County commission candidates discuss UCPS, Monroe Bypass, taxes

With early voting underway and the upcoming May 6 Republican primary, Union County voters will soon decide the three names that will appear on the November ballot to fill the three seats up for grabs on the county’s board of commissioners.

No Democratic Party candidates will be on this year’s ballot after Indian Trail Councilman Chris King withdrew his name from the running to focus on Indian Trail issues, meaning only a write-in candidate will be able to challenge the three Republican primary winners come Election Day.

Below are the responses from all eight Republican candidates who are running for a seat on the board of commissioners. Indian Trail Mayor Michael Alvarez will still appear on the ballot although he has withdrawn, also to focus on Indian Trail. See more responses in next week’s issue.

 

Sherry Hodges

704-293-1928

shodges2010@gmail.com

 

The county may have a number of bills to pay in the next few years when it comes to Union County Public Schools. What would you, as a county commissioner, recommend doing to pay for these and how soon do you feel they need to be addressed?

My recommendation for funding any needs of our school system, beyond what the county currently has the finances to support, is to put a bond referendum on the ballot and let the citizens of Union County decide how tax money should be spent to fund whatever capital projects are needed now and in the future. It is imperative that the board of education and the board of county commissioners collaborate to formulate a long-term plan for the system’s needs. As soon as a plan is developed, we can determine our approach to putting it to a vote.

 

What are your thoughts on the Monroe Bypass?

I support the Monroe Bypass. Not only will it improve transportation around the county, the potential commercial and industrial business it will attract will be invaluable to the revenue of the county.

 

Under what circumstances would you support a tax increase?

As a last resort, based on the revenue needs of the county.

 

Tracy Kuehler

704-654-1943

cjdozer@yahoo.com

 

The county may have a number of bills to pay in the next few years when it comes to Union County Public Schools. What would you, as a county commissioner, recommend doing to pay for these and how soon do you feel they need to be addressed?

According to the 2010 Comprehensive Facilities Study, in years one to five, maintenance, additions and renovation needs were $110,260,485. In years six to 10, an additional $163,774,691. No new facilities were identified. Since that study, the county has funded approximately $30 million in years 2011 to 2014. That leaves a balance of about  $80 million. The schools have requested $26 million this year, which leaves a balance of $64 million (inclusive of the $91 million judgment). This also assumes an average budget need of almost $33 million in years six to 10. No government with revenues of about $300 million can fund this without significant tax increases. However, the county had a surplus of more than $5 million at the end of the last several fiscal budgets and has increased reserves from 16 percent (state law mandates 8 percent) to 20 percent. Just this past October, the county “found” a $20 million surplus. So, there are funds available for the most pressing needs.

This is why it is so important to create a dialogue, trust and an education of each entity’s needs and challenges; to become partners in solving this issue instead of the animosity, and sometimes hostility, currently present. We have a community of creative, intelligent stakeholders who are desperate for a seat at the table and are willing to develop a feasible strategy. In the event even more monies are needed, it is the function of the board of education to bring forth a demonstrated request for a bond, which should be decided by the citizens of this county and not by a few elected officials.

 

What are your thoughts on the Monroe Bypass?

While I see the benefit that a bypass may bring in opening up other areas for economic development, it was not proposed as a toll road, and I am opposed to charging people to use it. There are municipalities that are against the bypass. The county must be cognizant of all the towns, and it is troubling that construction of the bypass jeopardizes the “Strategic Highway Corridor” designation for U.S. 74, which affects its eligibility for funding improvements in the future. This is why I formed the Transportation Advisory Board, which was disbanded by the current board of commissioners and should be reinstated.

 

Under what circumstances would you support a tax increase?

Ideally, I would never be in favor of a tax increase and most politicians would love to promise just that. I believe two things that government is responsible for are the safety of its citizens and the proper education of our youth. Therefore, after a conservative and fiscally responsible budget analysis, if the sheriff or fire departments were unable to protect the citizens, or the education and/or safety of our students were at risk, an honest assessment of those needs would have to include a discussion of how to fund them properly.

 

Clint Laster

704-246-7323

clintlasterforunioncc@gmail.com

 

The county may have a number of bills to pay in the next few years when it comes to Union County Public Schools. What would you, as a county commissioner, recommend doing to pay for these and how soon do you feel they need to be addressed? 

These along with other capital and operating expenses and debt service should be funded in accordance with their respective terms, requirements, obligations, agreements, etc. The county has limited revenue from which these obligations are to be paid. Consequently, this requires the board to make tough decisions to ensure our bond rating remains strong and the county remains solvent. My 16 years of experience managing billion dollar corporate developments, multi-million dollar capital and expense budgets along with capital planning assures the residents of Union County that our tax dollars will be accounted for in a transparent and fiscally responsible manner.

