Democratic Candidates for Buncombe County Commission Debate In Ox CreekBy
UPDATED WITH PHOTOS AT THE END OF THE POST
Ox Creek community is out Reems Creek Rd. between Weaverville and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Saturday, April 12th’s debate was held in the Ox Creek Community Center, a modest building along the winding two-lane road. About 25 folks showed up at 9:30 a.m. to hear the candidates speak and to ask them questions. Three candidates did not attend: Bill Stanley was, according to one of the organizers, out of town; Keith Thomson had a family gathering, and Bob Hill is only recently out of the hospital and is recuperating at home. The other five candidates (K. Ray Bailey, Cecil Bothwell, Vernon Dover, Holly Jones, and Carol Peterson) + David Gantt answered four questions prepared by the organizers then took questions from the audience. The event lasted almost two and a half hours.
Richard Bernier was there recording the debate for URTV. He and I were the only two media folks there. This is the second debate that the larger media have ignored. As with my blogging of the first debate in Black Mountain, “This â€œtranscriptâ€ is rough as hell. My fingers were a-flyinâ€™, but thereâ€™s only so much a brother can do. Direct quotes are in quotation marks. Everything else is an impression or paraphrased. Any mistakes are mine.”
Question #1 - TAXES & COUNTY SPENDING: We understand that property assessment laws are set in Raleigh and tax rates are set at the county level – If you were told to cut the county budget 5%, where would you look? If you were told you had a 5% budget surplus, where would you apply it? Please be specific!
Gantt – Thanks for coming out. Delay construction projects. Don’t cut health care. Don’t cut salaries. Look at discretionary – have public hearings. Put more money into education, parks, greenways. These are things we can’t do enough for. Have public hearings.
Bailey – 40-odd years at A/B Tech – wasn’t uncommon to reduce budgets. 5% of the County budget would be about 20 million dollars. Look at capital projects first to cut. Look at mandates (sherriff, education). Beyond that – recreation, library services – chip away but don’t take it away. Lots of input from lots of people. If surplus – Look at high priorities and do those. Look for ways to enhance education and tie that into jobs.
Bothwell – Commissioners can lobby Raleigh for changes in tax laws just like current Commission lobbied for water rights for the Cliffs developers. Reducing some big salaries. We’ve confused growth with expanision. Increase real economic growth. Spend all of a budget surplus on energy efficiency – for inflation proof savings – that will create another surplus every year from then on – then put that into education.
Dover - Delay construction projects. Surplus? That would be nice. County Board of Education for 8 years. Health and Human services. Put money there and in education.
Jones – Surplus – 3 areas: tax reduction (AVL stayed revenue neutral 2 years ago with tax reevaluation then lowered taxes again), Education (school nurses – credit to current commission for doing that – do more), Energy Efficiency, begin working on parks and greenways (create 20 year plan). 5% deficit? Service efficiency.
Peterson – Thanks for the folks in Ox Creek. 12.5 million dollars – possible cuts: 90% of budget is mandated. Public relations, BCTV, ambulance services (2.5 mil.), Primary Care clinic (5 million), Aging services (660k more than mandate), 2.5 million recreation services, 5 million for libraries (plus a couple of others). Surplus? Health, well-being, and education for children. Let’s take care of the children.
Question #2 - DEVELOPMENT: What ideas do you have to keep Buncombe county rom being over-developed with high-end residential subdivisions at the expense of existing property owners.
(Why does K. Ray keep gnawing on his pen?)
Peterson – “David Gantt, Carol Peterson, and David Young voted to have countywide zoning.” This Commission has adopted ordinances to manage growth in Buncombe County – Zoning, Hilside development (steep slope), mininum lot sizes, multifamily zoning overlay. “We took the step, took the heat, and did.” Subdivision ordinance – Stormwater ordinance. Elderly exemption program, Present Use Value exemptions.
Jones – Have to focus to get stuff done. Cooperative Regional Plan within 18 months of election. Saving the parts of the community we all love. Preserve family farms. Keep development off those slopes. How do we realistically grow? On corridors, where infrastructure exists. Affordable housing.
