Polk County commissioner candidates answer Bulletin questions

Published 3:42 pm Monday, October 20, 2008

Editor&squo;s note: The six candidates running for three open seats on the Polk County Board of Commissioners recently answered questions submitted to them by the Bulletin. We will begin running their answers today with the first section of questions relating to the equestrian industry in Polk County. We will run their answers on other topics next week.

With regard to our county&squo;s equestrian community, do you see Polk County&squo;s equestrian interest as a benefit to the county in terms other than just recreational? If so, how?

Ray Gasperson (D): Polk County&squo;s equestrian community is clearly much more than recreational. Many of Polk County&squo;s charities depend on horse show benefits with proceeds of these events going to support various causes. However, the most important thing that the equestrian community provides is a major economic engine. Those who benefit are the show grounds, gas stations, restaurants, hotels/inns, shops, etc. A recent study of the Tryon area horse show venue economic impact concluded that FENCE and Harmon Field have a direct dollar impact of approx $14 million annually. The formula used by Economic Development to determine the impact on the economy of direct dollars is to multiply direct dollars by 4. $14 million X 4 = an economic impact for Polk County of $56 million annually. When the new Green Creek Equestrian Park opens in approx three years, there will likely be a significant increase in these numbers.

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Renee McDermott (D): Yes. Horses are important to our County&squo;s economy. Data gathered by the equestrian community establish that the direct dollar impact of FENCE&squo;s and Harmon Field&squo;s horse shows is over $14 million annually.&bsp; The projected annual impact of the newly approved equestrian park on Highway 9 is $9.5 million.

People familiar with horse shows estimate that every horse brought to a show is, on average, accompanied by 2.5 to 3 people. They use local lodging, restaurants, feed and tack stores and local veterinarians and farriers. They shop in our groceries, gift shops and clothing stores. Horse clinics, hunter paces and training facilities also bring visitors to our area who use those same local services and stores.

The area&squo;s excellent trail systems are critical for real estate sales. The trail systems are sometimes called Polk County&squo;s &dquo;waterfront,&dquo; meaning that properties on the trail systems are as sought after as waterfront properties elsewhere.

David Moore (R): Yes, It&squo;s a major economic boost to our county with the number of events that we have through out the year. It also provides jobs for our local citzens. One of the most rewarding programs that our Equestrian commununity has is a program called TROT Program. This is exclusively for citzens with special needs.

Ted Owens (R): The equestrian community has always been an important part of Polk County&squo;s life. The Steeple Chase and the Horse Show at Harmon Field were two of the County&squo;s biggest events. Even school was let out for the Horse Show. It has contributed and will continue to contribute to the economical well- being of the County and especially Tryon by bringing in tourists which benefits the local restaurants and other related businesses. It provides jobs, a market for hay farmers and businesses that provide materials and services to the equestrian community.

Tom Pack (R): Yes, the equestrian community provides jobs and is one part of our economic development strategy.

Cindy Walker (D): Large acreage of well-managed pastures, over 14 million dollars in Polk County horse show revenue, a tax base that gives more than it takes in county services, visitors who come and build our local economy then leave happy, an industry that accomplishes the main objective of keeping our rural nature healthy and alive–this is Polk County&squo;s equestrian community.

Our equestrian interest is one of our greatest assets: horses mean business, they keep us &dquo;in the green&dquo; in terms of land use, economics, revenue vs. cost of services benefits, tourism, and retaining our rural character.

How do you see the county&squo;s land use policies affecting the equestrian community and vice versa?

Ray Gasperson (D): The recent Visioning Committee Report states that over 83% of the respondents replied that they support Farmland Preservation and &dquo;Overwhelmingly what they&bsp; liked best about Polk County is its rural character and beautiful countryside.&dquo; The equestrian community has proven to be a perfect fit with this vision. Horses are an agri-based business, and depend on open land. My conversations with members of the equestrian community informs me that they wish to see land use policies that promote open land and Farmland Preservation.

