Columbus candidates answer questions from Bulletin

Published 7:17 pm Thursday, October 27, 2011

Editor’s note: The Bulletin asked municipal candidates to answer questions about local issues. Below are the answers provided by Columbus candidates. Incumbent council member Richard Hall, incumbent council member Ernie Kan and Ricky McCallister are running for three seats. Current councilman Michael Gage did not seek re-election this year. Incumbent mayor Eric McIntyre is running unopposed.

1. What will be your top priorities if elected to the Columbus Town Council?
Richard Hall: To be prudent and conservative with the taxpayers’ money. To continue to work with other council members to ensure the wise use of the town’s money in order to keep taxes low and provide exceptional services. To keep the mechanics of the town’s infrastructure functioning at the highest level possible. To provide our outstanding town employees with the tools they need to do their job.
Ernie Kan: My top priority will continue to be representation of the citizens of Columbus’ thoughts, ideas and needs. I would also like to continue to be available on Tuesdays each week at the Columbus Town Hall to listen to the concerns of the citizens. Through working with the Polk County Appearance Committee, DOT, summer camps, county and town committees and garden clubs, Columbus continues to be a place of natural beauty with many local interests.
Ricky McCallister: My top priority as always is to address all future issues that may arise, with a resolution based on correct information received and how that resolution would affect our town and its citizens. Reaching resolutions with positive outcomes is always my goal.
Eric McIntyre: To keep the town moving forward with the Foster Creek development, beautification efforts within the town and I-26 corridor. In addition, to keep the sewer plant project on track and keep working with the county and other municipalities on various issues that may be beneficial to all.

2. What issues do you see facing the town and what would you do to address those issues during your term?
Richard Hall: Growth seems to be an issue that comes up time and again. Most people I have talked with would like to see our town continue to be small, and that is something I would strongly agree with.
In order to do this, I would encourage the support of our local businesses and continue to filter annexation requests as they come to the council.
Ernie Kan: A top priority on the agenda for Columbus is to make our town a destination people would like to visit.
We do not want to add additional financial burdens to citizens and at the same time are looking for creative ways to meet our goals. Columbus is the county seat and has several places of interest that we can promote such as the courthouse, the Polk County Historical Museum, the House of Flags Museum and the Veteran’s Park.
I am excited about the opportunity to promote Columbus as a destination people will enjoy visiting.
Ricky McCallister: The Town of Columbus has issues large and small. Some such issues are water, sewer, development and everyday operations. I hope I and other council members will work together as a team to accomplish our goals.
Eric McIntyre: The only major ongoing issues are the Foster Creek development and the new sewer project. Each of these will be ongoing for some time.
I would like to get fire hydrants in the Beechwood development. I think this has been passed over for many years and there are quite a few houses in the development.
Not knowing how our economy is going to be the next few years puts more emphasis on our budgeting process we will go through at the beginning of the year.

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3. Columbus has recently agreed to spend $2.75M on upgrades to its sewer plant. Do you feel the town is approaching the payback of the loan correctly in raising its sewer rates? What would be your suggestion to pay back the loan?
Richard Hall: The council has discussed reworking the sewer plant all of the eight years that I have been on it.
The current council, to their credit, took the time to turmoil over this for quite a while. After a great deal of thought and discussion we decided on the payback to be in the form of a sewer rate increase.
Rate increases are never pleasant and if there is a better way I will always be interested in taking a look at it.
Ernie Kan: Raising the sewer rates is not something we wanted to do, but something we had to do. We are now in a place where we know where the money will definitely be spent. After a tour of the sewer plant, and many long discussions in open meetings, anyone could see that this was a wise decision.
We reviewed the three ideas for the town: a joint sewer system with Tryon, replacement of the current system or updating the system we have. We also toured another town’s system that was the same type plan we have.
Updating the system was the wiser of the three ideas financially as well as for the citizens of Columbus. The decision was a well-thought-out decision. The town council and town staff have worked out a viable way to repay the loan. Please see the town records for the details of the plan.
Ricky McCallister: Our Columbus sewer plant has been in need of an upgrade for many years. I feel confident our current council has explored all avenues to fund this upgrade before raising town sewer rates.
Any ideas or suggestions, I would be very interested in hearing.
Eric McIntyre: I believe the fairest way to pay back the loan is to raise the sewer rates. We are still continuing to look for grants that may help offset some of the costs.

4. How do you feel about extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) for Columbus? Do you think the town should attempt again to secure ETJ rights to zone one mile outside town limits?
Richard Hall: The ETJ was an issue that we spent a good bit of time with a few years ago. I don’t hear much about it these days. However, if this or any issue meets the bar to be brought up again I as a member of the town council would be glad to take another look and seek the will of the citizens.
Ernie Kan: The ETJ for Columbus is not being discussed at this time. We are focusing on the town we now have.
Ricky McCallister: I don’t think at this time Columbus needs ETJ. The town would have to have a true legitimate need to attempt to secure ETJ rights to zone one mile outside town limits.
Eric McIntyre: I believe it would be more beneficial than not to have an ETJ established.  However, I also believe that if the town cannot, or is unable to, convince the citizens who live in that area then it is a dead issue and I personally would not pursue it any further.

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, Tryon and Saluda? What are your feelings about partnering with Polk County, Saluda and Tryon on a joint water system for the future?
Richard Hall: I have and will continue to look for ways for the towns and county to work together. The goal is to seek ways for all to benefit.
From the standpoint of Columbus we have four members on the council and a mayor who are very sincere about the welfare of its citizens. We will all, to the best of our abilities, keep them in mind in any negotiations.
Our joint town and county meetings have been very productive if for nothing else to learn that many of our goals are very similar. Community is a benefit to all.
The issue of a joint water system is an ongoing dialogue. It is one of those agenda items that must be a win-win for all involved. It must be fair for everyone.
Ernie Kan: The four groups have been working on several issues in our meetings. I have been very happy and impressed with the work we accomplished together. I have seen the ways the towns and county have worked on small and large projects while sharing the credit equally. I personally enjoy seeing the peace between all the groups and hope for continued collaboration.
As I have said in the joint meetings, I feel that the move toward the joint water system should be studied in detail by all the people of the county, and a vote by the people should be made. This is a major step that if it is done, it cannot be reversed if things do not go the way we would like. We were given information by another county that had to go to a joint system, and their water rates were raised for all the people involved ( they will also not take on the debts that the water billing covers for the towns).
Control of the billing and the water systems would be out of the hands of any of the governments, and we can understand the paying of CEOs and private company workers. This is not something that I feel is right for the county nor the towns at this time.
Ricky McCallister: Our county is like a tree with many branches. To be strong, flourish and be nurtured, it needs all its parts. If all our towns and county can work together for a needed common goal for the security of a water system or other major projects, then we could be proud that we truly made a difference.
Eric McIntyre: I believe that the county and the towns have had some very beneficial discussions on several topics. I have no issues partnering with the county or any of the other towns. You approach it like a business, get everything in writing that both entities agree to and then you move forward to the next step.
As far as the joint water system for the future, I am having a hard time figuring out what the town of Columbus would do to offset the funds we would stand to lose.
We are a little different than the others as we have our own wells that we draw from. Our water and sewer receivables pay for a lot in our budget. I’m just not sure at this time how or if Columbus could give this up. It may be a different situation several years down the road when Foster Creek comes on line with the revenues it will bring in. Patience on this is very critical.