Commissioner candidates talk education, taxes and economic incentives

Candidates for the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners participated in a forum on Thursday, Sept. 22. Issues included education, economic incentives and property tax revaluations. Photo by Dan Hesse

Education, property tax revaluations and economic incentives were among the topics discussed by candidates for the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners during a forum hosted by Asheville Citizen-Times on Thursday, Sept. 22.

The following are the seats up for election, the candidates running for them and some highlights from their statements.

District 1

Democrat Jasmine Beach-Ferrara is running unopposed and considered the presumptive winner.

Beach-Ferrara opened the forum with brief remarks about her presumed, upcoming term, saying she’s been thinking about how she will serve; her vision is formed by two guideposts, she said. “Pass policy that helps every single person thrive, with a special eye toward children. 1 in 4 kids in Buncombe County are in poverty and we have to end that,” she said.

“My second guidepost is to be committed to politics of empathy. In every interaction, I will come to it from a place of empathy.  As a gay Christian minister you can image the conversations I find myself in,” she added.

Buncombe County Chair

Incumbent Democrat David Gantt is stepping down. Republican Chuck Archerd and Democrat Brownie Newman are running.

On using economic incentives to lure business:
Archerd said he’s philosophically against them and doesn’t think government should be a part of that. However, he acknowledged, “You’ve got to play the game. Other cities and counties provide incentives and we have to compete against them.” He also said the payback and benefits need to weighed, noting that the county is attractive for reasons outside of incentives because of its recreation and educational amenities. “I know how to sit down and negotiate deals, and I’ll be effective bringing in quality jobs,” said Archerd.

Newman cited this week’s announcement that Avadim Technologies will add more than 500 jobs in Black Mountain as an economic incentive success story. He said there are two ways he’d like to see the county’s incentive policy updated: “We require a company to pay living wages, but we need to raise the bar higher, and focus on partnerships with companies paying significantly higher than average wage.” Newman also said incentives need to be made available to small- and medium-sized businesses. “We are primarily an economy of small business, that’s where future jobs are,” he said.

On the upcoming property tax revaluation:
Newman said the process is all about making sure taxpayers are paying their equivalent share, noting that people in the city will see increases and Montford “will get creamed,” while rural areas will likely hold current values. “The budget in North Carolina requires a revenue neutral to be identified, so tax payers know if county is lowering or raising  the tax burden to raise more revenue for the county,” he said.

Archerd said the revaluation process is necessary so everyone is paying a fair share based on market value. “It is not a tax increase and should not be a tax increase.” He said he wants to make sure the process continues to be fair so taxpayers have the opportunity to appeal values. Archerd also advocated for a revenue neutral tax rate once the revaluation process is complete.

On the state of education in Buncombe County:
“Support for public education is a core business of county government,” said Newman. He noted the county does well paying veteran educators, but needs to attract and retain new teachers. Newman says he advocated using a $5 million surplus in this fiscal year’s budget to increase teacher pay.

“Schools are the springboard for the rest of a kid’s life,” said Archerd. He also noted that there need to be metrics attached to educational results. “We need to make sure money is well spent because it’s tax dollars. I want to see improved standards,” said Archerd.

District 2

Incumbent Republican Mike Fryar is running against Democrat Nancy Nehls Nelson.

On using economic incentives to lure business:
Fryar said he’s never really liked economic incentives but understands the county has to offer them. He noted the GE Aviation deal, saying it wasn’t about the new jobs: “The true deal was to save 300 jobs plus add a new plant. I’m for that. That comes back in the form of taxes.” Fryar stressed the need to help small business and noted, “Big business starts as small business.”

Nehls Nelson said she absolutely supports using incentives. She said commissioners have not always been unanimous in supporting incentives. Nehls Nelson also cited the county’s quality of life as a factor for Sierra Nevada’s expansion. “Ken Grossman looked around the county, and why did he want to be here? It’s other issues like making sure we have good schools,” she said.

On the upcoming property tax revaluation:
Nehls Nelson said the revaluation is triggered by state law and noted residents in Asheville will experience increases in property value.
“I’m concerned with what will we see in 10 to 20 years as we start growing out from Asheville, because Asheville can’t handle all the people coming here. We need to look at growth,” she said.

Fryar noted that if commissioners don’t reduce the tax rate, the revaluations will automatically create a tax hike. “If we don’t move the rate down West Asheville is going to get hit hard. Folks can’t afford to live here and that’s not what we need,” he said.

On the state of education in Buncombe County:
Fryar said he disagrees with Newman’s version of events surrounding the budget that commissioners ultimately approved. He noted that the surplus had spending beside pay increases that he disagreed with. Fryar said he’s “100 percent for schools and teacher pay supplements.” He also noted that he’s helped bring down school construction costs while simultaneously getting a better end result.

Nehls Nelson said she’s concerned Raleigh is destroying the traditional school system. “We are nowhere near the funding level of 2008. We are now 44th in the country in terms of support for public education,” she said. Nehls Nelson added the state seems, “bound and determined to privatize education.”

Commissioners Belcher and Newman talk after the forum wrapped up. Photo by Dan Hesse
Commissioners Belcher and Newman talk after the forum wrapped up. Photo by Dan Hesse

District 3

Incumbent Republican Joe Belcher is running against Democrat Ed Hay.

On using economic incentives to lure business:
Belcher said the county needs to offer a variety of reasons for new businesses to locate here. “Training has to be here. Many companies that come here tell me it’s because of the quality of workers,” he said. Belcher said he’s voted for every economic incentive package except for one, and that’s because of his personal beliefs about alcohol. “My requirement for an incentive is the amount per year must be less than the taxes that will be paid,” so that the net effect is that the taxpayer benefits from the incentive, he added.

