By MICAH HENRY
All 12 of the candidates for local municipal elected positions turned out on Tuesday, October 15, for the Town of Taylorsville Candidate Forum, sponsored by the Taylorsville Business Association, held at the CVCC Alexander Center for Education. TBA President Jennifer Martin welcomed the audience to the event, and Brett Fansler, CVCC Alexander Center Director, served as moderator for the forum.
The event was livestreamed on the business association’s Facebook page and is archived there for viewing by members of the public. (There are two parts of the video; technical issues which affected video quality at first were solved for the second portion).
[Editor’s Note: An audio-only version of the forum conversation is available by clicking the triangular play button, below.]
Town candidates were asked three questions as submitted by TBA members. The questions and a summary of their answers are shown below:
1. People driving through downtown Taylorsville see many eyesores – dilapidated storefronts, awnings in disrepair, cars parked on sidewalks, loitering throughout town, broken sidewalks. All of these things present challenges detract visitors and potential customers from businesses that choose to locate in downtown. In some cases, codes are established but not enforced; in other cases, no codes are established. As a member of the town council, what are your plans to correct these issues?
Jack Simms: “I don’t think there’s anyone who’s sitting here on this podium tonight who does not want to see the Town in a better condition than it’s in today. We’re striving to have our town look the best that it can. But as a member of the Board that’s presently there now, and as a candidate, it’s my understanding that County enforces zoning and the implementation of that. I think that the Town needs to work closely with the County to make our town look better.”
Dawn Reynolds: “I agree that it is an eyesore. There are several places that have been sitting idle for a long time. I think if there are codes, then they do need to be enforced, whoever does that, and if there aren’t, then there need to be some in place. But I also think that maybe if some of the storefronts that are there had some type of reward for having a nice storefront…then that would be an incentive also.”
Kenny Poole: As far as codes go, in the Town we contract with the County. It’s the County’s responsibility to enforce the codes. To my knowledge, they don’t have the manpower to enforce some of the codes that are maybe being violated. The look of the Town–we have always tried to maintain clean streets, keep it neat. I have personnally, when I read this question, rode all over around Town and I found one parked car on the sidewalk. That was in front of the motor company [TC Automotive], Trent’s, who is a young man who’s trying to make a business. And as far as the other things, there’s one awning that’s in disrepair. It has been ordered and is being fixed. The storefronts are the responsibility of the building owners. We do not have the money to fix those.”
Ronnie Robinette: “…When we received these questions, I received three pictures. One of the pictures that I saw was one of the awnings was torn and down…That awning has been ordered and is being replaced. Also, there was a picture of kids’ toys. The Town has 10 miles of Town streets. They also have about five miles of DOT streets that we maintain. That picture appeared to me to be trash that was sitting on the side of the road… If you went back and checked later that day or the next day, it was probably picked up, or it will be picked up…I appreciate the Town of Taylorsville and I want to see it look good. Look at it now — we’re preparing for the Apple Festival. It’s wonderful looking out there, all the decorations and everything.”
Edd Elliott: “…About the cars parked on the sidewalk — I’ve lived here all my life. You had three dealerships in the past. All three of those dealerships parked cars on the sidewalk in front of the buildings. And we’ve got one place, only, that does that. I personally love our Town. We do our best to keep it clean and safe for everybody.”
Glenn Deal, Jr.: “…The County has the Economic Development Corporation, they hired a new employee to work with retail. She’s working with the Taylorsville Busniess Association, of which I am a member. I think that’s going to help address part of the concern about these vacant buildings, to get more people to locate here, more businesses to locate here in the downtown area… All we can do is keep trying to do our best convince people to come to Taylorsville, to shop in Taylorsville, spend time in Taylorsville…”
George Holleman: “I want to give a shout out to one of the greatest town managers in the whole United States, that’s David Odom. He’s done a terrific job of bringing in $13 million over the last 10 years. When I talk to people in Taylorsville, I’m told that this town looks the best that it’s ever looked. I realize that it has some imperfections. Our strategy has been to cooperate with the business owners to get them to do it [beautify]. If you try to force people to do something, it costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 to $600 per hour when an attorney gets involved. So, David Odom, by going to the property owners, asking them to cooperate with us, we’ve cleaned up a lot of different places. A good example is the one close to First Community Bank. It was a burned-out structure and now, it’s no longer there.”
Kimberly Brown: “As a walker…we’ve noticed from time to time the sidewalks are in disrepair and that there’s different trash and stuff when we’re walking…I know that we have people who go out and pick up the trash. I appreciate the fact that they do that…I don’t think our town isn’t necessarily not clean, I think it needs some beautification. We have a Town sweeper that regularly sweeps…we appreciate that…We have a lot of the things in place that we already need. The only thing that’s missing is some beautification and drawing a few more businesses to the downtown area.”
