Lincoln County residents gathered at Unity Presbyterian Church in Denver on Tuesday to participate in a candidate forum for the upcoming primary election.
The forum, sponsored by the East Lincoln Betterment Association, featured the Republican candidates for the county’s Board of Commissioners and Clerk of Court. The East Lincoln Betterment Association holds a nonpartisan position, focusing less on political affiliation and more on providing opportunities for education and political engagement.
The list of candidates running for the Board of Commissioners includes Bill Beam, Anita McCall, Martin Oakes and Richard Permenter, and the candidates running for Clerk of Superior Court are incumbent Fred Hatley, Candy Burgin and Alex Patton.
The forum began with each candidate having the opportunity to introduce themselves and give a brief overview of their platform. They then spent the next hour and a half in a question-and-answer forum, led by East Lincoln Betterment Association board member George Kelley.
Kelley’s first question was directed to county commissioners, asking “what ways do you feel you can help taxpayers save money?”
Beam stated that it appears universally, the tax base is high across the county and cited that the overinflated property values should be addressed.
McCall instead focused on the projects the county is presented with.
“The first time engineers place a bid, they’re told to shoot for the moon,” she said. “It’s the county commissioners’ job to shoot it back if it’s too high. The new county commissioners need to know if the bid is too high. The more we can get done for the least amount of money, the more we can do.”
“We need to starve the beast, or in other words, cut back our revenues,” Oakes said. “Rather than building super fancy buildings, we need to cut back and construct the most utilitarian and cost-effective buildings possible.”
Permenter stressed that there are a number of ways to conserve finances.
“I don’t believe in across-the-board cuts,” he said. “I’d rather work with the county manager to look for areas to create reductions in expenditures. It’s not so much a matter of saving money, but redirecting money to the right places.”
In addition, Permenter added that rather than hiring outside consultants, the county should use residential expertise.
Kelley then asked clerk of court candidates why they were interested in running for the position as well as why such a role is important to citizens.
Burgin responded by stating that the clerk of court is responsible for providing a professional and responsive service to the taxpayers.
“There’s a need to provide accountability, customer service and availability to this office,” she stated. “With this opportunity, it will help me to grown and better serve the county.”
“I want the job because we’ve got a lot of good stuff and new stuff going on, and I’d like to continue it,” Hatley said. “I’m trying to meet the needs of people of Lincoln County in the most efficient way possible.”
“I want to serve the citizens of this county full time because this county’s been good to me, and I want to give that back on a full-time basis if possible,” Patton said. “There’s a lot of things this office does that is important to people.”
Citizens were also given the opportunity to share their questions with the board. One asked commissioner candidates about the possibility of there not being a commissioner from the county’s eastern end elected.
Beam was the candidate most in favor with the concept of district representation.
“I think it would be a good thing for Lincoln County,” he said. “Our county deserves representation from people that understand all areas are different.”
Others, such as McCall felt that it ultimately is up to what the citizens wanted, but she felt dividing the district would not be needed.
“What you need to do is vote for someone who knows each area and is available,” she said. “The last two years, my whole life has been dedicated to community involvement. I plan to make this my full-time position.”
Oakes echoed a similar response to that of McCall, stating that citizens need to select the five best-qualified people across the county.
Permenter was most opposed to the concept of commissioners assigned to districts.
“I think it’s a terrible idea,” he said. “It’s asking way too little of the people who are voting and placing too little a burden on the electorate. You want people to represent you as well as those in other areas of the county.”
County Commissioner candidates were also asked to state their position on the funding of the controversial East Lincoln Rescue Squad Park.
Candidates such as Beam supported the commissioners’ decision to send the original bid back to the drawing board.
McCall agreed with Beam that the county made the right decision to send the bid back to the drawing board. However, she was concerned that county commissioners would not give the agreed upon $150,000 to the Rotary this fiscal year.
“The Denver Rescue Squad Park is an example of the county run amok,” Oakes said. “It started off as a simple shelter and somewhere down the line quadrupled into a farmer’s market shelter, a decision I’m not sure the farmers were even asked about. Someone saw the opportunity to build a palace when what we needed is a garage.”
“I would love to see the Rotary park happen,” Permenter said. “However, it should not be at the tax payers’ expense. Let (the Rotary Club) spend the time necessary to go back to fundraising.”
County Commissioners also shared their vision for the future of the East Lincoln corridor.
“The vision is basically based on what the citizens want unless it would be detrimental to health or public safety,” McCall said. “The UDO does need to be more business friendly.”
Oakes suggested that the Planning Board should be divided into two groups with an East UDO and West UDO, offering local zoning authority.
“Growth is going to be tied to the growth of Charlotte,” Permenter said. “Change is guaranteed. What works in East Lincoln doesn’t work anywhere else. We’re going to grow different than West Lincoln, and we’ve already seen more upscale developments and restaurants.”
Early voting in Lincoln County will run from April 24-May 3. This year’s primary election will be held on May 6, and polls will be open from 6:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.