Saluda candidates answer Bulletin questions
Published 12:44 pm Thursday, October 29, 2009
The six candidates in the Saluda municipal elections recently answered questions from the Bulletin regarding current issues in the town. Below are their answers.
1) Henderson County has indicated it may want to partner with Saluda on the purchase of the Tuxedo water system. Would you be willing to partner with Henderson County and, if so, what type of partnership would you like to see?
Fred Baisden: I would be willing to work with Henderson County to develop a partnership on the purchase of the Tuxedo water system if this is the only way that Saluda can gain independence from outside water sources. Saluda has taken the lead in the purchase of the Tuxedo water system. If we do enter into a partnership, it will have to be developed for the benefit of both, without Saluda bearing the brunt of the entire cost of the development of the system and maintenance of the system.
Rodney Gibson: Saluda is unique in more ways than one. One of our unique characteristics is our geographic location relative to Henderson County and Polk County. It has affected our community socially, economically and politically since 1847. It’s very important to our future that we recognize the current and potential impacts of Henderson County’s growth on Saluda. It is clear that the growth pressures will be coming from that direction. It is also clear that our City boundaries are more likely to grow out Highway 176 into Henderson County than they are in the more rural direction of Polk County.
For us to manage the impact of Henderson County on Saluda it will be critical for us to find ways to work in concert with Henderson County. Using the Tuxedo water system as one tool in creating a comprehensive land use partnership with Henderson County is a positive step that would be vital to our common interests.
John Morgan: Yes. Saluda is interested in establishing a long term relationship with Henderson County in several areas in addition to water because of our geographic proximity. It is Saludas desire to operate a water system that serves the residents of Southern Henderson County as well as Saluda. We want Henderson County to retain control over where water lines are run in Henderson County and who gets service.
Hop Foster: No I would not want to partner with Henderson County. I believe Saluda needs to purchase it outright.
John Kinard: Yes, I believe that a partnership with Henderson County would be beneficial to both parties, and would ultimately result in a lowering of our water costs. Since negotiations are ongoing I would like to see what Henderson County proposes; there are many questions to be worked out, such as; what would be the division of water; who would operate the ystem; what would be the division of ownership; who would bear the majority of costs in the system, etc. However, I firmly believe that cooperation is the key and that these questions can be worked out with a mutual benefit to both parties.
George Sweet: The purchase of the Tuxedo water system could be highly important to supply Saludas long-term water needs and reduce the cost of water to Saludas citizens. I am reluctant, but not totally unwilling, to partner with Henderson County if that can be done in such a way that Saluda is assured of this source of water at minimal cost.
Considering Tuxedos proximity to Saludas existing water system, now serving many Lake Summit households, and the distance to the nearest portion of the Hendersonville water system, I really dont understand Henderson Countys need for a partnership. Their approval is a routine requirement for any land purchase by another governmental entity; as good neighbors I would like to see them support our efforts to improve Saludas water supply.
1b) Do you believe acquiring the Tuxedo system will address the town’s long-term water needs and help reduce water rates?
Fred Baisden: The acquisition of the Tuxedo water system would provide a sufficient water source for the town of Saluda for the foreseeable future. It will not immediately lower water rates, but will allow the city to expand the customer base to be able to lower fixed costs over time. Currently, Saluda has between 600 and 1000 water customers to cover fixed costs. The price of water is not the primary cost of the total water bill, since customers only pay $5.35 per 1000 gallons of water and the same for sewer. There are fixed costs for customers inside the city limits of $20.00 for water and $20.00 for sewer, plus a $3.50 user fee. If a customer uses 3000 gallons of water per month, their water cost is $16.05, and sewer cost is $16.05. Then you add $40.00 in fixed charges and a $3.50 user fee. Your $32.10 water bill becomes $75.60 plus $16.20 for garbage pickup, making your bill $91.80. We must reduce the fixed costs to have any major impact on our water bills.
Rodney Gibson: Yes. There are two primary reasons that Saluda’s water rates are relatively high. The first reason is that we have a small community of customers that must absorb the fixed costs (pipes, pumps, meters, hydrants, etc) and operating costs (regulatory compliance, maintenance, chemicals, etc). The second reason being the cost of raw water (variable cost) which represents about 20 percent of our overall costs. Purchase of the Tuxedo water system helps dilute the fixed costs by adding customers and significantly lowers the cost of the raw water(variable cost). But more importantly, this would give us a “beachhead” for a future system with a lot more customers than we can expect just within the Saluda district. We already own and operate the Lake Summit water system which is another key link. With the Tuxedo system we would be able to supply water to Henderson County customers into an area where the Hendersonville system is currently not available.