Renee McDermott (D): If our land use policies favor keeping Polk County rural, as the large majority of our residents desire, it will positively affect the equestrian community. Horses require considerable space for pasture, and the riding trail systems require much natural open space. If Polk County&squo;s land use policies fail to protect against dense development, or impairment of our natural resources, it will eventually drive out equestrian activity, as has happened elsewhere, leaving a big economic gap.

Our equestrian community is highly supportive of land use policies that favor open space and preservation of our natural resources. Horses depend on a land-based or agricultural-based economy. Thus, the equestrian community is supportive of farmland preservation and provides a market for our local farm products such as hay. On average, horse farms comprise larger acreages than purely residential areas, helping to preserve Polk County&squo;s rural nature. Equestrians actively support lower density land use plans.

David Moore (R): This is an important part of our county. We must include this in any Land use policy.

Ted Owens (R): Due to the importance of the equestrian community and the effect it has on the economy of the county, the board of commissioners would need to make it an important part of any land use policies.

Tom Pack (R): The land use plan will take into consideration the open spaces that the equestrian community now provides. I think these areas will continue to be shown as low density in the land use plan.

Cindy Walker (D): How do you maintain open space and natural areas that 79 percentage visioning committee respondents said they would like to see, retain the rural character and grow our local economy? Survey says, protect your assets. At the county level, we must continue assisting our equestrian community by encouraging large lots/low density in areas suitable for equestrian activity through ordinances (7 acre minimum was a good start) while moving forward, with speed and excellence, on a Comprehensive Land Use Plan and a Unified Development Ordinance that will protect ALL of Polk County&squo;s assets and interests. The equestrian community has affected land use policy through their community self-regulation such as Hunting Country and Collinsville 5 acre minimum.

Are you familiar with how many jobs are provided by equine activity here? What is your understanding of the depth of the industry?

Ray Gasperson (D): Polk County&squo;s Economic Development Commission has recognized that the level of equestrian activity in the county has proven to be a major provider of jobs in our community. In other words, horses create a thriving industry locally that continues to grow annual basis. As a result, I believe as do the members of the Polk County Development Commission that support for this industry should be a priority.

Locally, at least 150 small businesses have been identified that are dependent on horses in our area. These businesses include farmers who provide hay, truck/ trailer sales & repairs, feed, equine equipment sales, veterinary care, barn builders, farriers and the list goes on. It is important to understand that you don&squo;t have to be a horse owner to benefit from the positive impact that the equestrian community provides. The growing equestrian community provides a large economic base from which all kinds of businesses can thrive which in turn provides jobs for the community.

Renee McDermott (D): Quite a cluster economy is built around horses in our County. Equine activity in Polk County provides many good, diverse jobs. It has been estimated that approximately 150 small businesses are dependent on the horses of our area. These entrepreneurial businesses hire from one person up to 10 to 15. Some of the jobs directly associated with horses include barn building, fence building, hay growing, farriers, leather repair, veterinarians, trainers, riding instruction, tack shops, feed shops, boarding, breeding farms, equine dentistry, trailer sales and repair, truck sales and repair, pasture management, farm and equine insurance, feed and equipment sales.

Still more jobs are provided through horse-related tourism such as horse shows and people bringing their horses to the highly acclaimed Tryon Equine Hospital. While here, people stay in our bed & breakfasts or other accommodations and eat in our restaurants. See also my answer to equine question 1.

David Moore (R): I have no data at this time to give a correct answer. There is a study being done or near completion at this time.

Ted Owens (R): To be honest, we don&squo;t know how many jobs are directly or indirectly related to the horse industry here. We could guess, but it would be just that — a guess. That&squo;s why this Board of Commissioners supported the efforts of Senator Apadoca and Representative Walend in Raleigh to establish the 2008/ 2009 NC Equine Survey. This project was approved in this year&squo;s State budget and is currently under way through the NC Rural Center. It is the first time since 1996 that the industry has been studied at the State level. This survey will determine how the horse industry has changed in the past 12 years. But, the survey is only as accurate as the numbers that are gathered. That&squo;s why it is very important for our local horse owners and farm operators to participate in the survey and provide accurate information so we as elected officials will be able to gauge the size and importance of the industry and we can plan accordingly. To get more facts please read the pamphlet entitled &dquo; Equine Economic Impact Analysis- How your Community Benefits&dquo;.