 

What are your thoughts on the Monroe Bypass?

I met with Joseph Lesch, the county’s transportation planner, to discuss this infrastructure opportunity.  If designed and planned correctly, providing access around our county will support, encourage and foster smart economic development.  This opportunity allows for the ability to manage our growth in a responsible and deliberate
fashion.

 

Under what circumstances would you support a tax increase?

I will not support a tax increase without the assurance that the entities funded by the taxpayers are using common sense, fiscal responsibility and transparency when spending their money, and that the money is being spent on needs – not wants.

 

Kim Ormiston

704-996-3070

kimobocc@gmail.com

 

The county may have a number of bills to pay in the next few years when it comes to Union County Public Schools. What would you, as a county commissioner, recommend doing to pay for these and how soon do you feel they need to be addressed?

School maintenance repairs and (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance must be a top priority in order to foster positive learning environments in all Union County Public Schools. The commissioners and board of education must work cooperatively to ensure unacceptable conditions (i.e. leaky roofs/mold/ADA bathrooms) are resolved expeditiously. Although under the purview of the board of education to decide priorities, request funding and initiate contracts to address these needs. These issues cannot continue to be ignored. The outcome of the lawsuit will be decided upon by a judge and we will have to abide by the ruling, which may dictate how and when we pay for school needs. If a payment plan can be agreed upon over a set number of years, this will allow for the county to better manage expenses and set expectations for school personnel, students and families. Otherwise, if required to pay a large sum to UCPS all at once, I would be in favor of a referendum on the ballot for residents to decide the best option for moving forward to address the needed revenue. If a referendum does not pass, then the county would potentially have to cut other county services to cover school needs. Had proper prudence been given to the initial request from UCPS and had there been a greater understanding of the true needs of the school system, we would not be in this situation today. This is why a standing Budget Advisory Committee is needed to ensure that we do not put taxpayers in this predicament again.

 

What are your thoughts on the Monroe bypass?

If property owners and municipalities directly impacted by the bypass are on board, then I would support it. We’ve already seen that some municipalities are against it, and it has evolved into a toll road, which was not the original plan. This would not serve the local residents well. Also, intersections along U.S. 74 need improvement and funds may be diverted from this for the bypass.  Although a potential economic driver for our county, we cannot allow the bypass to bankrupt us, and as commissioners we need to be cognizant of the desires and needs of both citizens and businesses.

 

Under what circumstances would you support a tax increase?

Union County residents, me included, do not want to see their taxes go up. The focus of commissioners should not be on finding ways to collect more taxes, but rather should be on ways to best utilize funds we have and cut waste. Our plan to implement new streamlined processes will achieve this. Our focus also should  be on ensuring that we are able to adequately provide county services at satisfactory levels, and ensure we are meeting the needs of citizens at all ends of our county, and not at the expense of any one area of our diverse
county.

 

Stony Rushing

980-722-3787

stonyrushing@aol.com

 

The county may have a number of bills to pay in the next few years when it comes to Union County Public Schools. What would you, as a county commissioner, recommend doing to pay for these and how soon do you feel they need to be addressed? 

If the school lawsuit verdict is not overturned in the appeals process there will be a large tax increase. The massive verdict was more than what the school board was seeking and it considered money that is not available to spend for schools. There are assets that could be sold including vacant lands that were purchased in western Union County for schools that may not be built. That money would have been better used to repair older schools in the county.

It seems as though many organizations want to back the county commissioners into a corner to force tax increases and wasteful spending. These organizations must be reminded that our citizens cannot keep up with federal, state and local governments that believe in taxing citizens into prosperity. Keeping government out of private business will encourage new commercial growth with small businesses that are the true economic engine of our county. They can provide additional revenues to the county by expanding and hiring our citizens.

In recent history some in our county have been focused on attacking our builders, farmers and private businesses. A business owner who makes a payroll in Union County is a hero. We should create an atmosphere that welcomes innovation in business and a fair playing field for everyone. It is not the job of elected officials to spend half their time creating hurdles and the other half getting their friends over those hurdles.

 

What are your thoughts on the Monroe Bypass?

If the Monroe Bypass is built, it will not be because the Union County Board of Commissioners voted in favor of it being built. If that were the case it would have been built many years ago.

We need to reassess our options as a county including all the affected municipalities. It is shameful that people have sold their property, and others have lived in limbo while this bypass has been held up by politics.

 

Under what circumstances would you support a tax increase?

