Joe Belcher (I), Republican
Place of residence: Candler
Political experience: Current Buncombe County commissioner, District 3
Endorsements: Asheville Citizen-Times
Amount of money raised: On record
Top three donors and amount contributed: On record
Why are you running?
I have enjoyed serving Buncombe County and am humbled by the support I have received. My work is not done. I want to continue protecting the mountain culture that has made this county a great place to live. I love the mountains and the beauty that surrounds us, and I intend to protect and preserve this way of life while “Building a Better Buncombe” for our children and grandchildren.
What is Buncombe County’s best path toward creating more jobs outside of the service and tourist industries? And how do you plan on making it happen?
I supported the construction of our new STEM high school (science, technology, engineering, math) as one step in preparing our young students for jobs in advanced manufacturing and other fields. I believe in CTE (career and technical education) courses to provide direction for middle and high school students also. I was one of the original organizers and supporter of the RAMP initiative (raising awareness of manufacturing possibilities) that promotes cooperation between local skilled labor companies and Buncombe County Schools as well as A-B Tech.
Are you in favor of using economic development incentives? If so, what kind? If not, why?
I would rather not have to participate in this process; however, we must do so to compete. Because of our location, we not only compete with other counties, but also other states. We have employers that could locate in South Carolina or Tennessee just as easy as another county. I believe our greatest asset is our people, and that is what brings jobs to our area, not incentives. Any incentives I support generate more in taxes than the incentive.
North Carolina law states footage from the Sheriff’s Department body cameras is not part of the public record. Do you agree or disagree with this decision? Why or why not?
This is an issue that our Sheriff Van Duncan would make a recommendation to the commission. I would support his recommendation.
As infrastructure needs grow, would you consider using bonds to fund projects? Why or why not? And, if so, what type of bond would you pursue?
Most bonds are used for infrastructure needs; for example, school construction. In Buncombe County, we fund these capital requests through part of our sales tax and meet the need without putting a burden on property tax. I do not see the need for bonds to meet county funding.
Does HB2 highlight the state overstepping its bounds in regard to legislating municipalities? Why or why not?
HB2 was in response to the Charlotte ordinance. I have said before that I would not support a Charlotte-style ordinance. As a gentleman, I believe it could be harmful to women and children.
As development continues to boom, how can the county help ensure affordable housing for its residents?
We must be an advocate for affordable housing in all its forms. Most conversations that occur about affordable housing involve only affordable rentals, and we must create a path to equity in Buncombe County by helping make homeownership affordable. This can be achieved by looking at all forms of housing, including smaller square-footage stick-built construction, factory-built, tiny homes, manufactured and modular construction. Also, we must look carefully at the cost of regulation for our builders. The cost of permitting in city and county locations is excessive.
Are the current zoning policies adequate to deal with the pressures of increased development in the county?
I believe that we need to protect our beautiful mountains with common-sense requirements.
What zoning designation that doesn’t currently exist would you like to see, or what is an existing, but underutilized zoning designation?
Our R3 designation needs some work. Currently, we are not keeping pace with the rest of the country when it comes to factory-built housing. Allowing ranch-style models in comparable communities is a way to help [people own or rent an] affordable house. We should also look at tiny homes as an option. Many millennials prefer smaller homes and consider them a popular choice across the country.
What county-run service needs the most improvement, and how would you address it?
I would like to see our nonprofit community service funding requests move from individual asks once a year to contract-based agreements. This would allow most of these programs to come under our Health and Human Services Department and be managed better. These are contracted services that would be needed to help those struggling in Buncombe County. By bringing them into this department, we would deliver better services to the public.
What is the most important issue facing Buncombe County, and how do you plan on addressing it?
This is difficult because it depends on where you live. There are those that believe traffic is our problem, congestion in certain areas. But if you ask our Sheriff’s Department, it would be concerned about our drug problems. We have families that struggle, so they would look for help with wages, jobs and economic development. We must seek to involve our community at all times as this needle is moving.
How do you represent a constituency with varied political ideologies?
When I am at church or a ballgame, restaurant or grocery store, people are too busy living to discuss politics. It does come up around election time, and that is about it. Other times we are talking about our children and grandchildren, and how our community and country can be better. If we approach each decision in a compassionate way, then I believe people will understand even though we have different convictions.
What makes you the most qualified candidate for this position?
I am the most qualified because I have served my constituents for four years with compassion and dedication. I am very visible and accessible in all our communities. You must know everyone in your district, and I do. Whether they live in Sandy Mush, Candler or South Asheville, I have listened to issues and fixed problems. I have supported four new schools and thousands of additional jobs. I pushed for teacher assistant pay increases and was successful. I will not ignore the cries of the least to meet the needs of the loudest.