Tom Pack (R): I know that the equine community provides jobs in Polk County. I don&squo;t know if anyone knows the exact number. I think that these jobs are an important part of our economy in Polk County. We need to continue to include this community in future economic development plans for the county.

Cindy Walker (D): Last summer Dot Moyer shared with me her copy of the Equestrian Resource for the Foothills. This publication is akin to &uot;Yellow Pages&uot; for horse enthusiasts. I sat down and made a chart, according to category and location of all the businesses listed in the directory. From breeding and boarding to realtors and retail, for Polk County, I had a total of 110 businesses directly related to the equine industry. Yet, still I did not fully believe that these businesses truly affected our local folks.

Then, last week while building signs out at the Gasperson Farm, I watched Cory Gasperson roll in with his farrier truck then head out to rake hay. I saw Sue Gasperson walk to her barn to turn out the horses that she would use later in the day for classes. As we nailed and cut boards I remembered Ray&squo;s story about how beautiful his daughter Julia looked as Carolyn Whittle&squo;s carriage drove father and bride up from the cross roads just two weeks ago. Bringing it home — real jobs, real people. &bsp;

Do you have any suggestions/vision for enhancing and protecting our county&squo;s equestrian heritage?

Ray Gasperson (D): A good example of smart land use policy was the passage of the 5 acre minimum in the Collinsville Area last year. This will insure that this area will remain rural and pastoral. I would encourage other areas of the county to take action like the Collinsville area community has done. It is important to protect FETA, CETA and other trail systems. These trail systems are part of the county&squo;s heritage, and is one of the main reasons that Polk County attracts equestrians from around the world. With the alarming rate of land lost to development, equestrians are looking for a place to live where there is still open land for them to ride. Polk County has been discovered and was recently listed in Western Horseman&squo;s top ten equestrian places to live. Our county&squo;s equestrian heritage will continue to be strong with the support of our 15 local horse organizations and by the protection of our extensive (now over 200 miles) of horse trails.

Renee McDermott (D): Keeping our county rural will help enhance and protect its equestrian heritage, helping it prosper and grow. I&squo;ve devoted myself to preserving our open spaces and natural resources, working on voluntary conservation and agricultural easements with the Pacolet Area Conservancy and with the TrailLands Conservationists. I&squo;ve served on the Board of the Foothills Equestrian Trails Association (FETA). I&squo;ve also worked with Polk County&squo;s Land Use Plan Committee and with the Ridgetop and Mountainside Protection Group.

Another approach to protecting Polk County&squo;s equestrian heritage could be building a Museum of the Horse here and/or a Steeplechase Museum. These could be substantial tourist draws and economic development drivers, creating more good jobs in Polk County.

David Moore (R): The BOC just put together a committee to develop a comprehensive plan for our county. A consultant will be hired very soon.

Ted Owens (R): I believe that the enhancing and protecting our county&squo;s equestrian will be an important part of our county&squo;s Comprehensive Land Use Plan. The Comprehensive Land Use Plan Advisory Committee has been appointed and the consultant for this will more than likely have been hired by the time this is printed in your paper.

Tom Pack (R): I think the comprehensive plan will address this issue and will afford the protection that they need.

Cindy Walker (D): Our history and our heritage are points of pride for all of Polk County. Electing capable leaders who offer forward thinking sustainable solutions coupled with citizen involvement in the governing process will strengthen our ability to follow the Visioning Committee&squo;s Mission Statement:Polk County&squo;s rural atmosphere and serene natural beauty will be vigorously protected. Visionary and Pragmatic County and municipal governments will work together in a cooperative manner as they continue to enhance the quality of life for all Polk County citizens.