John Morgan: Saludas decision to purchase the Tuxedo water system was based on the idea that this system would provide for our long term needs. Saluda also recognizes its responsibility to provide for the needs of water customers at both Lake Summit and Tuxedo. Combining these three groups makes for a customer base that is in a better position to take advantage of economies of scale which will translate into cheaper rates. It also provides the opportunity to take advantage of grant money and financing for infrastructure improvements that was not previously available.
Hop Foster: I believe it will be a big help by getting water prices down so we can address excess funds towards fixing the leaks.
John Kinard: I believe that acquiring the Tuxedo plant will address a large part of our long range needs and ultimately reduce water rates; but this will not happen overnight, also we need to look at other water sources, wells, Lake Summit, Green River, etc.
George Sweet: See answer to 1).
2) Would you be willing to work with Polk County to address long-term water needs, either by partnering in a water authority or purchasing water from a future county system?
Fred Baisden: I would be willing to explore all options for providing the City of Saluda a stable, long range, low-cost water source.
Rodney Gibson: I was an early proponent of a Polk County water system and I still am. It is very important that future water resources in Polk County be protected for the people of Polk County. The dynamics and political direction taken by Polk County is no longer consistent with Saluda’s needs but that doesn’t mean it’s not important to Polk County. Once it was clear that Saluda was becoming a liability to the revised plan and not going to benefit from the future vision, we had to pursue different opportunities. However, Saluda’s efforts and direction may directly benefit Polk County in the future and I would always be willing to pursue areas where it would be mutually beneficial.
John Morgan: I am always open to the idea of talking to Polk County about an agreement on acquiring water through the County. A major concern with such a future arrangement is Saludas geographic location with respect to the rest of the county. In addition, Saluda already has a presence and responsibility in the southern portion of Henderson County with its ownership of the Lake Summit water system. Because the Tuxedo water system is close to both Lake Summit and Saluda, it made more sense to pursue the acquisition of that system.
Hop Foster: I would not be oppossed to working with Polk County if it was what was best for Saluda.
John Kinard: Its not a matter of being willing to work with Polk County on longer term needs. Water is not just a Saluda or county concern but a state one. Everyone in Polk Couty has to work together to solve this problem. I would be willing to work with not only the county but also the communities in Polk County, Columbus and Tryon. We have to develop a countywide solution, again the key is cooperation not confrontation because if the counties cannot work out there differences, the state will. This is what happened in Texas with the organization of the water development board and a statewide permit system.
George Sweet: I am willing to work with Polk County to address any issue that affects the quality of life for Polk County residents.
3) What would you like to see the town do with the current city hall building?
Fred Baisden: I would like to see the current building restored to be as original as possible and maintain a historic appearance while bringing the building up to standards for better handicap accessibility and energy efficiency.
Rodney Gibson: I want to see it restored and upgraded. City Hall is iconic and historically significant to Saluda and its historic district. Many probably don’t know that it was a bank at one time in our history.
We have an architectural plan and cost estimate that provides us with a general direction for restoring and updating the current City Hall so that it can serve our future needs. Prior to the economic meltdown we were pursuing the plan in a stepwise fashion to restore and upgrade the building. Currently, we are assembling a citizen team to tap into the fantastic core of people that are interested and willing to keep the effort moving. I am optimistic and encouraged by the groundswell of support and know this will be another example of the “Saluda Way” just like the Library/Community Center effort where we found $1 million dollars from private donors to make it happen. We are Saluda.
John Morgan: With the support of my fellow commissioners I have already moved to form a committee to oversee the renovation of Saludas City Hall. This is a volunteer committee made up of an architect, a builder, a county official, and four citizens who have experience restoring older structures. The goal is to have our city hall again take its rightful place as the centerpiece of the Saluda Historic District. The challenge is to complete this mission without adding an undue financial burden to the citys taxpayers. My intention is to accomplish this by seeking out grant money and volunteer labor. Our citizens are very involved in their community and I have every confidence that we can accomplish this task together.
Hop Foster: I want to see City Hall stay in its current location in the heart of downtown. It obviously needs to be remodeled and updated.
John Kinard: The current city hall must be preserved and renovated. We currently have a committee working on this with a proposed floor plan and are moving ahead to have an architectural and cost evaluation that will restore the city hall to its former beauty.
George Sweet: I would like to see the current City Hall restored in such a way that it maintains its historic faade and is made structurally sound with a reasonably efficient floor plan to meet city needs.
4) Do you think Saluda should pursue the creation of a greenway through the town?
Fred Baisden: Greenways that give residents a safe way of passage through and around town are always a good idea. Greenways need to be developed with involvement of City residents to assure that everyone is informed of the impact and how it will affect them. Once greenways are created, they have to be maintained and be safe. While developing a greenway plan, we need to also look at improving our sidewalks to accommodate our population as it ages so one has safe, easy wheelchair access to town, church and healthcare.