Dover – I was opposed to zoning 7 or 8 years ago, but I was wrong. I’ve lived in Leicester for 40 years. Folks can’t afford to hold on to family property. Keep growth on corridors. Orderly development, bring everybody to the table. I hated 2 a.m. meetings, but you gotta lisen to everybody
Bothwell – Ban on new septic tanks on multifamily housing. Slow sprawl. That [changing septic rules] alone has slowed sprawl elsewhere. Hub and spoke development – walkable, bikeable communities. Global warming is for real – real serious change is necessary. Cutting transportation, energy use. Low cost loans to retrofit homes with energy efficient upgrades. Once you cut energy costs, it’s permanent. Retrofit homes with solar electric – my electric bills were 50$ a year.
Bailey – Growth is going to happen. “I’m not going to blow you any smoke and say I have an answer to this”. Educate everybody on what we don’t know. Smart Growth plan – input of the people.
Gantt – Commish can’t control fair market value. We can’t stop new developments. We can give incentives for people to build in certain places and disincentives to not build in certain places. Have steep slopes, erosion control. Biggest tool we had was zoning. But to get a plan you have to have some master plan. Disincentives – owners should be notified if a development’s going in next to you. Slams Ramsey for being against zoning. Carol showed guts. Run on our record.
Question #3 - ENVIRONMENT AND WATER – Will it take running out of water or completely clear-cutting the tops of our ridges to get laws on the book to protect these resources?
Bothwell – Been endorsed by Sierra Club, DFA, and Greens who looked at my green record. Septic tank ban, voluntary metering with tax metering, steep slope enforcement, speculative grading ban, The planning board is going to double the amount of disturbable land allowed by Steep Slope ordinance. Zoning is good. Steep slope law is good. Regarding planning board – replace people whose terms expired two years ago.
Bailey - Came to WNC 45 years ago. Need to continue what’s already been done. Create strategic plan. (Is he running on the incumbents’ records?). No answers, only a strategic plan. I like some of Cecil’s ideas.
Gantt – I’m concerned about these mountains. We need to do more. One thing we’re studying… Will not vote to weaken laws [Steep Slope] in response to Cecil. [Cecil applauds silently.] Water’s a touchy subject – never going to support taxing private wells. We need to look at where the water tables are. We need to sit down and talk about it. Look ahead for children and grandchildren.
Peterson – We’re pleased at what we’ve done. They haven’t been on the books long enough to see how they’re going to play out. Bring people together, get ideas from community. Ridge protection act of 1983 for elevations about 3,000 feet was done for Sugartop debacle near Boone. We have a good inventory of wells. Water source issues fall under DENR, a lot of folks come together on how to do the laws.
Jones – Regional Cooperative Plan. We in Asheville had to look at all the consequences (for affordable housing). You can’t take anything in isolation as a policy maker. Unless we are looking at these collectively, and being honest about the trade-offs… I would want to do that on the County Commission. Part of sustainability is folks to be able to afford to live and work here.
Dover – I keep a rain gauge at home. Anxious to hear report on groundwater. We need better numbers and better information. Ridgetops…those are some of the things that changed my mind from no zoning to zoning.
Question #4 - JOBS – From 1995 to 2007, NC’s manufacturing jobs declined from 883,000 to 534,000 and NC leads the nation in the number of people enrolled in “re-tooling” programs. Knowing that a large percentage of thsoe jobs and those people are in WNC, what measures will you take to bring well-paying jobs to our county?
Dover – It’s a problem. Lots of people have resources, and we can bring them all together to bring money and create jobs. How to convert local jobs into better jobs is one question. Everyone who wants a job has a job.
Jones – The new community can be a leader in bringing green jobs (manufacturing, high-tech). Employment numbers look good, “but the truth of the matter is that what’s not seen are the people who are doing 1, 2, 3 jobs.” Thank Rep. Shuler for getting clean energy business incubator. This is smart. We’ve bottomed out on manufacturing jobs. Keep what we’ve got and bring high tech.
Peterson – So many people who have come together to work on this. Bring all these great folks for job force development together and let’s get one umbrella going. We have an economic development coalition. County incentives. 80% of the job market is retention. You’ve got to be a learner. We have about 20,000 manufacturing jobs in Buncombe County. Kept Volvo here, Borg-Warner – these are examples of results we get with focused economic development.
