Commission candidates discuss their goals

Union County voters will likely select three new members to the Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday, May 6, during the Republican Party primary vote.

The three candidates who come out victorious after Tuesday’s primary will be the only names to appear on the November ballot for the three open county commissioner seats as of now. There are no candidates filed from any other party. The only challenger to the three following the primary would be a write-in candidate. Indian Trail Mayor Michael Alvarez will appear on Tuesday’s Republican primary ballot because he withdrew from the race after ballots had already been printed.

Below are responses from the eight candidates running for the Union County Board of Commissioners to a number of timely, local issues. See responses to questions from last week’s Union County Weekly at www.unioncountyweekly.com.

 

Sherry Hodges

704-293-1928

shodges2010@gmail.com

 

What is your biggest infrastructure concern in Union County and how would you address it?

At this time, my biggest infrastructure concern is the water and sewer capacity throughout the county. With the inception and completion of the (Monroe) bypass, services will need to increase to supply the northern and eastern ends of the county. Also, with the growth on the western end, we must be aware of our capabilities in that area, as well. Fortunately, I believe we have neighboring counties such as Anson and Chesterfield (among others) that we can partner with to provide expanded services.

 

What role do you feel the county commission should play in the upcoming property tax revaluation?

Property tax revaluation is required by law. It is my understanding we have no choice but to address this matter.

 

If elected, what will be the three main goals you set for your first year on the board?

My top priority in the first year of office is to listen to the needs and ideas of the citizens and leaders in our communities. Each area and township in our great county has unique strengths and needs. I have a proven record of representing my constituents’ voice countywide. I believe it is incumbent upon elected officials to continuously engage in dialogue with the people who elected them to serve. No one goes into office knowing it all! I believe in spending the time to perform my due diligence on the issues facing taxpayers. We learn a lot when we listen. Secondly, we need to develop and maintain clear, direct communication with the board of education. The school system being the largest part of the county’s budget, our leaders on these boards must collaborate and negotiate to meet the needs of all stakeholders.

 

Are you satisfied with the structure of the board in terms of the amount of members and how districts are divided?

Yes, we do not need to expand the role of government. We need five independent thinking people who will bring their abilities to the table and work together for the common good of the county.

 

Tracy Kuehler

704-654-1943

cjdozer@yahoo.com

 

What is your biggest infrastructure concern in Union County and how would you address it?

Defining infrastructure as water/sewer, roads, county facilities; the only thing we control are the facilities. According to current assessments, the only pressing need is Union Village, which is underway. For water and sewer, we must collaborate with other entities and have partnerships with Lancaster, S.C., Charlotte and Norwood, and have the enterprise fund to deal with transmission of those services. The county has no control over the roads, and ironically, this is one of our county’s biggest needs. We must do a better job of lobbying the state and our representatives to get Union County our fair share of funds.

 

What role do you feel the county commission should play in the upcoming property tax revaluation?

The board should play no role in the revaluation other than to vote to conduct one. I voted for a 2012 revaluation, commensurate with the four-year schedule the county was doing, especially since the last revaluation was 2008, the pinnacle of the housing market. That revaluation was cancelled by the current majority. As a result, our citizens have been taxed on inflated values for several years. Now, because there is such a disparity between our current assessed values and the true market values, that decision was taken away from us and mandated by the state to take place by 2015.

 

If elected, what will be the three main goals you set for your first year on the board?

First, I plan to repair the county’s reputation by mending relationships through better communication, mutual respect for other governmental entities and a branding initiative. Second, I will create a committee of commissioners, board of education members and community stakeholders to address our educational funding needs and sustainable growth strategies on an ongoing basis; not just at budget time. Lastly, I will bring an initiative to streamline regulation and red-tape processes for businesses wanting to locate and/or expand in the county to allow for “one-stop” processing of permitting and licensing, as well as bringing the municipalities into the conversation to discuss vision and growth.

 

Are you satisfied with the structure of the board in terms of the amount of members and how districts are divided?

Due to the possibility of state representatives taking this decision away from us, back in 2009, I put together a committee of municipality and county delegates to research and discuss the number of commissioners and at-large versus district representation. After several months of comprehensive and extensive work, the committee’s recommendation was that five (possibly seven) commissioners was adequate, and that all seats should be elected at-large. I believe this committee did its due diligence and the recommendation should be honored, as the opinion of one elected official should never be substituted for the work of a representative committee.

 

Clint Laster

704-246-7323

clintlasterforunioncc@gmail.com

 

What is your biggest infrastructure concern in Union County and how would you address it?

I am most concerned with expanding the commercial tax base in our county.  We have a diverse tax base across our county, which is a tremendous asset.  My family is from a long line of cattle ranchers and farmers, so I understand and value the agricultural foundation from which we can create economic opportunities that protect this important sector. I support the purpose and objectives of the Monroe-Union County Economic Development Committee, and as a business owner I understand the needs of a growing company when looking to either expand or relocate. My experience in identifying the highest and best use of land will ensure the commercial growth we enjoy is in the county’s best interest.

