Candidates for the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners answered questions about infrastructure, affordable housing and other issues during a Council of Independent Business Owners-sponsored debate on Thursday, Aug. 25. Five of the seven seats on the county board are up for grabs in November’s general election. The District 3 short-term seat will be a two-year term, as it was created by Miranda DeBruhl’s resignation from the board.
The following are highlights from the candidates’ introductory statements and answers to questions.
County chair candidates Republican Chuck Archerd and Democrat Brownie Newman
Chuck Archerd said, “I’m a taxpayer just like you, running because I feel the county needs financial guidance.” He cited the county’s debt as a major concern. Archerd discussed his experience as a certified public accountant and commented that he has, “Financial expertise to talk turkey and sell the county to potential employers.” He said he’s in favor of keeping the tax rate the same, noting, “It’s important we control our taxes because that’s money you earn and that the government takes out of your pocket.” Archerd cited traffic mitigation as the greatest infrastructure need, saying he’s constantly stuck on Hendersonville Road. He also said making sure the Interstate 26 connector is eight lanes wide is vital for the future. With regard to affordable housing, he said it’s a supply and demand issue; he said he believes excessive regulations and their associated costs are driving up the cost of housing. “There’s no magic bullet. The free market should solve the problem and that’s better than the government,” he said.
Brownie Newman touted his experience as a vice president of a solar company and growing it from seven to 70 employees. He said he is, “Committed to listening to all people of the county.” Newman said he wants to continue to make the county a good place for small business while attracting new companies here. “I would like to broaden economic development incentives for smaller businesses,” he said. Newman said it’s imperative to remain fiscally responsible because, “When we have our house in order it makes us an attractive place for business.” In regard to raising taxes, Newman said not being able to predict the future means he can’t pledge that he wouldn’t. But he noted that, during his time on Asheville City Council and county commission, “I have voted to raise the property tax rate one time.” Newman said the most important infrastructure need is public schools. On affordable housing, he said the county needs to look at its land use plan and provide financial incentives for affordable housing.
District 2 Republican incumbent Mike Fryar and Democrat Nancy Nehls Nelson
Nancy Nehls Nelson said her experience as a project manager will be beneficial in county government, noting she knows how to get a project in on-time and on-budget. In regard to raising the property tax rate, she said she doesn’t want to raise taxes, but, “They may go up. As long as Asheville and Buncombe County tell the world they are a destination city, we are going to have to balance needs of temporary tax payers and people that live here now.” Nehls Nelson also stressed the importance of working with lawmakers in Raleigh, especially when it comes to public school funding. She listed the I-26 connector as the most important infrastructure need and said the county needs to work with the Department of Transportation as the project moves forward. In regard to affordable housing she said, “Unless people are vetted to buy affordable homes they will be snapped up as second homes. Destination cities always have this issue and I don’t have the answer today.”
Mike Fryar said he got into politics because there was, “Too much money being spent.” He noted that he balances keeping education a priority while simultaneously stressing fiscal conservatism. Fryar said he doesn’t want to raise the property tax rate but fears other county commissioners will raise it when property tax revaluations are finished in early 2017. He listed traffic as his top infrastructure priority; he also pointed out that the county doesn’t actually own any roads, making traffic difficult for county officials to control. On affordable housing, Fryar said, “I don’t see it. A lot of sheriff’s deputies can’t afford to live in Buncombe County. Taxes going up means rents are going up.”
District 3 Republican incumbent Joe Belcher and Democrat Ed Hay
Joe Belcher described himself as a “Bible-believing Christian” and said he’s motivated by family. He said he makes political decisions, “Through a filter of compassion and then I look at where we can save money.” Belcher said it’s the first time three new schools will open in one year and they were done with fiscal responsibility. He said he doesn’t want to raise the property tax rate: “It’s my intent to continue, no matter what the property reevaluations are, to make fiscally responsible decisions based on what my constituents tell me. I intend to keep taxes down with sound business practices.” Belcher said the I-26 connector is his top infrastructure priority, lamenting that, “The work is being done when the traffic is showing up.” He also touted the revenue being generated by the new Asheville Outlet Malls, noting they are helping fund education. On affordable housing he said it can’t all be concentrated in the city.
Ed Hay spent six years on Asheville City Council and said, “The county is faced with historic decisions on how to go forward.” He noted concerns about managing the county’s growth. As a resident of South Asheville, Hay said he sees a significant amount of construction and wants to harness business development dollars instead of taxing homeowners. He said bus lines should be a top infrastructure priority, noting that the county and city could partner to extend bus service throughout the county. Taking cars off roads, he continued, would help reduce traffic. Hay again suggested working with the city in regard to affordable housing while stressing, “Local government should have a role in the creation of affordable housing.”
District 3 partial-term candidates Democrat David King and Republican Robert Pressley
Robert Pressley said he’s running for office because he’s “Looking out for the future of my kids and grandkids,” while noting he would advocate for education and fiscal responsibility. He said he wants to, “Keep Buncombe County the way it was 50 years ago,” and shape the way it will be in 50 years. Pressley said he understands nobody likes property tax increases. He said he believes people moving here is driving up property taxes, noting he’s fine with taxes supporting law enforcement and education. Pressley said that the I-26 connector is a top infrastructure priority, while also stressing the importance of keeping existing jobs and companies in Buncombe County. “We need to work with small businesses because they are the future,” he said. On the subject of affordable housing, Pressley said, “The demand of people wanting to move to Buncombe County is limiting where affordable housing can be. We are running out of land here in Western North Carolina.” He also said he would be in favor of partnering with the city to address the issue.
David King said he’s running because, “This is my home. We need people willing to look to the future but not go to the past.” He said he’s not in favor of raising the property tax rate, but he also doesn’t know what the future holds. “I will work diligently to keep taxes in line. The best way to do that is to improve industry and have people move here. That gives us a diverse tax base,” he said. He also noted that the county needs to recruit new business and support current companies. King listed the I-26 connector as the number one infrastructure priority, while also saying he supports investing in health and human services, such as child protection and law enforcement. In regard to affordable housing he said, “At the end of the day real solutions come through the private sector,” and said the county’s desirability makes it difficult.
District 1 candidate Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, running unopposed
Jasmine Beach-Ferrara is the presumed winner of District 1 as she is running unopposed. She made a brief statement and said she draws inspiration from being raised by a single mother and is focused on service. Beach-Ferrara added that she wants to create a Buncombe County where everyone can thrive and a place where children are a priority.