Local Republican candidates for county commission and the state legislature were on hand Thursday evening at the Holy Spirit Catholic Church on Thursday evening for the second candidate forum hosted by the East Lincoln Betterment Association.
There are six Republican county commission candidates vying for two nominations in next month’s party primary election and, with no Democrat in the running, the two that emerge victorious will likely earn a spot on the board in November’s general election. On Thursday, each candidate offered similar opinions on most issues from the proposed sales tax increase and environmental protection to the proposed county government center and the expansion of the county’s water and sewer treatment plants.
SALES TAX REFERENDUM
All six candidates endorsed the sales tax referendum that will be included on the May 8 party primary election ballot. The referendum, if approved by voters, would increase the local sales tax rate by one quarter of a percent from 6.75 percent to 7 percent. The county estimates that the change would generate an additional $2 million dollars in revenue annually that will be put toward improving technology and security within the school system.
Former Lincoln County Planning Board chair Christine Poinsette, like the rest of the candidates, acknowledged the importance environmental preservation. Poinsette specifically emphasized her desire to see a new park in the Denver area before there’s no more land left to develop.
Milton Sigmon, a sitting member of the planning board, denounced the clear-cutting of trees by developers, which has happened on a couple of occasions in eastern Lincoln County. Sigmon argued that a buffer of trees should be left around the outskirts of any wooded property that is being developed.
Raye Watson-Smyth seconded Sigmon’s comments and questioned why there aren’t already regulations against clear-cutting in Lincoln County. Both candidates, however, acknowledged the logging industry and those who plant trees on their own land with the sole intent of later cutting them down and selling them for profit.
Former Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer and Denver Defense manager Bud Cesena turned his attention to the county’s littering problem, suggesting a change to the way Lincoln County collects trash. Cesena floated the idea of implementing trash collection zones that would be assigned to contractors for collection services
Theodore Huss and George Mull both spoke about wanting to see more greenways in Lincoln County, with Mull suggesting that the county expand the current trail that runs along the South Fork River
COUNTY GOVERNMENT CENTER
The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners have gone back and forth on constructing a new county government center at the site of the old hospital on Gamble Drive for nearly 10 years. Last month, the board once again voted to postpone the $12.5 million project that County Manager Kelly Atkins said is no longer needed after the recent acquisition of a new building and the school system’s decision to move its administrative offices out of their current location on North Generals Boulevard and into Battleground Elementary.
Sigmon spoke in favor of moving forward with the construction of the new county government center, citing the money that has been spent to this point on design plans and the continued rise of construction costs if the county keeps kicking the can down the road.
Cesena said the situation has changed since the government center was first proposed in 2009. He added that the county can’t recoup the money that has already been spent on designing the project and said that he wouldn’t support spending an additional $12.5 million to build the government center if it’s not necessary in the eyes of the county manager.
Huss spoke against the project, saying that taxes go up when money is spent unnecessarily and Mull said that he would be strongly opposed to any new structure being built with taxpayer dollars.
WATER & SEWER PLANT EXPANSION
The county will be spending approximately $40 million to double the capacity of its water treatment plant and wastewater treatment plant. All six county commission candidates spoke in favor of expanding the two plants, noting that the infrastructure is needed to supply more water to western Lincoln County and support the growth of East Lincoln.
The three Republican candidates vying to represent state Senate District 44 — Sen. David Curtis, former Shelby Mayor Ted Alexander and Commissioner Martin Oakes — were on hand Thursday night. Incumbent state Rep. Jason Saine was in Raleigh, while Nic Haag — his opponent in next month’s primary — took full advantage of the opportunity to connect with voters.
Alexander and Curtis, a Denver Republican, both expressed faith in the task force assembled by the state legislature to address the issue of school safety in North Carolina.
Alexander added that he would support the idea of arming teachers if they were willing and properly trained on how to handle the weapon, while Curtis acknowledged that he doesn’t know what the answer is, but said he’s comfortable saying that the legislature would provide the funding for whatever the task force deems necessary to address the issue.
Haag, a Marine Corps combat veteran, spoke against putting police officers in schools. Haag said that the problem stems from mental health and pointed to other countries where children spend their first few years of school learning how to interact with one another.
Oakes advocated for placing resource officers in schools and listed school safety as his top priority. He also said that he’d be alright with having armed personnel in schools as long as they participate in active shooter training exercises.
Curtis said the money needed to fix the roads in North Carolina will be generated through the tax cuts and regulatory reform that he hopes will lead to more economic development throughout the state. Curtis cited the fact that the state’s revenues exceeded expenditures last year and said that he expects that trend to continue into the future.
Haag addressed the issue from another standpoint, pushing for the expanded use of automated cars that would operate more efficiently on the state’s existing roads. Haag said that the only thing standing in the way of technology and innovation is the government and its many regulations.
Oakes mentioned his work as a county commissioner, in which he’s been able to obtain money from developers to help fund local transportation projects. He said the state needs to take the same approach and require those who are coming into the state to help foot the bill for the subsequent infrastructure improvements.
Alexander referenced the state’s gasoline tax and noted that the money generated through that needs to be put back into improving the state’s roads.
All four candidates spoke out against gun control, which they viewed as an infringement against the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Curtis added that gun control won’t take effect in North Carolina as long as the Republican Party remains in control of the legislature.
The candidates were asked what their plans would be for the $265 million budget surplus and Curtis noted that that decision would be made when the legislature reconvenes for their short session next month, but the incumbent state Senator didn’t offer any suggestions on how to spend the money.
Haag kept his answer short and sweet, saying that when the government takes more money from the people than it needs to operate the government, then that surplus should be given back to the people. Alexander echoed those sentiments, while adding that the state also needs to make sure its employees are paid competitively.
Oakes said that he would like to see that budget surplus be put toward addressing school safety throughout the state.
All three state Senate candidates spoke in opposition of legalizing marijuana for recreational use, while acknowledging its potential medicinal benefits. Like gun control, Curtis said that marijuana will never be legalized for recreational purposes while the Republican Party controls the legislature.
Haag, on the other hand, said he supports small government and referenced the cost of enforcing a prohibition. Haag then juxtaposed that with the fact that the state of Colorado generated over $1 billion in revenue from the legalization of recreational marijuana and talked about the tax cuts that could result from a similar effect in North Carolina. He also noted that the government has spent over $1 trillion on the war on drugs, which are now cheaper and more accessible than they ever have been before.
A third and final candidate forum will be hosted by the Lincolnton-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday from 6-8 p.m. at the Lincoln Cultural Center. The party primary elections in Lincoln County are scheduled for May 8, with the general election to follow on Nov. 6.