 

What role do you feel the county commission should play in the upcoming property tax revaluation?

I would leverage my vast real estate experience as a resource to the county assessor with the intent of supporting a fair and defendable evaluation.  Once the assessment is set, my responsibility is to ensure the revenue is properly managed and allocated to the applicable entities.

 

If elected, what will be the three main goals you set for your first year on the board?

Bring closure to the $91 million judgment/appeal. Develop and maintain an open and collaborative partnership with the 14 municipalities to ensure the inevitable growth is managed to the overall benefit of the entire county. Develop and maintain an open and collaborative partnership with the leaders of the critically important life and public safety entities that are there for all of us without exception.

 

Are you satisfied with the structure of the board in terms of the amount of members and how districts are divided?

I believe the number of board members is sufficient to represent the county as a whole.  A key to our government’s success is to elect individuals who are independent in their thinking and their desire to first seek to understand all sides of a topic to ensure an informed decision will be made to the benefit of the entire county – not just a select few.

Because the county is not divided into districts with respect to the election of the county commissioners, having a diverse board represented by five independent individuals – not a majority – is imperative to the success of developing a collaborative partnership that places the needs of the county above politics.

 

Kim Ormiston

704-996-3070

kimobocc@gmail.com

 

What is your biggest infrastructure concern in Union County and how would you address it? 

The high rate of residential growth exceeds the much slower rate of infrastructure improvements from water/sewer capacity (we are still under restrictions and have low pressure in areas), roads and schools in the densely populated areas. I’m concerned with where the money will come from to fund improvements without raising our taxes. We have opportunities to streamline county processes as a cost-saving measure to free up the allocation of a small bit of revenue, we must look at ways to better manage the permitting process, and we can look at referendums as options to pay for our prioritized needs.

 

What role do you feel the county commission should play in the upcoming property tax revaluation?

Mandated to occur every eight years by North Carolina statutes, and since the difference between appraised and actual property values is too large according to the state, commissioners are obligated to implement the revaluation in 2015. The goal of commissioners should not be to use this as a tool to acquire additional revenue, but rather to ensure that we maintain equity amongst property owners across the county as it relates to growth, market changes and economic influences on property values over the past several years.

 

If elected, what will be the three main goals you set for your first year on the board?

Create a standing budget advisory committee comprised of commissioners, board of education members and community stakeholders that meets regularly to discuss and understand the needs of the schools and funds available to allow for a more succinct budget request process; create an economic development task force to bring together the county with municipalities to better understand the needs, goals and happenings across the county in order to find ways to streamline processes and implement cost-saving strategies; and to analyze county expenditures across departments in an effort to identify ways to optimize revenue allocation and reduce spending where applicable.

 

Are you satisfied with the structure of the board in terms of the amount of members and how districts are divided?

All county commissioners are elected and serve at-large, so there are no districts. Yes, I believe that five members can successfully serve Union County and that increasing the size of the board will make it less productive and more divisive.

 

Stony Rushing

980-722-3787

stonyrushing@aol.com 

 

What is your biggest infrastructure concern in Union County and how would you address it?

Sewer should be the No. 1 infrastructure concern for the county commissioners. I am greatly concerned about the talk of turning over the control of public works to entities outside of Union County. There has been a desire to take away the only real tool the board of county commissioners has to control growth for many years.

We have had terrible mismanagement of this infrastructure in the past because it is hard for people to understand. If the voters are truly concerned about commissioner candidates who are committed to managing growth, the sewer infrastructure is where they should focus their attention.

 

What role do you feel the county commission should play in the upcoming property tax revaluation?

I feel that tax values are higher than actual values because our home is valued higher than appraised value. Shorter times between revaluations are fairer to the taxpayers. The board of county commissioners should always work to make the revaluation revenue neutral and while the rate might go up the actual tax on a lower valued home should remain about the same. Saving money should be the way to keep taxes low, not overvaluing property.

 

If elected, what will be the three main goals you set for your first year on the board?

Create a trustworthy working relationship with (Union County Public Schools Superintendent) Dr. Mary Ellis. I want to know her goals for the school system and how we can provide for those goals without unnecessary spending or tax increases. Work with the school board to plan for growth and school assignments for new subdivisions. One valid argument the board of education has is not being involved in growth decisions made by municipalities and county government. Build trust in the community. This would have been No. 1 but it must be earned and only good results can do that.

 

Are you satisfied with the structure of the board in terms of the amount of members and how districts are divided?

Five commissioners are enough and county-wide elections can be won by anyone who mounts a strong campaign.

