Race to November
Editor’s note: There are two seats open in the town of Stallings this year, as current council members Renee Hartis and Thelma Privette declined to run again. In District 2, Larry Falcone will run against Shawna Steele. In District 4, Fred Weber will face Ira Bostic.
Define your vision for the town
Fred Weber: My vision of Stallings is a town that continues to have a small town appearance with small town government. With the proposed bypass and the widening of U.S. 74, I foresee a big change coming to Stallings. We must stay connected as a community and not allow a road to separate us. We must also not allow special interest issues to separate either the town or its government. No doubt it will be a challenge. But with the input of our residents and a responsible and committed town council this can be achieved. I see a town government that uses all resources available, and will advance the idea that partnering with our neighboring towns can be a profitable option. Share the cost and share the benefits. Above all we must be mindful of the economic impact on the taxpayers, you and I. In order for the Town of Stallings to work towards an interconnected community, you need a Council Member who is 100 percent committed to the welfare of its citizens and will continue to encourage growth and development. For this exact reason my vision is “we are in this together.”
Ira Bostic: Vision is the optimum word that will define where we as a town will be in 2021. I look back to 2001 and how much Stallings has grown in population, from 3,189 residents in 2000 to 13, 831 residents in 2010. With so much rapid growth we need a proactive plan in place to preserve the character of the town and provide a quality of life our residents expect and deserve. In order to realize this we must have a sustainable government, meaning we live within our means. Stallings has much to offer both existing and prospective businesses provided that we find ways to reduce or streamline our permitting and regulatory processes, and the ways we perform the basic city functions. By demonstrating that we embrace a business friendly environment, with fair and even handed administration, we will retain existing businesses and attract new ones. As we continue to grow we must do so in a responsible manner, ensuring that we retain our attractive neighborhoods while observing basic property rights. I will work to maintain what is successful and endeavor to improve what is not.
Larry Falcone: Stallings is a quiet small town that is searching for its identity. The mayor and current town council members appear to have a plethora of different ideas in which direction the town should proceed in order to come up with that identity. My research leads me to believe that Stallings does have a plan, which was adopted in 2005/2006, for the future and that plan needs to be reviewed by the finance committee. Once reviewed by the committee they should then present their recommendations to the council. If elected I will strive to move forward with a review of said plan.
Shawna Steele: Revitalize the U.S. 74 corridor once the Monroe Bypass is built, expand our infrastructure to encourage smart economic development, connect the town with more sidewalks. Maintain the level of service of our Stallings Police Department. Preserve the current tax rate. Enhance listening to the citizen’s survey, promote our town as a great place to live and raise a family, shop, and work
Do you think Stallings needs more businesses/commercial properties? If so, how would you go about bringing them in?
Fred Weber: I do think Stallings needs more businesses in order to create a more profitable ratio of residential to commercial. We can do that by supporting the infrastructure that new businesses need and want. We need to partner with the county to accomplish this. We have to put something into the game if we expect to profit from it. Stallings has to have the proper infrastructures in place to attract new businesses into our town. The town council and town committees must work actively with Union County, Monroe and Indian Trail in planning the development and revitalization that will be created by the U.S. 74 widening. If we want to draw new businesses, we have to be ahead of the curve. We have to make it easier for businesses that want to stay or new businesses that want to relocate to our Town. We can accomplish this with research, planning and cooperation with our neighbors. We can pay for these improvements by putting off or delaying some of our wants and investing in our needs along with partnering with other communities.
Ira Bostic: Yes, Stallings needs more businesses. I am definitely pro-business. Stallings real estate tax base is 79 percent residential and 21 percent commercial. 53 percent of our annual revenue comes from property taxes. Balancing the commercial-residential ratios would be beneficial in a variety of ways. Stallings has dealt with industry recruitment reactively rather than proactively in the past. Our efforts in the next decade must out of necessity be defined precisely. First we have to establish our image, exploit our strengths, and decide where we want to go before attempting to attract new industry; Defining assets and opportunities broadly can yield innovative strategies that capitalize on our town’s competitive advantage. In almost any setting, urban or rural, small or large, low tax rates, access to skilled labor, major highways, railroads or professional services might all be considered economic development assets. We can’t afford to stop there, however. Given limited sources of competitive advantages, we must redefine all our strengths and create a dedicated economic development function. If elected I will draw upon my 45 years experience in business and industry to promote economic development in our town in a professional manner.