Gantt – Not a lot of flat land, not enough cheap land. People are knocking down the doors to get here anyway. Stop looking for big investors (500 jobs). Go for smaller things we probably gonna get. You want to see some results. We require them to have health insurance. Lovin’ on Ray Bailey. Green is going to be our low-lying fruit. Good reputation for being good outdoors place. Tinker with economic incentive programs.
Bailey – Manufacturing is not dead. Kids are told not to go into manufacturing. Need trained workforce. Enka has small business incubator with 25 companies that will be viable businesses with good wages. Grow our own.
Bothwell – I take a very different view than anyone else sitting here – the real issue isn’t how much we’re paid, but how well we can live. The problem I see with present day economic development – high paying jobs for a few – everyone’s taxes go up when the few build high-priced homes. 20% of all income goes to energy and most of it leaves the community – energy retrofits makes housing affordable. All for training and education. I don’t think it’s fruitful to bring jobs in – “we’d do better buying lottery tickets. At least if we lost we’d be putting money towards education.”
Questions from audience in italics:
We are going through a bit of confusion about the growth that has occurred in our community, the need for another voting location, and the fact that in the really rural area where we live [...] there is only one public building that would be available for voting. We have an old, beloved school that has a lot of sentimental value… Can we upgrade the center, so we can use it for voting? The County owes us a place where we can vote.
Peterson – We do have early voting that starts Thursday – ten early voting sites – one is Weaverville Town Hall – runs Tuesday through Saturday – Democrats instigated this – 10am to 6pm, no excuse not to vote. We are always looking for voting sites in BC. I will speak to Trina about it, and we’ll see what kind of progress we can make. The state has regulations about this.
Holly, can you help me understand the clean energy business incubator, and can you do it without using your hands?
Jones – I’m assuming there will be opportunities for people with ideas but without recources to get started.
Bailey – First of all you have a business plan. Panel reviews it. Space at low cost, access to fax and equipment, bring in legal expertise and accounting expertise for up to two years.
Staff, and listening to staff… are you sensitive to the problem that you rely on staff and that you need to see around staff at times?
Peterson – “You need to go to the grocery store with me sometime.” There’s always people wanting to talk about issues. We rely on staff to get information and mesh that with our own experiences. You don’t want someone who is a one-agenda person. We are very sensitive.
Jones – Experience with dealing with City Manager who wasn’t working (Shuford) to working with a good Manager (Jackson). The model of management – I’ve seen the shut-down and seen the open. Wanda Greene is a strong good County Manager, but there are ways we can all get more input. I dig budgets. I think there can be more transparency – more specifics so people can know how money’s being used.
Dover – Wanda does a great job. She’s tough. She challenges us every day to do a better job. Seek more information.
Bothwell – I have some serious questions about the over-reliance on staff. Two debacles approved without questions. Bill Stanley had to know where that park property was. If he didn’t the staff should’ve. No one took responsibility. Staff said you can use the park to stage Coleman’s building. Same thing with the Progress Energy plan – Full transparency necessary. You don’t build a diesel plant when oil prices are rising like this. “If we can lease it for $1/year to Progress Energy, we can lease it to farmers for a dollar a year”.
Bailey – I’m a good listener. My experience is in listening to others.
Gantt – A lot of decisions boil down to money, and we’re the stewards of your money. Public hearings. We’ve made mistakes, the park decision was a mistake. Go out and talk to people.
What mistakes were made on Parkside, and how do we prevent it in the future? [I asked this one.]
Gantt – Everybody failed, we should’ve checked it better. We tried to rebuy it. We’re working with Pack Square Conservancy. New ethics law – can’t serve on Board with county funding. We just need to have better talking to them. I want everything to come up for a vote. More public information. More public hearings. It’s a big business. You’ve got to delegate, then we have the power to hire or fire her. The staging of Coleman’s building is contingent on City approval. I woudn’t have done that if I was County Manager. I have to delegate. Don’t do anything unless the City agrees with it.
How will you vote on it, Holly?
Jones – I have to be in this quasi-judicial stance, and I can’t comment on it. “David, you know I love you”, but it’s contingent on City approval. Why couldn’t City and County be talking about this? I just learned that County staging is o.k. if City says so. We’ve got to get away from the divide between the municipalities and the County. The City didn’t make this problem, now it’s going to take a lot of our time. I’m going to act ethically.