 

Jerry Simpson

704-302-2940

electsimpson2014@gmail.com

 

What is your biggest infrastructure concern in Union County and how would you address it?

The biggest infrastructure need in Union County is “adequate facilities” to deal with the inevitable growth of the region. As a commissioner I moved to re-write the Unified Development Ordinance, which had not been updated in years, improved relations with and increased water supply from our Lancaster County water supply facility, initiated a contract with the town of Norwood for a Yadkin-Pee Dee river water supply, moved to expand the Twelve Mile Creek waste treatment facility, arranged for the hiring of a transportation planner to develop a county-wide comprehensive transportation plan and attempted to work with the board of education to develop a sustainable funding plan that would meet their immediate and long-term needs.

 

What role do you feel the county commission should play in the upcoming property tax revaluation?

We are responsible for overseeing the revaluation. We will work in concert with the county manager and tax administrator to ensure the process is thorough and fair, provide a means for property owners to appeal if they feel their property values are in error and work to develop a revenue neutral budget based on the results.

 

If elected, what will be the three main goals you set for your first year on the board?

I promised I would not “cast stones” at previous boards but the “chickens have come home to roost.”  Living off of a growing tax base and bond/”credit card” debt has come back to haunt us. First, we have to ensure that our public safety needs – law enforcement, emergency services and fire protection – are fully funded. Secondly, we have to face the “new normal” and work with the school board to create a sustainable funding plan based on real needs. Finally, we need to focus on economic development designed to “normalize” our tax base and bring quality employment aimed at providing economic opportunity for our kids and grandkids.

 

Are you satisfied with the structure of the board in terms of the amount of members and how districts are divided?

If you look at our state, the majority of counties have five at large commissioners. Based on population, some have as few as three and some as many as nine and some have district representation.  I am adamantly opposed to districts as I believe we the people should have the ability to elect or reject all of our representatives. More than five just exacerbates the discussion.

 

Lance Simpson

704-699-6402

lancesforbocc@aol.com

 

What is your biggest infrastructure concern in Union County and how would you address it?

Water and wastewater capacity continues to be an issue for Union County. Our current infrastructure is not able to support our current needs and falls far short of our needs over the next 10 to 15 years. This is evidenced by the wastewater currently being sent to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utility Department for treatment as well as the lack of water pressure available to homes in the Weddington area. These problems will only get worse if they are not addressed. We need to continue working to upgrade our water treatment facilities and secure additional water to support Union County in the long term.

 

What role do you feel the county commission should play in the upcoming property tax revaluation?

The county commissioners should review the results of the revaluation to ensure there are not significant disparities or issues.

 

If elected, what will be the three main goals you set for your first year on the board?

The lawsuit with Union County Public Schools needs to be resolved. We have already spent too much time, energy and taxpayer money on this issue. Once elected, I will begin working to resolve this lawsuit in a way which will benefit children of Union County as well as be financially viable for the county. The current mix of commercial to residential properties is not sustainable. The lack of cooperation between the county, board of education and the municipalities in Union County as well as other issues has harmed our image as a place for businesses. Through better cooperation and communication, Union County can develop a long-term plan to improve the image of Union County and attract new businesses.  Our proposal to streamline processes for businesses looking to open or relocate to Union County will make it easier for (businesses to) come to the county and be successful. Our water and sewer needs must be addressed. We need to implement a plan of action to support the growth we are experiencing without negatively impacting our existing residents.

 

Are you satisfied with the structure of the board in terms of the amount of members and how districts are divided? 

I believe five board members are sufficient to serve the citizens of Union County. The key is having five members who work with other boards to serve the interests of all of the citizens in Union County. The county is best served by having all members of the county commission elected on an at-large basis rather than splitting them into voting districts.

 

Richard Stone

704-385-9581

storhrd2@windstream.net

 

What is your biggest infrastructure concern in Union County and how would you address it?

Our second major area needing to be addressed is infrastructure, such as our fire departments, water, sewer, parks and sports complexes (first is schools). I will continue to push for these also. During this crisis, the county commissioners must meet often, Union County’s needs are urgent. I recommend to continue at least five meetings each month with mandatory attendance for some extended period of time.

My 12 previous years as a county commissioner serving our county’s needs show that Union County must continue its efforts toward top quality schools, timely school construction and an eye on holding taxes as low as possible, but we must accomplish these school goals now!

 

What role do you feel the county commission should play in the upcoming property tax revaluation?

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.

 

If elected, what will be the three main goals you set for your first year on the board?

Our top three goals must be: school construction and repair, assist our fire departments and their staff and demand state assistance with infrastructure, roads, water and sewer.

 

Are you satisfied with the structure of the board in terms of the amount of members and how districts are divided? 

The five-person board is good for now. There are no districts within the county commission. Each commissioner must be responsible to the entire county.

 

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