided.” He also mentioned transparency in planning and implementation. 

Hill said he wanted to see more minority and senior input and a better “policing method” through engagement with neighborhoods. 

Clark proposed allowing more time for citizen feedback on policy decisions, while increasing communications to younger demographics to foster enthusiasm for local government. 

As a city commissioner for the last five years, Brock called for a self-evaluation to determine the effectiveness of all city services. 

“The outcome will be process improvements, cost efficiencies, examination of policy/ordinance relevance and excellent customer service. Additionally, we must plan our desired future and focus funding, partnerships and services to make it happen,” Brock said. 

Adams brought up wanting greater discretion in government spending habits, with the inclusion of more public involvement. 

“Whether true or not, the current commission has earned the ire of both public and press for a perceived ‘fast-and-loose’ policy in big ticket price negotiations and a perceived tone deafness to community input,” Adams said. 

To see the full survey, visit www.johnsoncitypress.com

Early voting will begin Oct. 17 and last through Nov. 1. Election Day is Nov. 6. 

 

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