Bothwell – I’m working with others to find out how the exchange occurred. I hope to find out before the election, but if elected I’ll investigate. I have serious questions about how that occurred. It looks a lot too close to me. I want to know if it’s legal.
What do y’all think about consolidating the schools and law enforcement?
Peterson – I was a teacher. Both City and County schools are tremendous. Hats off to the school system. Asheville City has supplemental school tax for those who live in City School district. I now live in Reynolds district. If schools were consolidated, county residents would have to pay more taxes.
Jones – I’m not for consolidation. It doesn’t help students perform better, and cost efficiency savings are very minor. Folks need more access to the system, and consolidation may create less.
Dover – As far as school systems go, consolidation is good to help bad systems. Folks don’t want to do it. Different roles for law enforcement organizations. We’d need to have more information.
Bothwell – I would agree with Peterson and Jones. We’d need evidence of savings or of performance. Sheriff’s Dept. – Sheriff is too unaccountable to Commission. We need to get away from elected Sheriffs – Duncan spent $120,000 to get elected and that’s the kind of thing that causes problems. I’d like to lobby Raleigh to get appointed Sheriff. There is a lot of overlap that I’d like to look at. Consolidation for law enforcement would probably be good.
Bailey – I’m on Duncan’s advisory board, he’s very ethical. he goes out of his way to see that everything’s being done the right way. Re: School systems, I worked with both. Initially I thought we should consolidate, but then I saw that it doesn’t save much money.
Gantt – Education: General Assembly could mandate it, or City Schools could change their charter – those things aren’t going to happen. doesn’t save money or improve performance here. On Law Enforcement – Our commission elects a Chair, which is unusual.
What are the pros and cons of looking at the various water systems?
Jones – I think MSD’s done a great job of running the system. Asheville is investing 40 million in infrastructure. MSD takes power away from the people re: infrastructure.
Gantt – Independent Water Authority is the best way to go. I’m on MSD. I’ll give Holly and City Council a lot of credit. Fairness, Accountability are important. Elected officials serve on it. MSD fixed the infrastructure of sewer.
Bothwell – Consolidation of water systems would get us around the Sullivan Acts. New developments are largely part-time residents, then people turn off their water half the year and don’t have to pay a bill. They’re not putting into the system. Over half the County residents get water from the City.
Clarify Sullivan Acts?
Bothwell – There are only two cities in the state that can’t charge more to county folks for water. Cheap water is good for developers.
Peterson – I agree with David in support of the MSD. When the water system was first formed there were 11 systems in the County, 1 in the City. Our folks who paid for the eleven systems, then everyone had a part of the water system. It should be a system that encompasses every group that came in.
Bailey - in favor of independent authority
Jones – The community wants the City and the County to resolve this. I’m willing to go to the table to resolve it. We should remember that we’re talking about Weaverville water, premiums would go away in consolidation. I’d like to have the discussions. Let’s be all-inclusive.
You talked about a surplus of 5%, you want to spend it on Greenways, you want to spend it on education. Holly said we ought to get a tax cut. Regards to education, we have a lottery, why aren’t we getting more money from that?
Peterson – We need to work with the folks from Raleigh. Bruce Goforth is working on the lottery issue. We know the money’s not coming up the mountain. We need to remember to talk to people. Combined effort is necessary.
Bailey – When you talk about a 5% surplus, you use a lot of assumptions. If it’s 5% strung out over a long period of time then you can look at tax cuts.
Transparency in government. Cecil you talk about it a lot. Ms. Peterson, you talk about the County Channel getting 500k. That amount of money is excessive considering the programs on there. Do you feel it’s time to air public comment in County meetings? Do you support District elections?
Gantt – I was in on this formation of URTV. The more outlets the better. I don’t agree with some of the stuff on there, but I believe in the marketplace of ideas. There’s an open invitation to be on the channel to any government body. District elections? We’re not competing against each other for jobs, but I don’t favor district because I favor getting the best people no matter where they live in the County. Public Comment? People abuse public comment. We’ve got public comment before and after the meetings. If your purpose is to influence the Commissioners, we’ve got it. Should we televise it? The people who were grandstanding stopped coming.
All photos courtesy of Ken Bagwell.
The Moderator, whose name I’ve impolitely forgotten, David Gantt, K. Ray Bailey, Cecil Bothwell, Vernon Dover, Holly Jones, and Carol Peterson.