Rodney Gibson: Yes. Saluda has always been a place where its citizens were outgoing and neighborly. A place where children could safely move about and the elderly or infirm could still be an active part of our lives. We now have different challenges that we must meet to continue to maintain or improve our quality of life. Through the long-time and sustained efforts of volunteers and concerned Polk Countians, we are on the cusp of having “greenways” throughout the County that could conceivably be connected as a unique transportation corridor; one that enhances the human experience and our natural resources. In Saluda, we have a resource that could be a major contributor to this effort in our “unopened” streets and alley ways. We should collectively view this as a unique Saluda opportunity and take advantage of it with a system of “Greenways” throughout the city that connects with the larger vision for the rest of the county.
John Morgan: I recently participated in a Polk County sponsored rails to trails fact finding mission to Abingdon Virginia. In addition to Polk County, represented on this trip were Landrum, Tryon, Saluda and various organizations within Polk County and Landrum. Abingdon has been a leader in the conversion of a rail line into a pedestrian, equestrian and biking trail. For me this trip was a very interesting experience. I think a trolley line or a trail could be a great way to develop the Saluda grade into a recreation area. Any project of this nature should be approached as a regional undertaking. I have contacted interested parties in both Henderson County and Hendersonville to begin the process of coordinating an effort toward this end.
Hop Foster: If the city has sufficient property to create a greenway I would be for it. I just wouldnt want to disrupt citizens’ homes.
John Kinard: I think that the greenway project would be a wonderful addition to the quality of life in Saluda, but this is going to be a real long term project. I very much doubt if it could be completed during my lifetime. There are numerous questions to be resolved, as to the route it would take, the use of the railroad track, sidewalks, walking paths and the legal problems; however we need to keep working on this and it can be done through cooperation and careful evaluation.
George Sweet: Greenways could be an enjoyable and useful addition to walkways in our community. I feel they should be created only with the approval of adjoining property owners. Priority should be given to improvements and additions to sidewalks along our busier streets.
5) Do you think the town has sufficient parking in the downtown area?
Fred Baisden: At times there is a surplus of parking spaces, but during special events and peak seasons we do not have enough parking. As a member of the Saluda Planning Board, we presented the City Commissioners with a survey that provided approximately 150 potential parking spaces. One such recommendation was to make a portion of Church Street one way. This was done, and about 12 additional spaces were added. The City parking lot on West Main Street was also recommended for additional parking. An additional issue is directing visitors and merchants to use the City parking lot to relieve the parking burden in downtown.
Rodney Gibson: No. We have a thriving historical business district that generates the need for additional parking or an alternative that is uniquely Saluda. We have purchased and established remote parking on the North side of town to relieve the need.
Our constraint is land. If our success continues, demand for parking from transient visitors as well as our citizens will grow. This creates a mix where the only way we can expand our parking resources downtown is to tear down historic buildings and replace them with parking lots or structures.
I saw this potential years ago and lead a successful effort to remove minimum parking requirements downtown to take away the incentive to demolish historic buildings. We need to continue to look at alternatives such as encouraging the use of golf carts with designated parking for our locals, “greenways” that connect to parking areas that will allow visitors a unique experience, constructing bicycling infrastructure and a better network of sidewalks.
John Morgan: Parking in Downtown Saluda was one of my first priorities when I was elected as a Saluda Commissioner. We directed the Planning Board to perform a study of available parking and offer suggestions of possible improvements. They came up with converting Church Street to one way traffic with diagonal parking. We also added a requirement in our zoning ordinance for parking to be provided for any further development in the downtown district. In an attempt to better utilize property the city owns on North Main Street, the area was graveled and outlined in landscape timbers for a parking lot. My wife and I came up with a landscape plan and with trees donated by the Saluda Community Land Trust and others, planted the area. In the future we may need to look to a portion of the old railroad right of way as a possible source of parking.
Hop Foster: No we do not have enough parking.
John Kinard: Parking is always going to be a problem in Saluda as more and more people visit the area and growth of Henderson and Polk counties continues parking pressure will increase. The new city parking lot will help and there are several locations that could accommodate additional parking. Right now we are in pretty good shape.
George Sweet: As people learn to use the city parking lot on West Main Street, I think downtown parking will be sufficient.
5b) What do you think should be done to provide a long-term parking solution for parents picking up children from school without disrupting the farmer’s market?
Fred Baisden: I would suggest that we either delay the farmers market by thirty to forty-five minutes to allow the buses and parents time to clear the parking lot, or see if we can move the farmers market to Saturday.