Bob Bowen: “The Town of Taylorsville doesn’t have the revenue to do all the beautification that we’d like to see done. So, what I did was a cursory look into some possible grants for beautification. If this could come about, and we had somebody who really knows how to write grants, we hopefully could get some money and do some needed improvements to the storefronts…”
Michael Fredieu: “There have been several things said about beautification. I think that’s what we need for downtown…I’d like to develop a volunteer based community service group. I think being a Town Council member, I might have some sway to do that. A lot of these repairs and beautifications we’re talking about are not complicated repairs that require specialized teams. We could get community members involved, get schools involved, to do some of these simple tasks. I believe using those resources to accomplish some beautification around the town is going to leave us revenue for larger projects which will require more of a specialized construction team.”
Jason Durmire: “Although I did research what a lot of people said, in my opinion it’s not up to the Town to force business owners to do that. Unfortunately, whatever they have, it is their responsibility. We have ordinances but it’s [enforced] by the County…I think someone suggested giving the businesses an incentive to improve their storefronts, but as to forcing them, we don’t have the manpower, as a town, to be able to do that. We don’t have the funds…”
Justin Deal: “…We as a board would have to identify any established ordinances that are at fault, and enforce those. If they’re any code violations to be addressed, we will have to work with our code enforcement department or our Fire Marshal’s office to address these. However, with the vacant properties, they would have to be subject to inspection for new occupany or even a change of occupancy, to declare any change being made to them. Also, all the buildings that have been renovated have been subject to code compliance inspections and have received satisfactory completion certificates…My main objective and my main goal as an elected official of the Town Council would be to revitalize our main street.”
2. The largest line item on the town budget is the Police Department at $1 million. We raise $731,800 from property taxes. So our property taxes do not even equal the police line item. Meanwhile, the streets get $383,000 and parks and recreation gets $30,000. One suggestion has been to partner with the county to provide a police presence. How do you justify a police department in a town of such a small size with so many other needs?
Kimberly Brown: “I don’t know that I can justify it, however, I am the last person to want to get rid of the police department. I know that the police department receives approximately 70 calls a week, and about 20 to 30 wrecks a week that they have to respond to. In addition to that, they have a limited amount of time that they have report back to victims, which is a state mandate. So, I can’t imagine how our Sheriff’s department could handle everything. If this is just what the Town does, imagine what it would be for the County and the Town…Typically, the first person on the scene is a Taylorsville Police officer. I just don’t think we can afford to lose them. I’m afraid, if we were to merge, that we wouldn’t have the coverage that we’d need in the city limits.”
Bob Bowen: “I am not in favor of reducing our police force. To me, they’re one of the most vital institutions in this town…I don’t want more crime…When you start preparing this as a budget, and how much property taxes come in, I don’t see where there would be an increase in property taxes. Thirty percent of folks listed as registered in this town are over the age of 60. You have 60 percent that are in the 18-60 age group. Those are the wage earners, those are the people who will suffer the most with a tax increase. Your over-60, probably already on social security, budgets, and they’re on retirement. I’m one of them, and I can’t handle a tax increase. So, if that one million dollars pays for [police], then we’ll have to find a way to cut something else, because I just can’t see cutting the police department.”
Michael Fredieu: “I’m also not in favor of cutting any funds given to the police department. You have to understand that public safety is always priority one in any community, and a well-functioning police force is the cornerstone of public safety. No one wants to live or shop in a city that feels unsafe. In short, a police department and public safety is good business…While Taylorsville is a small city, and we’d all like to see it grow and thrive, however small we are, we’re still plagued by drugs, violence, and criminal activity. If you haven’t been affected by those things, well, you can thank the police department for that. You mentioned the money given to parks and sidewalks, in comparison to the police department. They’re all wonderful assets and we all want to see those maintained, but nobody wants to be in a park that’s unsafe and nobody wants to walk down a street that’s not safe…Our police department is vital to ensure the safety of our city.”
Ronnie Robinette: “I’ve been on the Town Board. This issue has come up a time or two with us. If you will check, there are over 612 cities and towns all over North Carolina. If you will check their budgets, you will find out that law enforcement is one of the highest in everybody’s budget. Our property tax is not the only thing that makes our budget. Sales tax is also what we use to make our budget…combined that helps us to make, not a $2 million budget, but a $4 million budget…I worked in law enforcement for 30 years, and if it was such a good deal, putting all of it in one place, then why isn’t every city and county in the state not done that, and across the United States? What you need to remember is our officers are trained in first aid, EMS, part of them, and when a call goes out, sometimes they’re the first ones that get to your house… And crime — Taylorsville’s a small place, and everybody knows everybody and everybody gets along, but crime is in the town of Taylorsville…We’ve got one of the greatest police chiefs and we’ve got the greatest department. We’re also the lowest paying for officers there are. As a whole, I don’t want to get rid of our police department.”
