Water/sewer, downtown top Tryon candidate forum

Published 11:59 pm Sunday, October 27, 2013

From top left clockwise: Billy moss, Bill Ingham, Bill Crowell, Doug Arbogast, Happy McLeod and Wim Woody. (photo by Leah Justice)

From top left clockwise: Billy moss, Bill Ingham, Bill Crowell, Doug Arbogast, Happy McLeod and Wim Woody. (photo by Leah Justice)

Candidates asked individual, personal questions

Tryon candidates for commissioner seemed to agree the town’s water and sewer infrastructure and a healthy downtown for additional revenues are their top priorities. Moderator Andy Millard also asked specific questions to all candidates during Thursday, Oct. 24’s forum.

The forum was sponsored by Millard & Company, the Tryon Downtown Development Association (TDDA) and the Tryon Daily Bulletin and held at the Tryon Depot.

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There are six candidates vying for two commissioner seats, including incumbent Doug Arbogast, incumbent Wim Woody and challengers Bill Crowell, Bill Ingham, Happy McLeod and Billy Moss.

The first question was what is the candidate’s No. 1, specific priority if they get elected.

Ingham said his No. 1 priority is the town’s water system. He said the town has high water rates and they are going to get higher if something isn’t done soon.

Crowell said he agrees the No. 1 priority is the water and sewer; more sewer than anything else.

McLeod said by far her No. 1 priority is to vitalize downtown, which will help the upcoming costs for water and sewer needs.

Arbogast said the town’s infrastructure is a major concern for him.

Moss said the town’s infrastructure, not only water and sewer, but also the streets and creek crossings in the town.

Woody said his main priority is Tryon living within its means. Tryon has to do it within the resources available, said Woody.

Another question from Millard was what candidates will do about, “Tryon’s crumbling infrastructure.” Millard asked candidates, what exactly needs to be done and what the candidate will do if elected. The forum was structured where not every candidate answered every question.

Woody said he thinks the town has prioritized fairly well and we all know that water and sewer is a huge need but it’s also a huge expense. He also said even though it took a long time the town is handling the sewer issue on Howard Street and Eunice Whitmire’s property through available grants as well as made progress downtown and with sidewalks. He said with the spirit going on with downtown right now, these things may take time but they can get done.

Crowell said he personally believes that Tryon needs to join with Spartanburg County water such like they purchased Landrum’s system. He said people in Landrum are happy with their service and rates and it would be one way to bring equal rates to everyone in the system. He said Tryon should look into selling its water system to Spartanburg but he would not think of selling Tryon’s system to a for profit water company.

Moss said he agrees in part with Crowell that Tryon needs to join into a water authority whether it be with Polk County and the other towns or Spartanburg. Moss also said Tryon needs to finish fixing its sewer lines. He said Tryon ends up having to process rainwater instead of sewer because of the high influx and infiltration when it rains.

Another question from Millard was how bad is the town’s sewer situation and how would candidates address the problems.

Ingham said Tryon has a system that can handle processing more sewer, but doesn’t have enough customers. Columbus made it clear they are doing it themselves, he said. Ingham said Tryon should prioritize its needs within the town’s means and work on the system, taking projects on one at a time.

“The services have outgrown the town,” said Ingham, who added that Tryon used to serve mills that have since closed.

McLeod said the towns held a joint meeting on Oct. 1 on water and sewer issues and Polk County has since joined the effort to hire a consultant. McLeod said she thinks Tryon should wait to hear from a professional. She also noted how lucky Tryon is that its town manager, Joey Davis, is currently getting his doctorate and is writing his thesis on water systems.

Millard asked another question if candidates think Tryon should be looking for ways to increase revenues, decrease expenses or both. All candidates agreed the town should be looking to do both, so Millard asked some how they would specifically increase revenue or decrease expenses.

Moss said Tryon should go out and start recruiting businesses. He said the town needs to put in one of its empty lots a tractor supply business, and since the town is about to pass a golf cart ordinance the town should be looking for a golf cart outfitter.

He said the town should also be looking at franchises, such as Arby’s to come in and get sales tax revenue up as well as bring more visitors that will want to stay. Moss clarified his Arby’s statement later in the forum saying Arby’s was just a suggestion. He said Tryon does need some restaurants that will stay open longer and be more family friendly.

Woody said increasing revenue can come through increasing the popularity of Tryon. He said he thinks the town manages its expenses. Woody also said he would not be in favor of a tax increase as a way to increase revenue.

Ingham said increasing businesses is where the town can increase revenue. He said Tryon is not going to grow, as it cannot annex properties. He is not in favor of a tax increase, but said the town needs to support and promote new businesses to get new sales tax revenues.

On how to decrease expenses, Crowell said he thinks the town manager has done a good job with the budget and the only other things Tryon can cut are expenses in departments such as the police and streets because the budget is pretty lean right now. Crowell said Tryon did have a tax increase this year and next year the town is going to have to come up with money again because of the state budget, but Tryon is in a good financial situation.

Arbogast also mentioned the state withholding hold harmless funds saying Tryon is going to have to cut another $45,000 next year. He said Tryon either has to cut services or raise taxes and frankly, he doesn’t see any ways to cut services. He said next year he is going to look at another tax increase, saying he thinks Tryon can afford the $6 per month this year’s increase affected most properties.

