The two Republicans vying to become the next Ector County judge staked separate positions Wednesday on a sales tax proposal that voters will consider in May.

Early voting began Tuesday, and the March Republican primary will decide the county judge race. Differences highlighted through much of the campaign resurfaced on Wednesday during a forum hosted by the Ector County Republican Women.

Businesswoman Debi Hays and attorney Chris Fostel have split on a strategy for replacing the courthouse and they have argued for weeks over whether the county’s top administrator should hold a law license.

Interviews with the candidates about the sales tax proposal presented a new wrinkle. By the time voters decide on the proposal in May, voters will have effectively chosen Hays or Fostel as the new county judge because there are no other challengers in the race.

They would not take office for months (unless incumbent Ron Eckert resigns, as he suggested he might do). But the Republican nominee could campaign for the sales tax ahead of the May election on the matter, without facing the same restrictions doing so as incumbent county officials.

Both candidates have both supported asking voters to again consider approving the sales tax, after the proposal was rejected by a nearly 2-1 margin in November.

Only Hays said she would support it as proposed in May and publicly campaign for voters to approve it, even if she loses the primary election.

“It’s important for the taxpayers,” Hays said. “It’s important for the county employees. And it is a win-win for everyone who lives in Ector County.”

Hays described the sales tax district as a critical way of shoring up funds for a county facing the likelihood of another budget deficit, and she said it would help provide services such as greater law enforcement.

Last week, the Ector County Commissioners Court unanimously approved sending the proposal back to voters who rejected it by a nearly 2-1 margin in November. The proposal calls for a sales tax district for unincorporated areas of Ector County. It would create a new 1.25 percent sales tax, bringing the total sales tax paid in those areas in-line with the City of Odessa: the maximum rate of 8.25 percent allowed by state law.

Fostel said he wanted to study the proposed taxes further and possibly split up the proposed sales tax district so it would apply differently to areas of unincorporated Ector County.

“I’m not all out supporting it,” Fostel said. He also said he could end up deciding to campaign for it.

“If I get a feeling that’s what voters want: The problem being that they overwhelmingly rejected it,” Fostel said. “And yes, going forward it’s on the ballot. It needs to be campaigned for and looked at just the same way we are campaigning for office here.”

If You Go

2018 Election Facts

  • First day of early voting: Feb. 20.
  • Last day of early voting: March 2.
  • Election Day: March 6.