The Ledger-Enquirer's weeklong series of Q&A articles continues with candidates for the District 1 seat of Columbus Council.
Retired nurse Jerry "Pops" Barnes, who served 20 years in the military, is seeking re-election.
He faces challenger Zeph Baker, who lost the mayoral election four years ago.
1. Does Columbus need a crime prevention director?
Pops Barnes: When Mayor Wetherington approached council with this concept, it was to combat crime on the front end by interfacing with various organizations and helping them in our joint mission to combat crime. I believe we have successfully done this. Examples of success stories are the Boxwood Recreation Center, where St. Thomas Episcopal Church has volunteered to start a soccer and tutoring program. Seth Brown has said that Part 1 crimes have been reduced by 10 percent in that area.
Zeph Baker: What Columbus needs, and more specifically what my district needs is more crime prevention, period. As the next councilman for District 1, and as a citizen of Columbus, I'm appalled by how the crime rate is steadily rising without a clear plan to deter and deflate this trend. It is my opinion that as a community, we need to use any and all weapons at our disposal to constrict and curtail this alarming increase of crime. With over four hundred burglaries occurring every month in Columbus (one third of them occurring in District 1), it behooves us as citizens to come together and formulate the best plan possible to help provide a safe place to live for all residents of Columbus.
2.Does Columbus need three law enforcement offices?
Pops Barnes: I have not heard anything in the community addressing this issue.
Zeph Baker: Yes. This question has been voted on and answered twice by the citizens of the city. Once, during consolidation, and voted on again, when the citizens voted to approve the suggestions of the Charter Commission. How many times are we going to question the common sense of Columbus citizens. Each of the three law enforcement offices have disparate and necessary duties to perform. The Marshal's office possesses all requirements and duties, powers and authority imposed by the law, and conferred upon by the Sheriff of Muscogee County. This means that Marshals can do everything Sheriffs can. However, they also administer services that Sheriff's deputies in Columbus do NOT historically perform to include: Execution of Writs and fi.fa.'s, Issuances of nulla bonas and Writ of Possessions. They also serve Legal Processes Service of legal documents, and have a myriad of other duties that I don't have time to enumerate here.
3. Can trash pickup be cut down to once a week, and can this change help with our budget deficit?
Pops Barnes: Once a week trash pickup could substantially reduce the city's deficit. Already, there has been an increase in residential recycling to 92 percent. In addition, overall recycling has increased to 208 percent. This is an immediate impact in regards to the landfill and its maintenance. The projected revenue from recycling is $635,000 up from $388,000. The decrease in the amount of trash going into the landfill is 3 percent through the four-month period; that equates to over 2,000 tons for the year. In other words, as recycling increases, household trash decreases. I might add that EVERYONE should go and see our recycling operation. It is a wonder to see and is a revenue generator for the city.
Zeph Baker: No. If trash pickup services were to be cut down to once a week, this diminution of services would only save the city $200,000. Unfortunately, though that amount may seem steep to some, it is merely a drop in the bucket when one looks at the amounts of money that the city needs to raise to stay solvent. I believe that we should not be talking about cutting services to citizens. We should be contemplating ways to more efficiently run the services we already have and discuss ways to cut out waste in areas outside of services to citizens. We need to increase revenue, not cut services.
4. Should Columbus pursue a referendum to remove the property tax assessment freeze?
Pops Barnes: As it pertains to the present Tax Freeze, the citizens have resoundingly spoken on this issue and we should respect their wishes.
Zeph Baker: No. To continue to bring up this issue when the citizens of Columbus have voted it down twice, is to question the common sense of the citizens of Columbus. Further, it seems to question the authority of the citizens to make informed decisions about its own growth.
Instead of exploring freezing property taxes, we need to explore ways to increase revenue. For instance, we could offer incentives to encourage citizens to refurbish and remodel their homes with energy saving products. One may ask "How will this increase revenue?" I would answer that "studies have shown that with every dollar you save a person, they will spend 3." So the money we appear to lose on the property tax can be multiplied by 3 times by the sales tax we already have.
5. Do you think major projects like the natatorium, city service building and ice rink are necessary?
Pops Barnes: In any city, you have to have amenities for the citizens to enjoy. The Natatorium and the Ice rink have proven to be areas where our citizens can go to enjoy themselves. I'm happy to see families enjoying themselves at a venue that the city has where they can have a good time without it affecting their pocketbooks.
Zeph Baker: I think they are necessary because they add to the quality of life here in Columbus. The more activities we can offer our children and our families increases the well-being of our community as a whole. These newer projects are also a way to bring heretofore untapped resources to our city through tourism. For example, now that we have a natatorium, we can market swimming meets and/or other events of this nature so that they will not be a drain on the city, but a source of revenue. The ice rink can also be marketed in the same type of way. In essence, we take something that's good for the citizens of our city, and make it even better by having it add to the revenue of our city.
Name: Jerry "Pops" Barnes
Education: BA from University of Pennsylvania, nursing degree from Columbus State University
Occupation: Retired registered nurse, retired U.S. Army master sergeant.
Experience: Columbus councilor, District 1
Family: Wife and eight children
Name: Zeph Baker
Education: Carver High School, BS in Biology Columbus State University
Occupation: Majestic Sunz Life Center, Inc. owner. Provides residential, nursing and transportation services to developmentally disabled individuals
Experience: Business owner, served on Planning Advisory Commission (2011-2013), current chairman of Board of Equalization (Property Tax Appeals) (2011-present)
Family: Widowed father of three: Caleb, Micah and Kirsten.
Facebook/Twitter: Zeph Baker on Facebook