Rodney Gibson: It should be remembered that children have the first priority. It should also be noted that the farmer’s market has been a fabulous addition to our community socially and economically. The issue is the overlap on Friday evenings during the farmer’s market season when school is in session. I have and have had the privilege of watching the school bus pickup and drop off from my house since we began using the new parking lot for that purpose. There is no better place in town for this to occur. We will need to find a new location for the farmer’s market if it continues to grow. I have discussed this with the Saluda School and they are willing to allow the farmer’s market to move to the school ground on Friday’s after 3:30 p.m. There is more parking, more space and it is still convenient to downtown.
John Morgan: I have been involved with the Farmers Market since its inception. The Saluda Business Association has done a wonderful job of making the market an outstanding success and a community event. That success did create a situation that was feared would conflict with the drop off of school children at the same location. We tried solving the problem by having the school buses drop the children off at the Baptist Church around the corner from the Farmers Market when it was in operation. This solution was adopted until the market closes down at the end of October. After we tried this for several weeks it appeared that the buses arrive early enough that there doesnt appear to be a conflict after all. This will be a consideration in the planning that goes into next years farmers market.
Hop Foster: I believe the children should come first but I am open minded to discuss other ideas.
John Kinard: The long term parking solution has been worked out. I have talked with both the school officials and the Saluda Business Association. The Farmers Market will continue to oeprate at the current location. Set up time will start at 4:30 p.m. We have determined that when school is in session all of the buses are gone by 4 p.m. By moving the set up time back by 30 minutes the school and the farmers market can use the city parking lot. Also under consideration is making the street in front of the lot one way and paving it and putting in a sidewalk down to the parking lot. This is a prime example of what can be accomplished through mutual cooperation of all parties concerned.
George Sweet: From what was reported at the last Board of Commissioners meeting, it is my understanding that timing can be worked out so that children will be picked up prior to the beginning of the Farmers Market next season.
6) What other issues do you see facing the town and what would you do to address them during your term?
Fred Baisden: 1. Upgrading our existing water system vs. patching it. We will need to develop a long- range plan to replace portions of our existing water system to cut our water loss from 40 plus percent to something more reasonable, which is reported to be 20% to 25%.
2. Control overhead cost by assuring that we have sufficient manpower in place to efficiently perform administrative duties.
3. Prepare for future growth by working with the Planning Board to make sure that the Zoning Ordinances that we have in place will accommodate growth.
Rodney Gibson: Growth from Hendersonville, Henderson County & Polk County. From the perspective of Henderson County, obtaining the Lake Summit water system was the first step in a plan to shield and manage growth that is adjacent to our community.
The loss of voices in decisions. One of my promises to our community is that I will always ensure that all the citizens are represented. I am acutely aware of those that are generally not represented because their economic or physical condition doesnt allow them the luxury of actively participating in their government.
Polarization of the community. I once thought I was elected to impart my knowledge and experience at solving problems and move us forward. Not! That experience has been more of a hindrance than an asset. What I discovered after many painful attempts was that the most effective approach was painfully slow consensus building. In using the consensus building approach I found I could see and understand the heart & soul of our community better.
Governance and management of the resources
There is always a need for continuous improvement in governance.
John Morgan: Leakage in the water system is a topic that has been brought up repeatedly during the campaign. The water mains within the city limits have been in the ground a long time are in an advanced state deterioration. We have been working to fix this situation since I have been on the board. One of our main water lines that runs down Ozone Drive has been a source of problems in the past. This line is scheduled to be replaced with new pipe which has already arrived on site. Two thirds of the cost of this line is being paid for by grant money. We have also applied for stimulus money on three other projects to replace leaky water mains. This is part of a program to begin replacing some of our antiquated infrastructure instead of trying.
Hop Foster: We need to have a strong zoning plan in place. I would work with zoning board to to come up with a plan to keep future growth under control so we dont lose the small town appeal we all know and love.
Street maintenance is a huge issue.
I would create a schedule to keep grass cut and trees cut so they would not hang over roads. I would also work with our maintenance department to come within our budget to better repair holes and broken pavement.
John Kinard: Boy! I could write forever on this. (1) Economy. We are going to be in a downturn for at least another four years. I have to watch the budget very closely and make hard decisions as to what we can afford in the variuos departments and in what order. (2) Growth towards Saluda and how to manage it. We have to keep the character of the town. Change will occur, but it can be managed. (3) Taking a look at zoning regulations on Ozone to create a gateway and what type of businesses we want to attract, i.e. commercial toward I-26 with a blending of residential-commercial doctors offices, craft shops, etc. as we move towards 176 and the historical district. Finally, a more cooperative relationship with our sister citys Columbus and Tryon and the counties of Polk and Henderson.
George Sweet: Saludas zoning ordinance needs modification, in my view, to encourage safe, welcoming entrances to the community on Highway 176 and Ozone Drive, reflecting the character and values of our community.