By David Rogers. October 1, 2018. BLOWING ROCK, NC — One of the most important local elections is fast upon us, coming in early November. A majority (three) of the seats for the Watauga County Board of Commissioners are in play. How much do voters really know about the individuals charged with establishing policy and vision for Watauga County’s present and future? These powers include the ability to mandate payment of and even increase the property taxes that are the largest contributors to how the county pays for the services provided?
Although the county as a whole is divided up into five districts, every Watauga County citizen is entitled to vote for the Commissioners representing every district. So Thursday night’s Roundtable in Blowing Rock featuring all six of the candidates (two incumbents and four challengers) is a must-see, grassroots political event.
The Candidate Roundtable is hosted by the Blowing Rock Civic Association, with a “meet and greet” social hour beginning at 6:15 pm on Thursday, October 4th, then a roundtable-style question and answer period beginning at 7:00 pm. Retired North Carolina Superior Court Judge Bob Burroughs will serve as moderator.
Sheriff Len Hagaman and challenger David Scearcy have been invited by BRCA to be available during the social “meet and greet,” but will not be part of the Roundtable discussion.
Only the candidates for the three open seats on the County Commission will participate in the Roundtable. The candidates are:
- Tim Hodges, Republican
- Billy Kennedy, Democrat
- Larry Turnbow, Democrat
- David Blust, Republican
- Tommy Sofield, Republican
- Charlie Wallin, Democrat
ISSUES THAT MIGHT BE DISCUSSED, AMONG OTHERS
Over the past couple of years the County Commissioners have been quite active in making decisions that directly and indirectly affect Blowing Rock, and some of them quite controversial.
New Recreation Center in Boone
- Who benefits?
- How is it being paid for?
- When a YMCA market study suggests that a new “Y” is not economically viable, how and why is a county-owned rec center any different?
- One of the stated justifications has been putting “heads in beds” as the new center is advertised as a magnet for various youth and adult sports competitions. Are those participants realistically going to be staying in Blowing Rock?
- What provisions are being made to increase utilization of the facility by residents in outlying areas?
Property Tax Increases
- Blowing Rock residents have been hit with property tax increases at both the town and county levels. The county’s increases are mostly to pay for the new recreation center. When relatively few Blowing Rock residents will use a recreation center in Boone other than those already going to the Wellness Center, what other improvements to county services delivered to Blowing Rock taxpayers and other outlying areas can be expected?
- While Blowing Rock is not centrally located within the county, it has arguably the largest proportionate demographic in need of emergency services because of the aging population comprised of retirees, especially from late spring to late autumn. Doesn’t it make sense to offer those taxpayers 24-hour ambulance service at a cost under $400,000 per year when you are compelling them to subsidize a $40 million recreation center that they don’t need and are unlikely to use?
- When Blowing Rock is providing an ambulance bay and even living quarters for ambulance staff on duty at virtually no cost to the County, how can you justify not taking advantage to serve the population that is probably the most in need of ambulance services?
Sales Tax Revenue Sharing
- A few years ago, the County Commission appeared to understand the fairness of ad valorem calculations to determine sales tax distributions to the areas of the county that are generating that tax revenue. As a result, towns like Blowing Rock, Beech Mountain and Seven Devils received a more equitable sharing to offset the demands on infrastructure represented by the generation of that revenue. Then the County took back a significant portion of the sales tax revenue that would otherwise be distributed to those outlying towns. Can you satisfactorily explain the justification for that?
- Many of the buildings in the Watauga County School District’s elementary and middle schools are approaching or beyond half a century old and described by some as in need of repair or replacement. What statement does it make to the students of the region when the County spends $40 million on a new recreation center in Boone, but seems unwilling to accelerate addressing school infrastructure needs where the students are all day, every day for nine months out of the year?
- Is Watauga County fully keeping up with the advanced technology needs of modern education to prepare our kids to compete for jobs, as well as their mental, physical and financial well-being in the future?