Candidates for Lincolnton city office faced off on several contentious issues at a public forum Tuesday evening.
All those running for office were present as the Lincolnton-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce hosted the event, which included introductions by the candidates, six questions to be answered in two minutes each and a one-minute closing remark.
Candidates took turns answering each question, with the order shifting so that all would have to be the first to answer one of the questions.
Seated at a table on the stage of the performance hall in the Lincoln Cultural Center were: Republican Mayor John Gilleland, his Democratic opponent Pamela Huskey, Democratic incumbent city council member for Ward IV Larry Mac Hovis, his opponent Republican Tim Shain, Democratic incumbent council member for Ward II Dr. Les Cloninger and his Republican opponent Sam Ausband.
Most of the candidates used their one-minute introductions to provide some biographical information about themselves and to thank the chamber for providing the opportunity for their platforms to be heard, with Gilleland noting that â€œan educated voter is a good voter.â€
Ausband also used the opportunity to address his not being a â€œhomegrownâ€ candidate, saying that his military service had called him away but that he was fortunate enough to have â€œmarried a girl from here.â€
Perhaps the most heated topic covered was the potential expansion and renovation of the Lincolnton Police Department, with the candidates splitting along party lines. Huskey and Hovis stressed the urgency of the project in terms of health hazards within the current building, with Huskey also stating that she knows the importance of keeping evidence secure from her time as Clerk of Superior Court.
Hovis added that $1 million had been earmarked for the project after the ABC Store had been built using no taxpayer money, while Cloninger, who called it the â€œmost pressing matter in the city for 12 years,â€ said the issue should not be made into a political football. He said it should be studied so they can come up with the best decision.
Ausband and Gilleland stated that they were opposed to moving forward with the expansion. Shain recommended exploring different properties better-suited for the police department, while Ausband said the money could be used elsewhere.
Gilleland emphasized that it is the wrong time to remodel or build a police station, saying it is not a top priority for the people of Lincolnton. He also added that he had received word that the mold within the building has been taken care of.
A question regarding the cityâ€™s role in supporting nonprofit organizations resulted in fairly similar responses. All candidates agreed that they must be supported and that they play a significant role in the community.
Gilleland said there should be some accountability, however, to make sure they are spending wisely. Both Shain and Cloninger noted that they should also become self-sustaining and raise funds on their own in addition to financial support from the city.
Another question asked how the city could maintain funding for services with a declining tax base. Hovis stated that â€œno big industries are going to come inâ€ and pay double taxes. Instead, he emphasized the hotel tax as being helpful.
Shain responded that â€œI canâ€™tâ€ never did anything.
He said the city needs to go out and passionately approach big companies. Ausband noted that there needs to be some outside-the-box thinking and that the tax rate is â€œone of our biggest impediments,â€ while both Cloninger and Gilleland said itâ€™s about jobs.
Huskey said the city needs to be promoted and that there should not be a tax decrease, adding that she doesnâ€™t hear people complaining about taxes.
When asked how the city should use $400,000 of tourism money that has been saved, most candidates agreed that funds should be spent on a catalyst to promote Lincolnton, though Ausband questioned why the money had to be spent.
Gilleland said the return on investment should be a consideration. And Huskey said that they should go to Denver and let those people know where Lincolnton is, joking that many â€œdonâ€™t know how to find the courthouse.â€
Hovis said the tourism tax has â€œbeen a big windfallâ€ that has allowed them to offset raising taxes or taking money out of the general fund.
Regarding economic incentives to attract and retain businesses, most felt positively about them.
Cloninger emphasized the importance of maintaining businesses already here and keeping them happy. Ausband said that he was against financial incentives but that he was in favor of tax incentives.
Gilleland said he tries to use the cityâ€™s money like he would use his own and that itâ€™s a logical thing to do to incentivize a business, but he doesnâ€™t want to â€œgive money hoping something good happens.â€
Hovis meanwhile stressed the significance of keeping up the cityâ€™s infrastructure in attracting new industries, while Huskey noted that if an incoming company hires a substantial amount of employees, those people would be spending money in Lincolnton.
Shain said before the city spends taxpayer money, it needs to understand the return on investment, citing his experience handling budgets where everything had to be justified.
The final regular question of the evening was about how best to manage the cityâ€™s water, referencing a joint city-county water initiative. With the exception of Huskey, who said she hadnâ€™t had an opportunity to review the situation but that she believes the city should maintain control over water, all the candidates said that the solution was to simply sell more water and to work closely with the county to do so.
The forum ended with candidates giving one-minute closing remarks about why they were the best candidate for their position. Gilleland cited his business experience, while Huskey asked who wouldnâ€™t want to be mayor of Lincolnton. She also pledged that she would accept only $1 a year for her salary, as opposed to the $7,200 the mayoral position currently receives. She proposed that the rest of the money would stay in the budget.
Hovis said he would do his best moving forward and that he was proud of his 16 years on the council, while Shain pointed out that his background in the military has provided him with a lot of discipline. Cloninger said being on the city council was a way to be of service to fellow citizens, and Ausband cited his enthusiasm and his ability to handle government budgets while in the military and to make tough decisions.
Brad Rivers, the moderator of the event, concluded by acknowledging the chamberâ€™s governmental affairs committee and reminding those in attendance to vote on Nov. 8.
SARAH LOWERY, Staff Writer