By Barbara Augsdorfer, Editor for the Effingham Herald
[Editor’s Note: The Herald sent a list of 10 questions to candidates for the various seats up for election on the Nov. 7 ballot. During the weeks leading up to the election, the Herald will feature the candidates’ answers to those questions. Topics covered included reasons for running, issues that the candidate would like to address if elected; growth, business, environment, crime, and TSPLOST among others. Candidates’ answers are listed in alphabetical order.]
Voters in Springfield will chose from four candidates to fill three at-large seats in the Nov. 7 municipal election: incumbents Justin Cribbs, Steve Shealy, and Gary Weitman are being challenged by Leah Perkins, a social studies teacher at Effingham County Middle School.
Candidates answered the following questions:
1. Do you support TSPLOST? If not, why not? If TSPLOST fails, what alternate revenue sources will you seek to maintain the city’s infrastructure?
2. How will you work with the Chamber of Commerce to attract and keep viable and resident-desired businesses (sit-down restaurants, gyms, spas, movie theatres, daycare centers, etc.) within the city?
3. How will you work with the city’s DDA or historical committee to maintain the “small-town” feel of the city and preserve its historical sites?
Justin Cribbs, incumbent
“I don’t want to influence the way citizens vote on an upcoming countywide referendum, so my official position as a Council Member on TSPLOST is neutral. Speaking as an individual, I do not like paying more taxes on everything I buy in Effingham County.
“On the other hand, the TSPLOST money stays in our county, and having those funds to be able to use on transportation related projects does free up money in the General Fund to spend in other areas or could potentially allow us to lower property taxes. If the next TSPLOST referendum fails, we will have to rely on project-specific state and federal grants or use other current revenue sources for funding transportation-related projects, including local option sales tax (LOST), property taxes, SPLOST, insurance premiums tax, and franchise tax.
“I believe the free market should decide which types of businesses are needed or which will be successful in Springfield. I do think the city should work with the Chamber of Commerce in whatever ways are appropriate to attract and retain businesses. All property- and business owners must be treated equally by the City, and I hope all businesses are successful. Ordinances and other regulations related to permitted uses for properties in each zone are necessary but should not be overly burdensome to residents or business owners.
“Springfield’s downtown is what makes us unique as a city. I am proud to have voted to renovate the Mars Theatre, which seemed to jumpstart the revitalization of Downtown Springfield. The Council should continue to review its ordinances regarding the downtown and historic zones and ensure that any new or renovated buildings fit into the historic design aesthetic of the area.
“The Springfield DDA has done a great job with the projects that they have managed, and I hope this cooperation can continue. In the past the Council had discussed relocating City Hall and working with the DDA to renovate and develop the historic building we are currently occupying. I hope this project can happen in the near future.”
Leah Perkins, challenger
“I do support TSPLOST because of the funding it provides to the city for transportation projects, improves transportation infrastructure, provides safety improvements along roadways, and the funding helped reduced the city’s millage rate for this year. Without TSPLOST the city would not have been about to lower the millage rate, it would have likely been raised to compensate for the planning and maintaining of the city’s transportation infrastructure and related projects.
“Collaborating with the Chamber of Commerce is an excellent way for a city to attract and retain desired businesses. Upon being elected to city council, I will establish open communication with the Chamber of Commerce leadership to build a strong working relationship that will ensure we understand businesses needs by listening to needs and concerns of local businesses and residents to make valuable informed decisions. I will also promote by local campaigns to encourage residents to support local businesses and create a sense of community to boost the local economy.
“City council members can play a crucial role in working with the city’s Downtown Development Authority or the historical committee. I will maintain an open communication channels with the DDA and historical committees to focus on shared goals and strategies for preserving the town’s character and heritage. By working closely and actively involving the community, I will help ensure that the “small-town” feel and the historical heritage of the city is preserved for future generations.”
Steve Shealy, incumbent
“Yes, I support TSPLOST. I also support a balanced budget. Our citizens deserve the best from our City. Expenses cannot be wasteful. We cannot outspend our means and we should never take for granted that TSPLOST will remain forever. We should always keep a watchful eye on alternative sources.
“We are very blessed by having an amazing Chamber of Commerce in Effingham County. We work hand in hand trying to attract business to our area. We have assisted and hopefully, will continue to assist by being a sponsor for several Chamber events.
“I am a charter member of the Springfield DDA. We meet monthly and our goals are to focus on revitalization of Downtown and to continue the city's efforts to encourage private investment.”
Gary Weitman, incumbent
“I whole heartedly support TSPLOST. In three years, we have met the monetary goal for TSPLOST that was supposed to take five or six years. This is a tax. I know it and everyone knows it. But, more people than just Effingham County residents are helping to pay for this tax. This tax money helps the city greatly because money that would have to go for resurfacing, new roads and sidewalks can be used for other projects within the city. Without this tax, projects would have to be delayed or canceled entirely.
“We have always had a great relationship with the Chamber. I am committed to do whatever we can do with the Chamber to attract and keep good businesses in the city. It is a challenge to attract sit-down restaurants.
“A few years ago, we, the city, put our full support behind the Mars Theatre. Three of us whom are running for Council were on Council when we committed the money for the Mars to be completed. This has been one of the best moves our city has made. More people have been coming into Springfield to shop and visit businesses. The Mars has played a big part in this. With more people coming to Springfield, the City and Chamber have benefited.”