Saluda candidates answer questions from Bulletin

Published 6:48 pm Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Editor’s note: The Bulletin asked municipal candidates to answer questions about local issues. Below are the answers provided by Saluda candidates.

1. What will be your top priorities if elected to town/city council?
Lynn Cass: We need to keep the small town atmosphere in Saluda and protect what we have here. The downtown is on the National Register of Historic Places but has no ordinances to protect its future.
We should keep the citizens of Saluda better informed on what is going on. I would use email for everyone who has it, and letters mailed to those who don’t, for monthly updates. The website needs to be constantly updated to include meeting notices, minutes of meetings, zoning ordinances, water rates, public hearing notices, etc. No one needs to be kept out of the loop.
John Morgan: • Continue to revitalize the city water and sewer infrastructure and build a financial reserve. The fund is currently sound and operating in the black.
• Develop alternate water sources, increase customer base and lower cost structure. I negotiated the purchase of a private water system but Saluda was denied permission to close the sale by the Henderson County Board of Commissioners. They now have a new board seated and we will again approach them on this purchase. Our new water line connecting Saluda with Tryon provides us with a total of five potential water sources, giving us the potential for price competition with future purchases.
• Develop alternate sources of revenue for the city and decrease dependence on property tax.
• Continue to work to restore city hall.
• Develop a plan to utilize the railroad tracks should the situation arise. This potential resource has great potential for Saluda’s long-term economic viability.
Leon Morgan: My top priority if elected would be to provide good services to the citizens of Saluda in the most economical way possible. Another one of the top priorities on my list would be to protect the character of our town while creating sustainability for our future.

2. What issues do you see facing the city/town and what would you do to address those issues during your term?
Lynn Cass: Taxes are too high, and the citizens cannot sustain the increases. We need to bring in additional revenue to relieve the burden on the residents of Saluda. Tourism equals economic development, and we should welcome and encourage visitors to shop here, eat here and stay in our inns and B&Bs to bring in additional sales tax. We need to look at areas outside of downtown where appropriate businesses can locate. We need to look at all the resources that are available to us, such as the N.C. Downtown Development Association, N.C. Rural Center’s STEP (Small Town Economic Prosperity program) and HandMade in America for help in solving our problem. We need to apply to N.C. STEP and HandMade in America to work with us as soon as possible.
John Morgan: While I have addressed water and taxes elsewhere in my responses, I think an additional issue Saluda needs to address is the development of a long-range growth plan. We need to look within the city and determine where commercial and residential growth should take place and in what form. We also need to look outside the city limits and identify where growth is likely to occur. The construction of the new water line down Howard Gap will open up possibilities that didn’t exist three years ago.
I support the county’s move toward ridgeline protection but this must be compatible with the future needs of Saluda. The Saluda Planning Board should play a significant role here. I have worked closely with them in the past and will continue to do so in the future.
Leon Morgan: Infrastructure, services to our citizens, water and sewer rates and property taxes.
To address these issues, water is the major issue that we as a town will face in the near future. We are currently working with the Town of Columbus, Town of Tryon and Polk County to get another water source for the city and as a result maybe reduce the future water rates.

3. What is your vision for city hall and how do you plan to fund needed renovations to the historic structure?
Lynn Cass: City Hall will have to be restored, but it will take some creative thinkers to get it done. We have an architect volunteer who is willing to draw an interior plan, which could include a small museum for Saluda. Grants are available for museums.
We have local builders and other volunteers who would be willing to donate time for carpentry and painting. This could be a city project for everyone to get involved in, and a building we would be proud of. Smaller towns than Saluda, for example, Hayesville, have restored their municipal buildings without going into great debt. We need to cast our net wider in asking for help. Grants aren’t as easy to come by as they were in former years, so we would have to work harder to get it done. But it can be done.
John Morgan: One of my priorities has been and continues to be restoration of our city hall. It is the centerpiece in defining the character of our downtown business district. I did not support the acquisition of a new city hall because I thought it was financially impractical for a town our size. Earlier in my current term as commissioner, I nominated and asked our board of commissioners to confirm members to a city hall restoration committee. We have since had a number of community members come forward and spark interest in seeing this project put in motion. Currently we are looking at restoring the building in stages. As a board we have placed money in the budget to service any debt we may incur on this project until additional funding through grants and donations can be secured.
Leon Morgan: I would like to see city hall restored to its original beauty without the cost being footed by the taxpayers. I think there are grants available and we need to pursue this avenue. We presently have received estimates on repairing the roof, sod, masonry and windows. We have set aside $10,000 in this year’s budget toward servicing the loan to make those repairs.

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4. All small towns are seeing significant decreases in state revenues as a result of the economic downturns of the past several years.  How do you plan to overcome those shortfalls in revenues in the future?
Lynn Cass: Again, day-trippers and over-nighters are still out there, and we have the perfect place for people to visit. We should capitalize on how great this small town is, by trying harder to attract tourists and promoting Saluda. Next, we will have to look very carefully at our city budget to see where cuts could be made, if necessary.
John Morgan: The most expedient thing to do is examine areas of possible savings in the budget.  This has been an ongoing process. We obviously need to look to increasing revenues without increasing property taxes. One way that can be accomplished is to increase the population base and spread out costs. This takes time and needs to be done deliberately. I would also like to pursue a different tact. If the state is not in a position to assist communities financially they can at least provide a means where communities can help themselves. In Saluda’s case, we have a very robust tourist trade. If the state would grant us the power to levy a hospitality tax on prepared food at our restaurants we could use it to make a significant offset to our dependence on property taxes. This is working successfully in Landrum.
Leon Morgan: We need to have a strong joint partnership with the county, Town of Columbus and Town of Tryon on economic development with a strong unity for all of Polk County. We cannot wait for the future to come to us; we have to plan for the future when it arrives.

5. Polk County and the towns have attempted during the past year to meet jointly on common issues. How do you feel about partnering with the county, Columbus and Tryon? What are your feelings about partnering with Polk County, Columbus and Tryon on a joint water system for the future?
Lynn Cass: I am a big believer in partnerships, and a Polk County Water Authority would benefit all three towns and the county. Our water rates are very high, and we need to see if we can purchase water within the county to help our rates go down. We should look at compatible planning and zoning ordinances that could be enforced throughout the county.
Although we receive and benefit from a number of services from the county, I want to look for further opportunities for cooperation and funding. We need to preserve the rural character of Polk County, and a greater sense of community is being realized by the help of the Mill Spring Agricultural Center in coordinating tailgate markets throughout the county. We should spend local and eat local.
John Morgan: I am very happy to see a continuing improvement in cooperation between Saluda, Tryon, Columbus and the county on issues of common interest. It is going to take a joint effort within the county to attract and promote the kind of disciplined economic growth we need going forward. Partnering can have substantial cost benefits in many areas, such as sharing assets, and reduced duplication in services. Partnering in a water system also makes sense and we are already doing this to some extent with interconnecting the cities/towns water systems. However, for the foreseeable future I think each city/town should maintain control and responsibility for their respective system while working together to lower cost and assure a dependable quality water supply.
Leon Morgan: I have attended joint meetings with Polk County, Town of Columbus and Town of Tryon concerning water and have been pleased with the results. Today we have a waterline connecting the three towns.
When the common goals benefit the county, Columbus, Tryon and Saluda, then being partners will be good for all of us.