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City candidates address the issues at forum

 

ELIZABETH HEFFNER

Staff Writer

 

Lowering taxes, recruiting businesses and attracting young people to Lincoln County were among the key points discussed at the Candidate Forum for City Elections on Tuesday. The forum gave the five candidates the opportunity to express their platforms on a variety of questions approved by the Government Affairs Committee. The candidates included Mayor John Gilleland, City Council incumbent Republican Devin Rhyne, Democratic candidate Mary Frances White, Democratic candidate Martin Eaddy and Republican candidate Jay Thomas. Rhyne and White are currently running against each other for Lincolnton’s Ward I seat on the city council, with Eaddy and Thomas competing for Lincolnton’s Ward III seat.

In regard to the repeal of the garbage tax earlier this year, all of the candidates agreed it was the right decision. However, their rationalization behind this belief differed. Rhyne stressed that the tax was never needed to begin with.

“Nobody would come out and say it, but they knew that if it was that easy to cut the garbage tax from $10 to $5 and then from $5 to zero in the matter of a  30-second conversation, then it’s further proof it wasn’t needed in the first place,” he said.

He described the city budget as possessing “a lot of low-hanging fruit,” with the potential for many opportunities. Rhyne said he believes creating a purchasing manager position would allow officials to reflect on how goods are purchased, thus determining where costs could be eliminated.

His opponent, White, simply stated that because she was never in favor of the tax, she would not bring it back.

“To alleviate that, I would first have to look at the budget and see where we could eliminate something else in order to not bring it back,” she said.

Candidates also spoke on their positions regarding the fixed cost associated with owning and operating water, sewer and electric infrastructure, and how they would increase the consumer base.

Eaddy said that recruiting businesses and industries that are water and electricity users will generate revenues for those funds. He also stressed the importance of working together to market buildings within the city limits.

“I think we need to pay special attention to those closed buildings that we have and try to find niche businesses that can occupy those spaces,” said Eaddy.

In his response, Thomas stated that the current tax rates and water costs could detract businesses to relocate here.

“In my opinion right now, businesses might not want to come to Lincolnton in large part due to the tax rate and water costs associated with operating a business here,” Thomas said. “So, our first order of business here has to be addressing the rate, getting it down, and getting government more efficient so that businesses will have an incentive to come to Lincolnton to gain all those other intangibles, [such as] the way of life, the community that we live in, and the small town atmosphere that we have to offer here. But in order for that to be appealing enough to attract them, we’ve got to work on that tax burden that may be put on that entity should they chose to move here.”

Thomas also introduced the idea of selling water or power to neighboring cities or government entities to address Lincolnton’s current issues.

Candidates were also given the opportunity to discuss methods in which to bring more industrial companies to the city.

“In order to recruit and have businesses here, I would feel like a person like myself should have a business here,” said White. “If you say you love your city and want your city to grow, then your business should be here.”

Rhyne reiterated the need to lower taxes and level the playing field.

“Unless you make it appealing for someone to come here and open a theater or open a restaurant, they’re not going to come here,” said Rhyne. “We have to make a positive ranking business environment, and frankly, we do not have that.”

As to their vision for Lincolnton’s future, all of the candidates agreed that creating a vibrant downtown and Main Street was crucial to the city’s success.

“My vision for the city is one where we have not only a revitalized downtown, but a revitalized Main Street corridor,” said Thomas. “We do need shops and we do need nightlife and restaurants because that’s what brings people from outside Lincolnton into the city, and that’s really what you need to have sustained growth.”

Residents will have the opportunity to vote for city council members during the general election on Nov. 5.

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