Jason Durmire: “..this question talks about just property taxes instead of talking about the full General Fund. The full General Fund is where the Police Department gets its budget. It is $2 million, about 53 percent. The other half of the budget is water and sewer. That’s not where we get our police budget from; it’s from taxes. Like Mr. Robinette said, you’re going to have crime. If anybody looks at what goes on in this county, there’s a lot of crime that people don’t realize is happening in the county. There’d be a lot more if there wasn’t a focus in Taylorsville. We have a great department. If you have response times in Alexander County, you’re looking at 10 minutes, 15 minutes for backup, for somebody that’s on the higher edges of the county, as opposed to somebody that’s in the Town of Taylorsville, maybe a few minutes, with backup. If you were to merge the two, you might have even worse response time…It would help the County, but it would not help the town of Taylorsville.”
Justin Deal: “While I was studying for my degree, I used the town of Taylorsville as a research paper in my local government finance class. The police department’s budget stuck out…I didn’t realize we spend that much money on public safety. I’ve worked in public safety for 27 years. I’ve worked in the county for my entire adult life… Public safety has no room for debate when it comes to politics, because we are the responders when it comes to the worst, when you’re in your most dire need… Our police department will stay as-is; the only thing I can add to it is to improve it from where it’s at today.”
Jack Simms: “I see it as a cooperation between the county and the town…When you get in parts of town, when you knock on their doors, they’re not in the city limits…So, you know sometimes when we have a call response, you may have to dispatch both, the county and the town, to that call. In the 2018 budget for public safety, Taylorsville is 12 percent below the average of a town our size. I in no way would be a proponent of reducing our police department. In fact, if you look at Taylorsville and the county, we are the starting grounds for the people entering that field. Because of our pay, we wind up losing our good people to other counties and other towns because we cannot pay them what the other counties can… I want to do everything we can, if I’m fortunate to be elected, to support and enhance our police department.”
Dawn Reynolds: “I agree pretty much with what everybody said. And I really do not know enough of what goes into the budget of the police department to know exactly what, if anything, needs to be touched. I know I wouldn’t want to stand there and fight the crime that they do… I know they’re busy on my road a lot and I’m very thankful, as I have small children… As a candidate, and not somebody who really knows, I’m pleased with they way things are at the moment.”
Kenny Poole: “Even though our police budget is 50 percent of our budget, it is approximately 12 percent lower than any town of similar size around…I don’t want to see a merger with the Sheriff’s department for the simple reason that the Sheriff’s department, no matter what you think, is political. There is a political race every [term], where either a Republican is elected or a Democrat. I like our police department being non-political. They do a great job and they need to be commended.”
Edd Elliott: “I’ve lived here all my life…If anybody’s done their research, the costs of the police department, they’ll see what’s the cost of equipping the police department, cars, all the equipment they need. That’s not counting the salaries. They answer 600 to 700 calls every month. I think the last total I heard was over 3,000 calls this year. I’m against the merger. If I’m not mistaken, our response time for our police department is less than 5 minutes. The Sheriff’s department can’t get there that quick.”
George Holleman: “…In the history of the Town and the county, it is a time to explore this idea. What is wrong with exploring? If it doesn’t work out, if it’s proven that it won’t work, then fine. But we owe it to everyone to at least explore the idea.”
Glenn Deal, Jr: “I’m not in favor of combining the two law enforcement agencies. I think we need a police department in town. We’re the only incorporated municipality in Alexander County. We have the high school here. We’ve got about 2,000 people that come here every day. We need law enforcement. This is where all the shopping is. There’d be no way that I’d be in favor of doing anything to take the police department away from the town of Taylorsville budget…I checked with the town of Sparta…they have a population of 1,776 people. They have a $3 million budget. Their Town Council earns $500 a quarter, $2,000 a year, period. They don’t get any clothing allowance. They don’t get any insurance. They don’t get bonuses in July and December. The first place I would look to cut in our budget is our Town Council.”
3. Alexander County Government has an annual budget of $41 million. Each of the five county commissioners earns $1,000 per month plus full health insurance coverage (valued at $979.84 per month) for their service on the commission. The Town of Taylorsville has an annual budget of $2 million. Each of the town council representatives earn $730 per month, a $600 quarterly stipend, and town logo apparel to wear. The mayor earns just over $850 per month, the quarterly stipend, and town logo apparel to wear. Please share your thoughts on why those serving the town are compensated at such a high rate compared to those serving the county and what, if anything, you plan to do about it.
Jack Simms: “…I didn’t really think about pay for the Council. But as I’ve started doing some research and seeing some of the time that some of the council members, who I know personally, spend, not only in the town meetings, but back when we had snowstorms, the first persons you’d see at Town Hall are the Town commissioners to help clear snow. When there’s a storm, it’s the Town Commissioners that are downtown, trying to find out where they can help remove debris or help others out. If you’re going to give your time to a town, I think the town should compensate you…Based on the 2018 budget, Taylorsville is 51 percent lower than the standard for small towns. It’s 1.2 percent of the total budget.”