Larry Falcone: To be a viable, cohesive town we need to attract the type of businesses that will employ not only adult and senior residents but also our eligible teenage residents. By providing our youth which such opportunities we will help make them feel more like a part of our community and lead them to become better citizens. Stallings needs some marketing advice on the type of businesses we need to attract and to come up with a plan to recruit the type of companies that the market study identifies.
Shawna Steele: Absolutely, since the non-residential taxpayer requires less services compared to a residential taxpayer, it is the best interest of the taxpayer to encourage commercial development. The residential taxpayer will receive more for their money.
One criticism from residents has been the property tax rate, currently at 21.5 cents per $100 of valued property. Next door, Indian Trail has triple the residents and a 14 cent rate. Is there any way you could/would lower the rate?
Fred Weber: Comparing Stalling to Indian Trail is like comparing apples to oranges. There are many differences: size, population, residential to commercial land use ratios and services are just a few of the differences. The recent survey returned by Stallings residents indicates that they are satisfied with the service they receive from the town. Rather then making comparisons I believe we should be looking for ways to lower our taxes by reducing wasteful spending. The council and the town departments have made progress in this area with new initiatives. I will continue to support those efforts. We must also demand a higher quality of work performed by housing developers and builders, particularly road construction. Developers are not businesses that come to stay and support our town, they come here to make money and then move on. Development roads that were improperly built in the past are starting to decay and repairs are becoming an expense that Stallings now has to pay. Road building requirements and especially frequent and timely inspections by our qualified engineers will eventually save taxpayers money. I will ask for a better type of quality control over those that are skimping on projects for profit. We must not allow inferior construction practices to continue.
Ira Bostic: In order to answer that question correctly one has to understand several things about tax rate versus tax base. Many people don’t know the difference and make wrong assumptions. Indian Trail has three times the number of residents and a greater number of homes which creates a larger residential tax base. They also have a larger commercial tax base. One cent on Stallings tax base yields about $120,000 in revenue, while one cent on Indian Trail’s tax rate yields approx. $295,294 in revenue because of the larger tax base. Thus Stallings must have a higher tax rate to generate the same amount of revenue. The way to reduce the tax rate is to increase the base through more commercial development, or hotel taxes, etc. which are paid by visitors to the town rather than our citizens. The other way is to reduce expenses. Stallings already operates with a lean budget for general government. Our police department requires 31 to 35 percent of the total public safety annual budget; while Indian Trail’s public safety costs are considerably less both dollar-wise and percentage-wise. Stallings residents value our police department and feel that our public safety expense is justified. I do not see any viable short term solution to cut the tax rate at this time.
Larry Falcone: If Stallings had the same population as Indian Trail we could most certainly lower our tax rate. However, the latest surveys show that the majority of residents enjoy the services that are provided, such as our own police department. Within 18 months there will be a new real estate assessment and the tax issue will be vigorously debated. Assessments will decrease dramatically (some say as much as 30 percent) and the tax rate will have to be adjusted in order to continue the excellent service we now receive. I would favor lowering the rate but not at the expense of cutting services.
Shawna Steele: I think comparing us to a town that is almost triple the size of Stallings is not a fair comparison. One should compare towns of the same size and what services are offered for a more accurate read if the Stallings tax rate is too high or too low. After this, the council could possibly adjust the tax rate accordingly.
We’ve seen the proposed Sportsplex idea change shape multiple times over the last year. Is this idea something you support? If so, why?
Fred Weber: Given the current economic conditions my view is we should not exceed our ability to pay for something many consider recreational. The idea that hotel and restaurant developers will be lining up at town hall to locate in Stallings because of a sport complex is not likely. Any type of multi-use sporting facility must be built with private money and have solid commitments from those that want to have future use of it. “If we build it, they will come” is too big of a risk in this economy. I am in favor of parks, walkways, recreational and sports areas for our residents, but I am not in favor of spending all the town’s savings on projects that have not been fully investigated and researched. Our youth deserve every opportunity to participate in the sport of their choice. I will support improvements in the park areas we now have. I strongly oppose reducing the town’s savings account to build a large sports complex. A move that will result in a tax increase, a reduction in services and staff layoffs to pay the everyday expenses that are required to run the town.
