Voters get first real look at Waxhaw candidates

WAXHAW – Voters in Waxhaw had a chance to meet the five candidates for the board of commissioners this week at a forum that focused on leaders’ ethics, upcoming projects and how commissioners would work to improve economic development for Waxhaw businesses.

The Waxhaw Business Association hosted the forum on Monday, Sept. 30, in front of a crowd of roughly 50 voters. Candidates were provided a list of questions prior to the forum and were able to prepare notes to speak from, while residents had a chance afterward to grill candidates in search of some non-scripted responses on things like the town’s 34-cent tax rate and what candidates would be willing to raises taxes for or dig into Waxhaw’s reserves to fund. Incumbent Erin Kirkpatrick, the town’s mayor pro tem, said afterward she appreciated the opportunity the forum gave her to clear up some misconceptions about town projects, while candidate John Hunt held court at one table, where residents tried to pin him down on spending questions and what he thinks needs to be done about the planned Waxhaw town hall and police department projects.

The two projects were one of the few areas candidates showed some separation on during the forum, with Kirkpatrick standing up for the commission’s decision to keep the projects separate instead of combining the two, such as candidate Bill Hardman suggested, and on the town hall’s proposed site – something candidate Jim Warner called ill-conceived and inappropriate.

“I’m proud of the decision,” Kirkpatrick said of the town hall vote, saying she couldn’t imagine a shared town hall/police station where residents would gather for commission meetings near where police brought in suspected criminals. “I think this is quite possibly our best decision…”

But Hunt’s worried the town hall is being built too small and will soon become overcrowded and in need of an expansion.

The size of the police force also caused some discussion Tuesday night, with Warner saying he felt not only might there be too many officers at too high a cost, but the over abundance of on-duty officers could be scaring visitors away from downtown.

Candidate Paul Fitzgerald disagreed, saying the 22 full-time officers allow him to leave his home at night. “I feel safe and secure,” he said. Kirkpatrick added that the police force’s size is needed, in part, to deal with the problem of “lots of drugs in our beautiful little town.” Many in the crowd mumbled the town may not have enough police officers.

Candidates also were split on the town’s recently wealth of area plans, with Kirkpatrick saying she was in favor of Waxhaw’s multiple plans for the development and goals of different parts of town while others, such as

Warner, said the multitude of plans take the focus away from a shorter, more-important list of priorities.

“I’m aware of many of (the plans),” Warner said, “but confused by many of them.”

There was plenty candidates agreed on at the forum. Candidates agreed more options for youth in Waxhaw would benefit the town, with the need for more park space, tennis courts and family life options listed. Hardman mentioned the potential for an aquatic feature similar to what Huntersville has.

Increasing foot traffic in the downtown area also is a must, with Fitzgerald saying having more businesses that deal with everyday needs is important to bringing people in, having them park their cars and walking from business to business.

Hunt feels foot traffic would be greatly improved by more sidewalks – especially ones that connect to area neighborhoods that currently don’t have a safe walk to downtown. Hardman mentioned remote transportation services as an option, especially for seniors, saying “activity creates economic development” and more foot traffic would be more appealing for potential new businesses looking at downtown Waxhaw.

Candidates have another month to separate themselves, as Election Day is Nov. 5. Only three of the five candidates will be elected.

Union County Weekly news editor Ciera Choate moderated Tuesday’s forum.

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