Eric Baker, Valdosta Today:
VALDOSTA—Candidates for the Lowndes County Commission District 3 seat shared their priorities Tuesday evening with attendees at a Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce and South Georgia Homebuilders Association sponsored political forum at the Rainwater Conference Center.
They share a common bond: Valdosta State University. Republican Mark Wisenbaker holds a degree in management from VSU and Democrat Dr. Tom Hochschild is a professor in the university’s sociology department. The similarities end there.
The GOP candidate touted his extensive business and real estate experience as well his background as a production manager and entrepreneur as part of his qualifications for the seat. “I’ve had to meet budgets and manage employees and this is an experience I can take to the commission,” he said.
Wisenbaker, a “Lowndes County property owner proud property tax payer”, pointed out the need to hold the line on spending and tax increases. “We can, and should, look for ways to trim the budget and cut taxes where we can,” he said. Wisenbaker believes that a priority has to be limiting the size and scope of government.
Wisenbaker would give the Valdosta Lowndes County Development Authority “whatever tools they need” to attract and bring in new industry. He believes that bringing in new industry brings new jobs and these jobs are what will keep young people here to raise their own families and start their own business.
“Location, location, location. This the motto in real estate sales but it’s also the key to economic expansion,” Wisenbaker, who holds a real estate broker’s license said. Wisenbaker believes that the county is “poised for growth” due to its proximity to the I-75, I-10 and US 84 corridors making it a strategic commercial center. Filling up the 500 vacant acres in the VLCDA’s industrial parks is a must, he said.
In a passing reference to the recent Deep South Sanitation and Advanced Disposal litigation involving the county, Wisenbaker said that all businesses, “big and small” should be treated fairly. He would also like for the residents of the unincorporated areas to have a choice as to their household disposal collection service provider.
Noting future growth and the demands that come with it, Wisenbaker stressed the need for the county to “plan for the future” in terms of infrastructure maintenance and improvements. “We don’t want to wake up one day and have an inadequate water/sewer system on our hands,” he said.
Hochschild presented a different set of credentials.
“I’ve worked with several community organizations over the years,” Hochschild told the audience. He credits his community activism and work with Second Harvest of South Georgia and other organizations with preparing him for a seat on the county commission. His Facebook also lists his association with “Occupy Valdosta”, part of the “Occupy” movement, an international protest movement against social and economic inequality with a goal of redistributing economic and political resources.
“Just to make a full disclosure, I’ve brought along a group from the VSU Sociology Club to make a lot of noise for me,” Hochschild said in a moment of levity, pointing to about a dozen VSU students in the audience of a little over a 100. The club is known for its political involvement. The Sociology Club organized the protest against the recent appearance of Dr. Ben Carson at the VSU campus, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.
Hochschild would like to see the county do more to try to keep young couples and college graduates here by investing in social programs and activities. “I’ve heard that these folks won’t move to Atlanta or Savannah if they have something ‘to do’ here,” he explained. He gave no examples or how he would encourage the Valdosta Lowndes County Parks and Recreation Authority achieve this goal or the costs involved.
The Democrat would hold Sabal and Florida Power and Light accountable for “abusing” the property owners the gas line affects. Hochschild also wants the project to “pay for its use of our resources” although he did not elaborate. The Sabal Trail is a $3 billion dollar, 465 pipeline project stretching from Alabama to Central Florida and clips the western edge of Lowndes County. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has jurisdiction over the project.
For his part, Wisenbaker addressed the issue back in March calling for a minimum top soil coverage of five feet, that the property owners be fully and fairly compensated, and that all safety and regulatory rules and procedures meet strict compliance “before, during and after construction,” according to a press release at the time.
Hochschild agreed with Wisenbaker that Lowndes County is geographically situated for continued growth and focused on the tourist traffic along the I-75 corridor.