Ira Bostic: I support the idea of a sports complex/recreational facility. What form it may evolve into, or the time span it requires remains to be seen. An ad hoc committee was appointed recently to research the subject very exhaustively. I am one of the committee members chosen. The committee is utilizing strategic planning methods to determine strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to such a venture. A marketing and demographics analysis is being conducted. Visits and talks with various communities that have sport complexes, such as Monroe, Matthews, Rock Hill, and Pineville have been conducted. The YMCA has demonstrated an interest in Stallings, along with other private entities who may want to be part of a joint venture. Projected costs of various facilities, including land requirements and land costs will be reviewed, and all aspects of doing a project of the magnitude we envision will be carefully analyzed before making a report to town council prior to year-end. I believe having a modern, professionally executed recreational facility would be an asset to Stallings, both for our residents, and as an economic generator.
Larry Falcone: I would support a Sportsplex but only if it were a private enterprise such as Carolina Courts in Indian Trail. If we are smart and use some of the infrastructure already in place such as the I-485 corridor or possibly the Bypass corridor (if approved) I think we could attract a revenue producing enterprise without tying up any of Stallings funds. I have a plan in mind and whether I am elected or not I will present it to town council in the near future.
Shawna Steele: The Sportsplex concept is a great idea on paper. However, there are too many unknowns to determine if it is a feasible project for the town. Once there is a business plan and more facts are known, then there will need to be a determination if the project is an investment and risk that the town (aka taxpayer) is willing to take.
The citizen survey highlighted road/transportation improvements as the main thing residents want to see. How can the council help bring this along?
Fred Weber: Sidewalk repairs are also high on the list of priorities. They must be repaired. Many of the deteriorated roads and traffic problems are on roads that are state controlled. We must work with state authorities to eliminate problem areas. I firmly support the building of sidewalks and bike paths that will not only connect our neighborhoods but will make the roads a safer place for both pedestrians, bikers and automobiles. The town survey should play a pivotal role in determining how the town moves forward economically. Ignoring the voices of our citizens is not only detrimental to the community, but could have negative effects on everyone’s wallets. It is time to improve and repair what we have. Making repairs now could save money over the long term. We must also accomplish this without changing the character and stability of our town. I will propose and vote for a council approved economic development plan that will provide us with spending guides for improvements to neglected infrastructures over the next five years.
Ira Bostic: I firmly believe that we must keep our streets, roads and sidewalks in the best possible condition, and utilize the available funds judiciously for repairs and improvements. I have gained valuable insight into the town’s streets and roads maintenance programs through my service on the Transportation Advisory Committee for the past four years. Roads and sidewalks are inspected and prioritized according to condition, and careful consideration is given to maintenance decisions. I indicated in my platform the priorities I considered vital for ongoing roads and transportation maintenance and upkeep. They are:
Establish a capital reserve fund for road maintenance and improvement.
Make streetscape enhancements to Stallings road and major intersections. Continue sidewalk building to connect communities
Larry Falcone: The Future of Stallings Plan adopted in 2005/2006 that I mentioned in the first section outlines what should be done with most all of our roads in different corridors. As mentioned, that plan needs to be thoroughly reviewed by the finance committee. Town council and the mayor then need to act on the finance recommendations keeping in mind that any decision has to be done with fiscal responsibility. We have positive reserves but any road project can make that reserve evaporate. We will need state and federal assistance in upgrading our roads and we must lobby both to insure that Stallings receives our fair share of revenue. It seems as though a good number of small towns like ours get left out of the revenue sharing process. With major highways like U.S. 74 and the proposed bypass and of course I-485 nearby, we need to convince them that it all starts with Stallings, the gateway to Union County. Our Town can become a showcase not only for our citizens but for Union County as well if road improvements start on the Mecklenburg side of the border instead of further east.
Shawna Steele: I think the new council should be innovative and creative when it comes to the road/transportation improvements, especially in this economy. The Council should explore the new ideas of working with other municipalities and/or developers to share some of the expensive cost of roads.