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Candidates for mayor differ on debt and economic development | Election

Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy is facing a challenge from County Commissioner Robert H. “Robbie” Tester in the May 3 Republican Primary.

Grandy is seeking a second term in office. He was elected mayor in 2018 after a 30-year business career that included heading Ferguson Enterprises.

Tester, an engineer by profession, has served on the Washington County Commission since 2014.

The winner of the GOP contest will face James Reeves, an independent candidate, in the Aug. 4 general election.

The two candidates appeared at a question-and-answer forum hosted by the Johnson City Press at the Jonesborough Visitors Center on March 31. It was there that Grandy and Tester differed on a number of key issues, including county debt and holding role in economic development.

Grandy said he has delivered on his promises to pay down the county’s existing debt during his first term in office. The mayor also said he has a “good track record” on managing spending in the county’s budget.

“You know my slogan, ‘Leadership means stewardship,’ certainly applies to this,” Grandy said. “In the past four years, we’ve reduced the county’s debt by over $ 30 million. We need to continue to pay down the existing debt that we have. ”

As mayor, Grandy said county government has developed long-term plans to deal with specific capital needs.

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Grandy also said job creation is a key component of economic development. To accomplish that, Grandy said the county often offers “targeted tax cuts” to be competitive with other communities in both luring new industries and for growing existing businesses in Washington County.

“Job creation is one of the most important things we can do to support our local economy, local governments and local businesses,” Grandy said. “The majority of new jobs are created by existing business and sometimes it takes help for these businesses to grow. Targeted tax cuts for business growth is an integral part of the economic development operation. ”

Tester said the best way to deal with county’s debt is “don’t borrow any more.” As commissioner, Tester said he has not voted to add any more debt to a capital plan that was adopted by the county in 2016.

He also said he does not think it is the role of county government to “pick winners and losers” in awarding tax breaks for economic development.

“Economic development is definitely one issue that he (Grandy) and I disagree on our approach,” Tester said. “I think I feel like the proper role of government in economic development is keeping your taxes as low as you can and keeping regulations as low as you can.”

He said he believes the winning role should be to maintain “a level playing field for competition.” Tester said the free market economy should determine the scope of economic development.

“So, these special deals that we do where we give tax incentives or tax breaks or the one company or one developer, I disagree with them on several principles,” Tester said. “I’ve voted ‘no’ on them consistently.”

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