About 30 people showed up at New Hope Baptist Church to listen to and ask questions of the candidates. And though multiple questions were asked, the answers tended to revolve around creating a police department to improve safety and cleaning up the town to better its image.
Council candidates at the forum included Place 4 incumbent Fred Striplin and his opponent Isaiah Evans. No other council candidates were there because they are running unopposed. The mayoral candidates included incumbent Alberta McCrory, Willie Elston and Eric Stringer. Mayoral candidate Kathy Jackson was not present.
Many residents in attendance wanted to know what the candidates would do to start a police department in Hobson City and when their plans could be achieved. The town has been unable to afford a steady police force since 2006. The Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office provides the sole law enforcement for the town, which includes patrols and answering complaints.
All the candidates said one of their main goals is to bring more police protection into Hobson City.
“The first thing we have to do is make sure we can afford it,” Striplin said. “What we need to try to do is get at least one officer.”
Evans said one of the main reasons he decided to run for office was to help create a police force.
“Our children are running in the streets without any safety at all,” Evans said.
Stringer said he would have to dig more into the town budget before deciding if a police department would be possible anytime soon. McCrory said she has met with the governor and other officials to try and get money for a police department. She said grant money for a police department would not be possible until the town can show it is more financially sound.
Residents also wanted to know what the candidates would do to clean up the town, including removing abandoned, derelict homes.
Evans and Striplin noted that there is a local organization that will help people in the community clean up their yards and homes. Striplin and McCrory added that the town has an abatement process to deal with derelict houses – but without a police department, it is unenforceable.
Stringer said putting a tax lien on derelict properties might help with the problem in addition to getting the community more involved in cleaning the town. Elston said he would create a plan to expedite the abatement process.
The candidates were also asked how they would bring jobs to the town and improve the town’s image. Many of the candidates said such goals would only be possible after first making the town safer with a police department and cleaning it up.
“Nobody is knocking on doors to bring business into Hobson City,” Striplin said. “But what we can do is make the city safe and clean it up and make the city more attractive so more people will set up shop.”
Elston agreed with Striplin on the issue.
“We must make sure we have good water and sewage and a police department,” Elston said.
Stringer noted that until the town gets a handle on its finances, trying to do much else would be difficult. With little business, the town has few funds due to low sales tax revenue.
“Until we know exactly how much money the city has coming in and we have a successful audit, everything else is just talk,” Stringer said.
McCrory said the town last year had its first audit in two decades.
“And we are coming up on our second audit and we’ve worked very hard to put things in place to take care of our finances,” McCrory said.
One question directed at McCrory asked if the cost of water would be lowered now that the town had paid off its debt to the Anniston Water Works and Sewer Board. The town paid off a nearly $114,000 bill to Anniston in 2011 by raising rates on residents. The town purchases all its water from Anniston.
McCrory said there was never any intention of lowering the rates once the debt was paid.
“We are already at a fair rate with Anniston,” McCrory said. “But if some other candidate says they are going to lower the rate back down, don’t believe them. That is not going to happen.”
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star