Stanly Republican commissioner candidates answer questions at GOP Forum

Published 9:42 am Thursday, May 12, 2022

Stanly County Commons hosted a local Republican forum for candidates of three races. Among the races featured was the one for four seats on the Stanly County Board of Commissioners.

Of the 11 Republican candidates, 10 spoke at the forum. For the at-large seat, incumbent Lane Furr spoke along with Patty Crump and Leon Warren. Mike Barbee, incumbent in District 1, was in attendance along with candidate Mike Haigler. Levi Greene, another District 1 candidate, joined the meeting via telephone.

In District 2, Bill Lawhon, the incumbent, spoke along with candidate Thomas Townsend, while District 3 incumbent, board chairman Tommy Jordan, spoke along with candidate Brandon King. Jon Ledbetter, a District 2 candidate, was not at the forum.

The District 3 candidates started with a question about what areas of county services need additional resources.

Jordan said he would like to see more funds directed to competitive salaries for county employee salaries, including law enforcement officers. He added a commissioner’s job was to find “every little bit of extra that we have and finding a place to put it.”

King also said extra money should go to county employees, noting vacancies exist with “people exiting our county at an alarming rate.” He said he would like to see additional funds invested in the schools and see a pay study conducted in the county.

The initial question for the District 2 candidates dealt with managing growth.

Lawhon said growth is already in Stanly, particularly in the western part, but growth is managed by land plans and ordinances. He mentioned the planning board is conducting public input session for the 2040 land use plan, saying he loved to see rolling green hills instead of housing developments with houses built close together.

Townsend said he would like to see commissioners work with the county’s municipalities to produce a “more unified and managed growth plan that fits into whatever most Stanly citizens want.” He said people love the country aspect of Stanly and don’t want “another Mecklenburg or Union County,” and said more industries need to be brought into Stanly and “with it enough tax revenue to fund the much needed and neglected infrastructure requirements that we’ve had.”

The District 1 candidates were asked if the county encourages building and development, and whether they agreed with the methods and what changes they might make.

Greene said he agreed with “low taxes and minimal barriers” for commercial building, but said the county needs “a more targeted approach to attract industry which would better suit our sustainable growth needs.” He added the school system must do a better job to ensure students are ready to enter the workforce and not just go to college, mentioning better marketing of the existing career and technical education (CTE) opportunities in Stanly.

Barbee said low property taxes is a big incentive, mentioning the county’s business parks with highway access. He also mentioned Stanly Community College working with industry in Stanly training their employees.

Haigler said he would like to see the duties of the county’s Economic Development Commission (EDC) expand by creating a new position for someone to recruit small businesses. He said he would also want to see a new county position for someone who would work with the municipalities who do not have “the staff or funding to go after any business.”

In the at-large race, the question was asked about the principles which should govern local board appointments.

Furr said “qualification is number one,” adding the county should try to get as many people on boards who do not serve on multiple boards.

Crump said she would like to see boards have “a wide range of perspective.” She would like to see term limits with different board members rotating off boards. She also said “there should be transparency in the selection process,” saying anyone can apply to be on the boards, but asked if the county marketed that fact.

Warren said board appointments “should be made with the intent and design of getting as many different viewpoints as possible from as many different sources as possible,” including different education levels, ages, backgrounds and careers, as well as a “blend of racial and ethnic and cultural groups and include both men and women.” He said often “it’s beneficial to include individuals that are new to the area and someone who knows absolutely nothing about the subject.”

The candidates were all asked two final questions, the first of which was what are the key issues facing the county.

Townsend said managing growth, providing good paying jobs for citizens, teacher pay, jail overcrowding and balancing growth with the county’s natural resources.

Lawhon said growth in the county, but he wanted to know how citizens see the county growing, how they want it to look and what services should the county provide.

Haigler also said growth, adding Stanly “wants to maintain its identity which is based in textiles and agriculture, but textiles are gone, so the county is trying to attract businesses with more technology.” He also mentioned quality of life, saying that depends on public safety, schools and utilities.

Greene said he echoed commissioners’ thoughts but his specific responses would be questionable priorities, citing deficit spending at the airport as an example. He also mentioned law enforcement, fire and EMS salaries, and mentioned “lack of accountability,” saying the county’s health department “has run amok” with what he called “COVID tyranny on our kids.”

