Editor’s note: Republican incumbent Devin Rhyne and Democrat Mary Frances White are seeking election to Lincolnton’s Ward I seat on the City Council. Rhyne is currently serving out the remainder of his first term on the Council. The Times-News submitted 10 questions to each of the candidates in the upcoming city elections. Their responses are listed below.
Why are you running for office?
Rhyne: I believe in Lincolnton and I want to ensure that it is a place that my family is proud to live in and my son wants to raise a family in.
White: I have lived in Lincoln County all my life, I work in the city, I have proved to be dedicated to my business. I want to use my ability to enhance and make things better for the citizens of Lincoln County. I want to continue to serve and be a “Fresh Voice”.
Do you have a goal that you would first-and-foremost like to see attained if you are elected?
Rhyne: Our number one goal should be to sell water. Water revenues have continued to decline, that along with too much water debt should keep us all up at night.
White: Yes, I would like to see team building between the city and county.
The City of Lincolnton, like many other municipalities across the U.S., has been forced to contend with diminishing revenue and increasing costs. What do you view as the best solution to this issue, in both the long and short term?
Rhyne: The solution is to continue to grow our tax base. This should not happen on the backs of the citizens, this needs to occur by creating an environment that is advantageous to businesses who want to locate in Lincolnton. We also need to make sure that businesses who already believe in Lincolnton are given every opportunity to succeed.
White: The short term solution and the long term would be to find a way to keep our taxes down.
One of the most contentious issues in city politics recently was the implementation of a $10 fee for garbage collection. The fee was first cut in half, and then repealed entirely. What is your opinion of the garbage fee, and the public outcry that resulted in its eventual repeal? Do you believe that the revenue that would have been generated by the fee will have to be drawn from another source?
Rhyne: I never voted in support of the trash tax. I voted against the $10 tax and against the $5 tax. I believe that once government creates a tax, it will never go away. I was so proud that our citizens’ voice was heard, and it reaffirmed my belief that when people work hard and speak up, they will be heard. I truly believe the source for the money lies within our current budget. We do not need to spend $200,000 +/- on an intersection we do not own. I think we can better centralize purchasing which would cut cost immediately. When families have money issues, we are not able to go to our employer and ask for $10 more a month cause the cable bill went up, we look for areas to cut. The City of Lincolnton has areas that can be cut.
White: I was against the garbage fee in the very beginning, I was with the public outcry. A responsible budget must occur before a decision can be made to draw from another source.
The trash fee situation sparked a debate about compensation for city employees including Christmas bonuses and insurance benefits. Where do you stand on this issue?
Rhyne: The great employees of the City of Lincolnton are our greatest resource. They are the face of our company and deal in customer service daily. I strongly believe that we need to do everything we can to maintain excellent employee benefits. We have to continue to cut cost in our General Fund; this will ensure that Lincolnton is a wonderful place to live and work.
White: The employees need their insurance benefits and the Christmas bonus has existed for 20 years, again this goes back to a responsible budget.
A batch of contracts between the city and Lincoln County for the sale of water from the city to the county and the sale of 911 call, animal control and other services from the county to the city was recently approved by the Board of Commissioners, but was subsequently sent back to the negotiating table by the City Council. The Council sent a revised set of contracts back to the Commissioners, but the county has taken no action. How urgent is the city’s need to sell its water? What is the best way for the city to move forward with regard to the sale of its water?
Rhyne: Once again, selling water is our most critical need right now. We are carrying lots of debt, water sales have declined, and this is why rates have continued to climb. When we can marginally produce water for $.32 /1,000 gallons (this number is confirmed in a water study that the city had performed and is public record), and we have an opportunity to sell the water for $1.00 – $1.25 / 1,000 gallons then we have to. Council has been told by our City Manager and City Attorney that legally the county can increase cost of 911 and animal control at any time. If we are going to have to pay for these services then we should be selling water at the same time.
White: “You should not sell water cheaper than you can make it”.
What should the relationship between the city and county entail? Do you feel that the relationship between the city and county needs improving?
Rhyne: Any time people can work together for a common cause it is good. The common cause here is the citizens of Lincoln County (we can never forget that the citizens of Lincolnton are citizens of the county too). On many levels the county would be the perfect water partner. I have seen the relationship between city and county improve over the past four years but yes, more improvement is needed. We have to get out of the mindset of us vs. them.
White: Most definitely, they should work together for community partnership.
What are the keys to promoting growth in the city?
Rhyne: Promote a business friendly climate and lower taxes. Citizens and Businesses should determine where their money is spent, not government.
White: Working Together for the betterment of our city.
How do you feel about the current tax rate in the city?
Rhyne: Too high, simply look around. I found it interesting that during the bad idea of the trash tax, and the debate that swirled people were quick to point out other communities that collected a solid waste fee; those folks did not mention that the other towns needed to because their tax rates are so much lower. Lincolnton does not need to. I have made motions to cut the tax rate on two occasions, only to be voted down. With support we can lower the tax rate for the citizens.
White: It does not need to go up. If we bring more industry to the city to create more jobs, this could help our tax base.
What are some of the other issues that you feel are important?
Rhyne: Responsible growth for our downtown area. Promoting the City to bring in more businesses. Creating a Citizens Advisory Council. Creating an atmosphere where citizens and employees feel like the City is here for them, not in spite of them.
White: Better streets, the police department.