I do not support tax increases. If economic growth does not supply additional revenue then additional services and spending must be put on hold. Taxpayers can’t force their employers to pay them more money and government should not look for new ways to confiscate money. Fees should cover services without generating huge profits that can be used to create more liabilities for county government.

 

Jerry Simpson

704-302-2940

electsimpson2014@gmail.com

 

The county may have a number of bills to pay in the next few years when it comes to Union County Public Schools. What would you, as a county commissioner, recommend doing to pay for these and how soon do you feel they need to be addressed? 

First, we need to get an honest summation of the need for additional facilities. There is quite a bit of disagreement with respect to school population, student growth and where the need for new facilities exists. Before we float a bond and put our citizens deeper in debt we need to be sure the construction is warranted. I’m concerned we haven’t factored in the impact of private-religious-charter schools on the public school population nor have we fully considered the many out-of-the box ideas offered as an alternative to redistricting. With regard to maintenance of existing facilities, no one wants the health and safety of any student to be compromised. An obvious issue is leaking roofs; as a commissioner I just voted (for) $9.5 million in additional funding to fix that problem – no excuses – get it done! It ultimately comes down to a choice between wants and needs. There are limits to how much revenue can be generated from property owners – we have to prioritize. Lets deal with critical needs first and address the “wants” based on our ability to pay.

 

What are your thoughts on the Monroe Bypass?

Major companies, those with the capacity to “normalize” our tax base usually have three priorities – sewer, water and access to an interstate highway. The Monroe Bypass is essential to that formula and to our effort to become more fiscally sustainable thereby reducing the tax burden on individual property owners.

 

Under what circumstances would you support a tax increase?

A “loaded” question! As a commission candidate in 2010 I promised no new taxes and have kept my word; actually reducing ad valorem taxes. We are the second highest per capita indebted county in the state. My goal has been to reduce the debt, which frees up tax revenue to pay for services – including schools! As a result of the board of education taking us/you/the county to court, we are at a crossroads.  The board of county commissioners may be forced to raise taxes by court order; the basis of my support of an appeal by the way! There has to be a paradigm shift with regard to who pays for what services. If a municipality wants a library or a park maybe they should finance it. As a commissioner and a candidate I will promise this – your property rights, i.e. your money, is sacred to me. I will do everything in my power to limit the growth of government and its restraints on your liberty and pursuit of happiness while protecting the health and safety of all our
citizens.

 

Lance Simpson

704-699-6402

lancesforbocc@aol.com

 

The county may have a number of bills to pay in the next few years when it comes to Union County Public Schools. What would you, as a county commissioner, recommend doing to pay for these and how soon do you feel they need to be addressed? 

According to a recent study, Union County Public Schools is the main economic driver in Union County. As such, it should be funded in a way that best serves the children and taxpayers of Union County. Past policies, including the failed funding formula, did not sufficiently address the needs of the schools. We must use taxpayer money wisely while ensuring that no child in Union County is placed in a school with structural issues, which negatively impacts the child’s ability to learn. These needs as well as (Americans with Disabilities Act) issues should be addressed now. As a county commissioner, I will work to resolve the current lawsuit and repair the relationship with the board of education.

In the past, the citizens of Union County have overwhelmingly supported school bonds to build new schools. I would support a school bond referendum if
requested.

 

What are your thoughts on the Monroe Bypass?

The current plans for the bypass are not ideal, and the concerns of the municipalities that will be affected need to be addressed. However, we need to work with the North Carolina Department of Transportation to identify additional opportunities to improve traffic flow in the county for residents and businesses.

 

Under what circumstances would you support a tax increase?

Tax increases are never a good thing. Before I would support a tax increase, I would request a line-by-line review of the county budget to ensure there are no the options. In addition, the expense(s), which are being used to justify an increase, must also be reviewed to ensure it is a true need and not just a “want.” Taxpayers deserve their tax money to be spent wisely on services that directly benefit them.

 

Richard Stone

704-385-9581

storhrd2@windstream.net

 

The county may have a number of bills to pay in the next few years when it comes to Union County Public Schools. What would you, as a county commissioner, recommend doing to pay for these and how soon do you feel they need to be addressed? 

Union County does have serious bills to pay! Our schools are the first two on the list. Our county must start today! I have been a continuous resident and working in Union County for more than 44 years. Our schools need help, now! We are scheduled for a revaluation of property taxes. Now is the time, do not delay! Following that revaluation report, your commissioners will be able to set the new tax rate.

 

What are your thoughts on the Monroe Bypass?

It is almost criminal that our bypass was not completed long ago! I will pursue that effort through our involvement in the Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization.

 

Under what circumstances would you support a tax increase?

I hope that revaluation will produce a larger tax base and cause no increase in our taxes.

 

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