Hay said it’s all about attracting the new generation of industrial job opportunities. “We are not prepared to move into the future, and we will be bypassed by companies looking forward,” he said. Hay added that the county needs to be on the lookout for industries that are “making products we don’t know about yet. We need to be purposeful about seeking a new generation of jobs.”

On the upcoming property tax revaluation:
Hay sees the county’s growth as a success, noting, “That means more taxes are coming in, so our share of the tax burden goes down.” He said many of the new developments are from out-of-towners; having “some guy from Atlanta paying the tax bill feels good,” he commented.

Belcher said the process of property tax revaluation is very fair. He noted other sources of income that can help offset the need to draw on property tax revenue. “The Asheville Outlets have generated a tremendous amount of additional sales tax for the county. Also the manufacturing jobs brought in … Those people are now starting to pay taxes, so we are getting extra revenue,” he said. Belcher added, “If the tax rate does not drop, chances are our spending is too high.”

On the state of education in Buncombe County:
Belcher said commissioners have done a tremendous job funding schools and being committed to teacher supplements. He said the three recently constructed schools originally had a much higher price tag. “We said no to dollar and yes to project and that got more for the students,” he said. Belcher also stressed the importance of encouraging today’s youth and said, “It doesn’t matter where you start, you can be anything you want to be.”

Hay opened his remarks stating that Belcher has not voted for education in the past. “I feel county schools are under attack. We have to protect schools to make them as strong as they can be,” he said. There’s a limit to what the county can do, he continued, but, “We can find creative ways to fund items that need to be funded.”

Belcher then responded to Hay’s accusation. “I’ve head that from my opponent a couple time already. It is inaccurate. I advocated for Enka Middle school and fought hard to make sure city schools happened, but at lower amount.” He also noted that he’s pushed for teacher assistant pay raises.

King and Pressley chat with each other after the forum. Photo by Dan Hesse
King and Pressley chat with each other after the forum. Photo by Dan Hesse

District 3 (two-year term)

This election was triggered by Miranda DeBruhl’s resignation from the board. Republican Robert Pressley is running against Democrat David King.

On using economic incentives to lure business:
Pressely said that, without having served on the board it’s hard to know all the particulars of past economic incentive deals, but said, “Incentives are great. We can give incentives, but the return must offset it so we are not just spending money.” He also stressed the need for education infrastructure so the county can have a pool of qualified workers. Lastly, he added that small businesses should be eligible for incentives, noting, “They seem to never ask for anything, but they create jobs.”

King called incentives indispensable and said they should also be used for retention. “We are not talking just jobs, we are talking about peoples’ lives and well-being,” he said. King noted that resources such as schools, restaurants and recreational amenities position the county to attract new business. He said that oftentimes the decision to locate comes down to whether someone’s spouse would like to live in the area.

On the upcoming property tax revaluation:
King said the process is triggered by state law; while he hasn’t looked at maps to see where growth has taken place, he said, “What will happen is most likely in the city you will probably see an increase in property tax due to value.” He said there may be a holding steady of, or slight decrease in, value for other areas.

Pressley noted that property values in Asheville “are skyrocketing.” He said he’s concerned that will hurt some people.
“Hopefully we can get together and lower the tax rate. The county won’t suffer as bad as people in the city,” he said.

On the state of education in Buncombe County:
Pressley said he has family members that work in education, so he hears about the lack of funding firsthand. “To keep teachers, we need to look at giving a fair wage of what surrounding counties give. We have schools that have more tools than others. Some don’t have computers,” he said. Pressley also noted that generating future job growth requires an educated workforce.

“I will support teachers, schools and the educational institutions,” said King. He also noted there is a limit to what the county can fund. King then touched on the role educators play outside of teaching. “Teachers are dealing with homeless children, problems at home … and we are asking teachers to perform a Herculean task, so it is incumbent on us to support them,” he said.

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About Dan Hesse
I grew up outside of Atlanta and moved to WNC in 2001 to attend Montreat College. After college, I worked at NewsRadio 570 WWNC as an anchor/reporter and covered Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners starting in 2004. During that time I also completed WCU's Master of Public Administration program. You can reach me at dhesse@mountainx.com.

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5 thoughts on “Commissioner candidates talk education, taxes and economic incentives

  1. Lulz

    LOL at that crony Newman. Montford will get creamed he says. But the buffoon made his money while in and off of government, So you sack of crap, are you actually paying anything? Nope, nada, zilch.

  2. Brownie: “The majority on the county commission voted to dedicate (extra funding for a) long overdue pay raise,” he said. “All the Republican members voted against it, and those are the facts that you can look up.”
    http://avlne.ws/2cqkoVn

    I looked it up:
    http://bit.ly/2bZVEqY

    Video:
    https://www.ustream.tv/embed/recorded/91564543

    -Newman on teacher pay at 1:25:00
    -Fryar’s rebuttal at 1:32:47
    -Newman responds at 1:35:10 (interesting body language at the end)

  3. keith

    Raleigh Republicans passed billions of dollars in new sales taxes and state fees, on electricity, natural gas, repair services, drivers licenses, car registration, movie tickets, mobile homes, and dozens of other new ways to get the revenue to partially offset the huge tax cuts for wealthy people and corporations. The rest of the tax cuts are paid for by not catching up from the 2007-2009 recession cuts to public schools, community colleges, and universities and environmental protection. County governments are under pressure to make up the difference if we want to invest in our future and successfully compete for jobs and income by having a high quality of life.

    • Lulz

      So wrong. I guess Greene’s 35K pay raise kinda flew over your head. Enough of the waste.

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