McLeod said she is not in favor of cutting services like the fire department and does think the budget is tight. She said her only suggestion is that the towns of Saluda, Columbus and Tryon and the county get together to see if they can all come together on group purchases to save money.

Millard also asked candidates to name one or two things the mayor and/or council has done in the last few years that the candidate either agreed with or disagreed with.

Ingham said a very wise decision council made was hiring Joey Davis as manager. Ingham said that move combined several jobs and that Davis is doing a very good job and it saved the town a lot of money.

McLeod said since Ingham said what she was going to say about Davis, she agrees with council’s work to get a museum and visitor’s center back on Trade Street.

“We want to draw people in but we’ve got to tell them who we are,” McLeod said, “and that’s what the museum and visitor’s center will do.”

Arbogast said he disagreed with how long it took the town to solve Whitmire’s sewer problem.

Woody said he disagreed with how the mayor and others handled the termination of former town manager Justin Hembree. He said there was no consensus on that decision, and “it is important for us as a council to work together to gain consensus.”

Woody also said he doesn’t want to see the council get in a position where the mayor has the vote (to break a tie).

Crowell said he’s disappointed in the way the council has been managing Lake Lanier, which he said the town should give to the lake’s homeowner’s association.

Moss said he agreed with Woody about the last two managers Tryon has gotten rid of, especially former manager Caitlin Martin. Moss said Martin did a good job in the short amount of time she was with Tryon. Moss also said he doesn’t agree with the town giving the last 12 hours of its dispatch services to the county. Moss said it’s too long of a delay for emergencies to go through the county at night and said the town should at least have its own dispatch services until midnight.

The last questions hit some personal issues for each candidate. Millard first asked Ingham, who owns the coffee shop downtown his response to complaints that people sit in front of his business, often smoking, with some people having trouble navigating the obstacle.

Ingham said he was glad Millard asked that question. He said as he looks up and down the street there are five or six places people have to get in a single file line to get through and other places people hang out. He noted some of his customers include a commander of the U.S. Constitution, college deans and a retired NYC fireman. Ingham also said he had a lady tell him how much she enjoys seeing people in the street. A year ago, Tryon was a ghost town, Ingham said, but not in front of his coffee house, which he said he has ran for 15 years and in that time he’s probably seen 50 business come and go. Ingham also said his business closes at noon so his crowd is gone by 10:30 a.m. and most other businesses don’t open until 10 a.m. For every complaint, Ingham said he has 10 other people tell him they like seeing people there.

“If you don’t like it please vote for one of these other people because I don’t plan on changing a thing,” Ingham said.

Millard asked Arbogast about his attendance record, which Millard said has fallen off to almost 74 percent of meetings, including regular and special meetings. Millard also asked Arbogast about his house being for sale and asked if he is committed to Tryon.

Arbogast said his house is off the market and he has other houses in town. He said the attendance record statistics are wrong as he’s missed one council meeting in four years, maybe two.

According to Tryon Town Hall, Arbogast has attended 41 out of 43 regular monthly meetings. Woody has attended 39 of 43 regular meetings. The meetings Millard was referring to included regular meetings, continued meetings, special and joint meetings. Arbogast said most special meetings are held during the day when he is at work and most of those are 15 minutes and council already knows his position on the issue.

Millard said McLeod is known to have a happy, sweet and sunny disposition but some of the issues she might face will be tough and some people will be tough and stubborn.

Millard asked McLeod if she has what it takes to be a commissioner?

McLeod said, “yes, I do.” She said she doesn’t look at having the name “Happy,” as being a weakness. And her son tells her that she is the most stubborn person in the world.

“And I believe in Tryon,” McLeod said.

Millard also asked Woody about his attendance, which Millard said is 78 percent. Millard also said Woody sometimes appears disinterested during council meetings.

Woody said the regular council meetings are the most important and he was in Florida for the February meeting but has made every other one. He said you can’t make every one, but admitted there are some members who have a better record then he does. He also said he’s involved, he’s concerned, he’s spoken about issues and he doesn’t remember Millard being at too many meetings himself for Millard to know if he is disinterested or not.

To Crowell, Millard said as he knows there are plenty of contentious issues and Crowell’s temper in the past has gotten the better of him. Millard asked Crowell if he thinks he will be able to manage his temper well.

Crowell admitted that he gets hot headed at times but said that’s because he’s so passionate about things.

“I’m pretty good in public at keeping my cool,” Crowell said. “I do boil up at times and you’ll know exactly where I stand on an issue.”

Millard said Moss recently retired with the town and two of his bosses were the town manager and public works director. Millard said he’s sure many of the employees are Moss’ friends and if elected, Moss would be their boss, so asked if Moss thinks he can do the job objectively.

Moss said the town manager is the employees’ direct boss. He said he does have a lot of friends with the town, but they do a pretty descent job.

“If someone does something needing to be terminated, I’d have no problem voting for their termination,” said Moss.

Millard thanked the Steve Cobb and the TDDA as well as the Bulletin for sponsoring Thursday’s commissioner forum and the mayor forum held Tuesday, Oct. 22; Mary Prioleau and Eddy Chapman, who helped set up and serve food at both events and Erik Olsen, who volunteered to video both events.

The video of both events can be found on youtube at erikolsenpictures.com.

Early voting continues until Sat., Nov. 2 at 1 p.m. at the Polk County Board of Elections Office in Columbus. The general election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 5 with Tryon residents voting at the Harmon Field cabin from 6:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m.