Democratic BOC candidates answer Bulletin questions

Published 5:49 pm Thursday, April 12, 2012

1. Why are you running for Polk County Board of Commissioners?
Renée McDermott
I’m running for re-election to ensure that Polk County continues to be governed in a pragmatic and responsible manner, not out of any ideological fixation or effort to secure political advantage or to grant political favors.
Cindy Walker, Ray Gasperson and I have guided the county in a fiscally responsible manner. We reduced Polk County’s tax rate in 2009 and have kept the tax rate steady ever since.  Polk County is in the lowest 25 percent of property tax rates for the 100 counties of the state.
Even in this tough economic climate, we lowered county debt by $8.1 million (40 percent) (over the objection of the other two commissioners) and kept Polk County fiscally healthy despite repeated cuts in revenues from state and federal sources.
To keep Polk County beautiful and rural, we have adopted comprehensive ordinances protecting mountainsides and ridgelines. This will prevent undesirable and (like Chocolate Drop) unsightly overdevelopment, stream pollution, landslides and deforestation.
We’ve provided funding for the “More at Four” program for preschool children. We’ve supported our excellent schools in adjusting to significant state legislative cutbacks. We authorized funding for the new Senior Recreation Center, The Meeting Place, and planned and developed the Adult Day Health Care Center.  We reorganized the economic and tourism development department to build local businesses and bring new jobs to Polk County. And we reestablished cooperation with Polk County’s towns.
We contributed to Phase I of improvements to assure St. Luke’s Hospital’s continued viability here and facilitated financing for St. Luke’s new orthopedic surgery addition. Over the objections of the other commissioners, we built a badly needed new human services building and, by working with Thermal Belt Outreach Ministry, acquired a new building for mental health services.  And we’ve strongly supported Sheriff Hill with automobiles, other equipment, jail repairs and staffing to keep Polk County safe.
I’m running for a second term on Polk County’s Board of Commissioners to continue this important work.
Rickie McFalls
I am running for the board of commission because I think that I have new ideas to help our county in many different ways. Such as, help with job creation and stability, keep taxes as low as possible and try to keep the zoning to a minimum because I think people have the right to their own property within reason.
2. What is your overall vision for Polk County?
Renée McDermott
My overall vision is preservation of Polk County’s rural character and scenic beauty with encouragement of agricultural economic development throughout the county and of non-agricultural economic development in and near the towns and in the vicinity of major highway intersections.
My vision for Polk County is of a fiscally sound and sustainable community, keeping property taxes low so that farmers can stay on the land and farm and so that families can thrive here.
I also share the vision expressed in Polk County’s 20/20 Comprehensive Plan: “Polk County’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.”
Rickie McFalls
My overall vision for Polk County is to keep the natural beauty in our county, to bring in environmentally friendly jobs to help keep our future generations in our county to both live and work within the county, to keep our education and school systems at the highest levels in the state, also to get and keep our emergency services at their best and to make sure that our sheriff has enough funds to run his department as efficiently as possible.
3. What do you think the county’s financial priorities should be?
Renée McDermott
Polk County’s financial priority should be to not increase taxes.  At the same time we must cope with Polk County’s needs, in a sustainable manner and with special emphasis on the schools, despite steadily declining revenues from state and federal sources.
Polk County must systematically set aside money in reserve accounts each year in anticipation of upcoming capital needs, such as waterline extensions, repair and upgrade of the Lake Adger dam, building maintenance and replacement (including the schools), and building a water treatment plant. Unless money is set aside each year, planning for these known future needs, taxes will have to be raised when the needs come due and large amounts of money will need to be borrowed, costing the taxpayers debt service fees that would otherwise not have to be incurred, with better planning.  The other two commissioners have resisted and strongly criticized this kind of sound fiscal management.
Rickie McFalls
I think that Polk County’s financial priorities should be to keep taxes as low as possible, to make sure that our education system is properly funded so that all children within our county can receive a proper education and to make sure that all emergency services have the correct funds in order to have the correct personnel and equipment that they need to keep our county safe.
4. On your list of priorities, where is Polk County’s having its own water system and how soon should all areas of the county be connected?
Renée McDermott
Polk County now owns just under 24 miles of water pipelines (including the newly approved line to Columbus which will soon be built), most of which are along major roads.  Working with homeowners, Polk County has supplied water to families whose wells went dry or whose wells were threatened by drought.  Water has been taken to two housing developments, with the cost of running the pipelines borne by the developments.
To date, Polk County has spent $3,410,156 on this water system, including the purchase of Lake Adger.  Polk County owns another approximately $4 million worth of donated water lines, for total capital assets of $7,410,156 in the water system.  Polk County has approved another $592,465 in water system investment for the line to Columbus.
Further development should proceed deliberately and methodically at its current pace.  I am opposed to raising taxes to support a more rapid expansion of the system.
Reserves must be steadily set aside from current revenues to pay for additional water lines as prescribed by Polk County’s 20/20 Vision Plan and for needed repairs to the Lake Adger dam required by the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources and, eventually, for a water treatment facility.  The water system is a major project for Polk County, with foreseeable costs of $10 million to $15 million, but it will be many years and many more dollars before it connects all areas of Polk County.
Rickie McFalls
I think that the water system is very important to our county? I would like to see it put high on the county’s priority list because it will help our county in many different ways such as bring in more industries and help people that have wells during times of drought. I would like to also see the water system fund get built up instead of borrowed upon all the time. Polk County is a big county and I think that as it stands right now, it will be at least 10 years or more before our water system is in place.
5. What direction do you feel the county should be moving in terms of zoning? Do you think land use regulations should be more strict than they currently are or more lenient. Please explain.
Renée McDermott
I oppose forced zoning. Zoning in White Oak and Cooper Gap Townships is off the table. Zoning should continue to be limited, as it now is, to Saluda, Tryon, Columbus and Green Creek townships. The zoning provisions applicable to those four townships contained in the proposed Unified Development Ordinance should be adopted without revision.
When legitimate concerns have been raised concerning land use planning ordinances in Polk County, remedies have been fashioned. When it was brought to the commissioners’ attention that manufactured homes and modular homes were not allowed in the mountain and ridgeline protection areas due to a glitch in the definition of “residence,” the Unified Development Ordinance Committee, planning board and the board of commissioners quickly acted to correct that mistake.
When the mayor of Saluda and some Saluda business people sought relief from some provisions of the Mountain and Ridgeline Protection Ordinance for the zoned areas of Polk County, the Unified Development Ordinance Committee fully cooperated and proposed an excellent and complete remedy for their concerns.  It facilitates a wide array of commercial development in areas in Saluda Township, while providing affected residents a voice in the procedure, not just the development proponents. That remedy should be adopted by the planning board and by the board of commissioners.
In Saluda, Tryon, Columbus and Green Creek townships, consideration should also be given to alterations in the zoning map to conform somewhat more closely to the land use proposals contained in the county’s award winning comprehensive plan, which was unanimously adopted by the Polk County Planning Board and by the Polk County Board of Commissioners.
The current land use planning system in Polk County is responsive to the people, it is working, and it is working very well.
Rickie McFalls
Saluda has been targeted with an elevation line of 1650 feet above see level. This is so restrictive that any growth or development will be unlikely due to cost. I will work to get a degree of slope installed and remove the 1650 feet line. This will still protect our ridge tops but will allow citizens to use their land.