Warner Robins Mayor Randy Toms talks about public conduct
Crime, recreation, city finances and how those issues intertwine dominated the discussion Tuesday in the first forum for Warner Robins mayoral candidates.
More than 200 people attended the hour-long event at Central Georgia Technical College as Mayor Randy Toms defended his record against challengers Joe Musselwhite and Chuck Shaheen.
The first question asked the candidates to name their top priorities. Musselwhite, the city’s former public works director, began by saying crime is his top priority. He came back to the crime issue on several other questions.
“Our crime rate in Warner Robins is very high,” he said. “The only way to get public safety under control is to put more policemen on the street. There is no way of bringing crime down in any city, including Warner Robins, without budgeting and hiring more policemen and getting them on the streets to fight crime.”
Shaheen, who served four years as mayor before leaving to become a councilman, said the city’s finances are his top priority because it impacts everything else when finances are not sound.
“It’s a ripple down effect,” he said. “Every part of your department is going to be crippled.”
He said the City Council made a good move recently by mandating that the city keep enough in its reserve fund to pay for four months of operating expenses.
Toms listed his priorities as crime, Robins Air Force Base and recreation.
He said the city is in the process of hiring new police officers and he said implementation of pay scale adjustments, while a significant added expense, will help with the retention of officers.
“I knew of five police officers who were ready to walk out the door if we didn’t implement that pay scale adjustment, plus other firefighters and other employees that were tired of us telling them we are going to fix it, we are going to fix it, then not fixing it,” he said. “So I think that was a must-do for us.”
All of the candidates agreed that improving recreation is important to reducing crime and encouraging young people to remain in the community.
When asked if they supported a property tax increase, Musselwhite gave the most direct answer.
“I will never raise your taxes, I promise you that,” he said.
He said the special purpose local option sales tax should help the city not have to raise property taxes, and he believed the budget can be balanced by curbing spending.
Shaheen said the city can increase revenue by recruiting industry and making money by the sale of utilities to those industries.
“A businessman is going to look at how you can solve a problem without raising taxes,” Shaheen said.
Toms said raising taxes would be a “last resort.”
“For more services that people want, I think it’s something you’ve got to look at,” he said. “I think you’ve got to put it on the table, but I think with our enterprise funds, as we grow those funds and use them in the proper way, I think we can get away from a tax increase that burdens the home owners.”
Musselwhite said he opposes hiring a city administrator, saying he had the experience of a city administrator and could do that job without adding another salary. Shaheen repeated his long standing support for a city administrator, while Toms said he would support having a city administrator to assist the mayor but not if it meant changing the city’s form of government.
Early voting begins Oct. 16 and the election is Nov. 7.