Warren said “it’s easier to keep a business or industry than it is to go out and get a new business or an industry.” He said the county should provide water and sewer to those businesses, and said the county needs a new 911 communication center and sheriff’s office, along with the overcrowded jail situation.

Furr said the county needs to protect its farmlands saying the county is currently trying to get people’s reactions on a land use plan. He noted the fund balance of the county is up from $18.6 million to $30.5 million, saving money despite the recent pandemic.

Crump said a key issue was getting the county back on track after “a two-year COVID nightmare,” adding the local healthcare system is strained. She said Stanly needs to attract good paying jobs and also “property fund out school system.” She also mentioned the 911 center, sheriff’s office and the overcrowded jail, along with aging infrastructure.

King said the county has “infrastructure in place that is really broken” adding a fund balance is great but “if you’re not going to invest in your county, the money’s no good…you’ve got to invest in your county.”  King also talked about supporting the school system, the sheriff’s office and emergency personnel, saying the county “can’t keep talking about it” and “it’s time to do.”

Jordan also talked about infrastructure, listing the 911, EMS, school system, utilities and public infrastructure, but also mentioned broadband saying “we need everything updated.” He noted he is proud of the current board who was “kind of working with what we were left” adding the county must offer jobs with competitive wages. Jordan also noted 87 percent of the county’s budget is mandated, only leaving the county $11 million to use for different concerns.

The final question of the night dealt with wasteful spending, saying candidates have previously mentioned that. The candidates were asked if they agreed wasteful spending existed and how they would go about changing it.

Lawhon answered first, saying he was only one commissioner and that it took four to approve or deny any action. He said the county has a conservative manager in Andy Lucas, and that the board, in his opinion, “does not waste taxes.” He noted the fund balance is like a savings account, and the state mandates counties keep a minimum of eight percent of their annual expenses in the fund balance. Stanly maintains a 25 percent balance, he added, to allow the county a good credit rating.

Haigler said the term wasteful spending is sometimes used when “someone doesn’t agree with what the money is spent on.” He noted the board sets different priorities in the budget, and if elected he would prioritize certain areas over others, like public safety, schools and utilities.

Greene said governments, unlike businesses, do not have competition. He said for-profit businesses have areas of mis-utilized talent and resources, so “why wouldn’t similar areas of waste occur in government?” Greene also said he would not do top-down budgeting, having departments come up with their own budgets.

Barbee said “it’s every commissioner’s duty to look at ways to make sure that tax money is spent wisely.” He added you make decision based on available information but when the info changes, “you have to work together as commissioners to fix that.” He also said the current board “has stretched the tax dollars pretty wisely, and I’ll continue to make sure it’s spent wisely.”

Warren said with few exceptions in his years of experience working with the county, county employees “are conservative with their budgets and (are) good stewards of their operating funds.” He added the county has safeguard layers to prevent waste, including county employees and department heads, the county finance officer and county manager, the commissioners and an annual financial audit along with public oversight.

Furr said the current board has reduced the tax rate from 67 to 61 cents, and added the county has “paid our bills as we went.” He said the board has not raised taxes, adding “we’ve done an excellent job.”

Crump said she agreed with Greene. “We can always do better…we  can always look at our own households and see where there are ways we can save.” She said the litmus test for spending tax money included several questions, including whether or not the spending was good stewardship, moral, constitutional and did it help the greater good or not.

King said he could assure wasteful spending going on in the county, adding morale among county employees “is at an all time low.” He said “if you think the lowest man on the totem pole is going to watch out for your dollars like he should when he’s not getting paid what he feels like is a fair compensation, he’s not going to do it.” King also said entry level employees “are not being compensated fairly.”

Jordan said “there is no wasteful spending in the Stanly County budget.” He said of the county’s $72 million budget, 84 percent, or $61 million, are “mandated things we have to do.” He said the Stanly County Airport brings in $60 million a year and costs the county $400,000 in the budget, and said the county has a balanced budget ever year.

Townsend said in any business, especially one as large as the county, “you’re going to find some wasteful spending.” He said the county “should only approve spending on items and services that the community and municipalities cannot do for themselves.” He also said “it’s hard for me to believe that there’s not some administrative waste going on.”

About Charles Curcio

Charles Curcio was the sports editor of the Stanly News & Press from 1999-2001 and has currently served in the same capacity since 2008. He was awarded the NCHSAA Tim Stevens Media Representative of the Year and named CNHI Sports Editor of the Year in 2014. He has also been honored four times by the North Carolina Press Association.

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