GOP commissioner candidates attend forum at Tryon Estates

Published 1:49 pm Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The three Republican candidates for the Polk County Board of Commissioners attended a forum last week at Tryon Estates, presenting similar positions on many issues facing the county.

David Moore, Ted Owens and Tom Pack each said they would provide conservative leadership focused on preserving the county&squo;s character and minimizing the tax burden of residents.

Residents of the Tryon Estates retirement community filled the main auditorium to listen to the candidates, who shared some of their personal background, their accomplishments and their goals if elected.

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The forum was sponsored by Tryon Estates residents Paul Sutherland and Eve Beaumont to help voters learn more about the county board candidates.

Both Pack and Owens are incumbents, while Moore is a newcomer after having defeated incumbent Republican Harry Denton in the primary election in May.

Pack told voters he has heard a consistent, clear message from residents that they want to keep the county&squo;s rural heritage. He explained to voters that he pushed last year for the seven-acre minimum lot size in the county and the establishment of a vision committee. He said he supports the creation of a comprehensive land use plan to help guide land use regulations.

Pack added that he agreed to put a referendum for a higher land transfer tax on the ballot this November and to designate the revenue from the tax for farmland preservation.

During his current term he said the county has achieved its goal of securing a long-term water supply through the planned purchase of Lake Adger, and is now planning water lines in Green Creek. He said those lines will benefit people who need water and people who receive municipal water but are outside the municipality and therefore pay higher rates. The county&squo;s planned water system, he said, will provide competition for the municipal systems, which should help lower rates outside the towns.

Pack mentioned that the county also has recently completed multiple capital projects, including the historic courthouse, middle school, county library, transfer station, and Tryon Elementary addition. Work on an addition to Sunny View Elementary has begun and renovations are planned for Stearns Gym.

Owens noted many of the same achievements. He said when he took office the county already was moving forward on multiple capital projects that are good for the county, but it didn&squo;t have anyone overseeing the construction. Owens says he suggested the county hire retired engineer Cecil Cannon, who has helped save the county money.

After taking office he said he also had to vote for a tax increase, the first he&squo;s ever voted for during his years in political office. The increase was needed to help pay off mounting debts, he said, and the county took further steps to improve the fiscal accountability of each department.

As soon as the county&squo;s financial standing improved, Owens said he suggested a property tax cut, but it failed by one vote last year.

Owens emphasized the importance of securing Lake Adger for the county&squo;s future and said the county needs to do more to control growth in the future. The seven-acre minimum is a start, he said, and the county should also continue efforts to protect ridgelines, develop a comprehensive plan and look at regulations to protect ridgelines.

Moore said he would be a &dquo;conservative spender,&dquo; adding he was disappointed that the property tax cut proposed by Pack and Owens last year did not pass.

Moore said he is running for the county board so he can help protect the county&squo;s rural heritage, preserve its farmland, and secure a water source. He said he fully supports the county&squo;s seven-acre minimum lot size and added the county must control growth and&bsp; &dquo;take care of our ridgetops.&dquo;

Moore, who served on the county&squo;s vision committee, said it is a &dquo;disgrace&dquo; to come down I-26 and see how Chocolate Drop Mountain was &dquo;stripped&dquo; for development.

Moore said he would support a revenue neutral budget when the county&squo;s revaluation takes effect next year, meaning the county would lower the tax rate to fully offset higher property values.

He said the county should maintain its current buildings and not put up a new building on &dquo;every corner.&dquo;&bsp; The county needs a long-term plan before proceeding with additional building projects, he said.

Moore emphasized that it&squo;s important to be a voice for all residents of the county.

The candidates also fielded some questions at the forum. Some residents questioned why the towns have not cooperated with the county on water. Pack and Owens said the county tried to work with the towns, but the towns decided to go on their own. They noted they were pleased that it appears Columbus is now willing to talk with the county again about cooperative efforts.

Former county commissioner Larry Poe said he&squo;s concerned that a county water system could eventually lead to higher density growth if the county needs revenue to cover operational costs. The candidates said they understand that concern and that&squo;s why it&squo;s important to put measures in place to limit growth so that will not occur.

Pack added that higher density residential growth and &dquo;Boiling Springs&dquo; like commercial growth cannot take place if&bsp; sewer service does not accompany the water, and the county has no plans to extend sewer service.