CONYERS -- Candidates for Rockdale County Commission Post 1 agreed in general that economic development is a key component to progress in the community.
The candidates -- Republicans Tom Harrison and Sam Smiley and Democrats Jerry Shepperd and incumbent Oz Nesbitt -- responded to questions Tuesday night at a forum hosted by the Rockdale-Newton County League of Women Voters.
Each candidate was given 1 minute to share their thoughts on the greatest issue facing the community.
Nesbitt, who is serving his first term as Post 1 commissioner, said economic development, particularly as it relates to employment, is of vital importance to the community.
"The greatest issue not only facing this particular community but every community across the United States is jobs, jobs, jobs," said Nesbitt.
Nesbitt said the county's economic fortunes are tied to the state of the water infrastructure. The county must have adequate water capacity in order to attract industry, Nesbitt said.
"We are currently in the process of doing everything we need to do and improve and build upon the current infrastructure," Nesbitt said.
Shepperd, a local business man, said he's working on a plan to address economic development in Rockdale County. Shepperd said his research shows that Rockdale is "sitting on a gold mine," and he would present specifics of the plan when it is completed.
Smiley, an 18-year-resident of Rockdale, said economic development is important, but when other aspects of the community are in order, economic development will naturally follow.
Smiley said the county needs to focus attention on public safety, including Rockdale County Fire and Rescue.
Capital dollars are needed to replace aging fire apparatus, said Smiley, and more money needs to be put back into public safety.
Harrison said economic development is a key issue, but just one of several, including fiscal responsibility, public safety and ethics reform. All of these issues are tied to bringing back a level of trust in local government that is missing, Harrison said.
"We've seen our level of government decline to a point where it sometimes looks like children fighting over a play toy," Harrison said.
Candidates were also asked how they would prioritize county spending.
As a business man, Shepperd said he is a staunch supporter of fiscal conservatism.
"We have to spend our money wisely; we can't go out and spend our money for political purposes," Shepperd said.
Smiley said he would prioritize spending according to three issues: fiscal responsibility, public safety, and quality of life.
Public safety is the largest part of the county budget, and the local government needs to make sure that public safety departments are funded adequately to do their jobs, Smiley said.
Harrison said the county must first have a fiscally responsible budget.
"I think that's going to be the key in taking this county forward," he said.
In terms of spending on public safety, Harrison said he would like to see the Emergency-911 Department brought back under the control of the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office.
Nesbitt said he would continue to put public safety first, adding that his goal is to "make sure public safety personnel get the tools and resources they need to effectively and efficiently get their job done."
In addition, Nesbitt said the county should "search high and low" to find a way to give county employees a pay increase.