Dawn Reynolds: “I also had no idea, when running for mayor, that there was any compensation. I understand it now, some. I do not understand the insurance. I do not think this is a career choice; this is something I feel that maybe four, eight years, and you’re done. I’m not real sure about the bonuses. When I asked about it, I didn’t get a real clear answer. The Town clothing is pretty and all, but I think a $5 name tag would work just as well. I think that money could go to something else…We’re not here for the town to pay our insurance.”
Kenny Poole: “First of all, the town does not pay my insurance. When Obamacare was passed, way back when, it was mandated that they pay us whatever small amount. That’s where that came from. The Town Charter, which dates back to 1851, says that Town officials will be paid. They have been paid since 1851. If someone is willing to be elected and serve on the Town and donate their money, that’s fine. I don’t see a problem with that. People that put their hours and work into the Town should be compensated. The logo shirts–we went to a grand opening today. We’re advertising the Town of Taylorsville. Secondly, the shirts are bought, but the embroidery is done locally.”
Ronnie Robinette: “The logo shirts, the hats, the pins–I served in the United States Marine Corps and I wore a uniform in there…I’m proud I wore that uniform. I spent 30 years with the Department of Corrections. I wore a uniform every day and I retired from there. I wear this shirt because I’m a lifelong resident of Alexander County and the Town of Taylorsville. When I put this shirt on, I wear it with pride. I went just this week to Chimney Rock, I wore my hat with the Taylorsville logo. I had people to come up to me, “You’re from Taylorsville. That’s where Harry Gant, the race car man, is from!” “That’s where the Hiddenite emerald and mine is from.” I said, “That’s right.” So, I’m advertising and promoting the Town of Taylorsville when I wear this shirt or that hat.”
Edd Elliott: “First of all, our budget for the Town is $4,202,656. Our salary is only 1.2 percent of this. I’ve been on the council for 8 ½ years and I have yet to hear any citizen come to our meeting and complain about our wages or the shirts and logos we wear. I’m like Ronnie and Mr. Poole. I’m proud to wear this shirt and represent our Town and its citizens.”
Jason Durmire: “On the pay, some said you should be compensated for your time. I think on the quarterly stipend, that is in lieu of insurance. So, instead of actually paying for insurance for the commissioners, the Town, I believe, has said because of the number of employees for the town, they’re required to do that. It’s cheaper to pay quarterly $600 than add [commissioners] onto the [Town] insurance. As far as the uniforms, can we not find something better to complain about? We promote the Town of Taylorsville. It is a business.”
Glenn Deal, Jr.: “I raised this issue four years ago. I think that’s partly what got ten people running for these four seats. People are finally wanting to…get concerned about what’s going on about the budget. It doesn’t come down. It stays the same or goes up. It’s 40 cents per $100 [property tax rate]. It used to be 34 cents a hundred. Part of the reason the budget is so high are these expenses mandated by the town council for themselves. There is no Obamacare requirement that the Town give an insurance reimbursement. I don’t know who that came from. To get health insurance, you have to work 30 hours for your employer. I don’t think you get anybody to run for town council to shovel snow. If that’s what they’re doing, they’re not doing their jobs because we have other people that can do that. These people should be leaders of our town. They should be the visionaries. They should be setting the tone for the town and how they’re going to grow into the future, not out there picking up trash…Our town is giving three times the compensation that other same size towns give and I think it’s erroneous…”
George Holleman: “I’m glad that we finally decided who this complaint came from. When we represent the Town of Taylorsville, we want to be dressed in an appropriate way, so that we’re received… The compensation has been made for 168 years. So, we should be, too. Peoples Drug Store, through Phil Icard, gave the town $5,000 out of his profits for beautification of Taylorsville. I made the suggestion that we give part of our salaries. I got no takers on that.”
Kimberly Brown: “I was not aware of the compensation, to start out with. I believe people don’t run for these jobs, for commissioners for the county or the town, for the money…you’re here to serve people. To do what the people want, and to represent the people, not only in our meetings but in things we have to go to in representatives of the Town.”
Bob Bowen: “…I am not in this for the money. That amount of $730 a month, I’d give back, because I’m on a budget and retirement, and I don’t want that to throw off my social security.”
Michael Fredieu: “When I decided to run, I didn’t know there was compensation…but it’s not why I’m here. It’s about service, to me.” He noted that an assessment of compensation could perhaps be based on hours of service.
Justin Deal: “Town Council is another form of public service…You don’t get involved in any branch of public safety or public service to get rich. Public service is what you do for your fellow man.” He stated the compensation probably would not measure out to equal the time invested in the town.