Candidates Sound Off on Issues
The vote was 3 to 1 for the quarter-cent sales tax.
Four candidates for two seats on the Moore County Board of Commissioners were asked how they plan to vote in the sales tax referendum on the May 6 ballot.
Nick Picerno, a candidate for District 2, was the lone dissenter when the question was put to candidates during the Tuesday night forum at the Seven Lakes West Community Center.
His opponent, Nancy Roy Fiorillo, said she would vote for the additional quarter-cent sales tax, as did Commissioner Tim Lea and Tim Sloan, candidates for the District 4 seat. Fiorillo and Picerno are running for the seat being vacated by veteran Commissioner and Board Chairman Colin McKenzie.
"I've never seen a tax that goes away," Picerno said to explain his no vote.
Fiorillo called the tax issue "a wonderful way" to claim revenue from the heavy tourist traffic Moore County enjoys year-round.
"It's the only way we can do it," Lea said. "We have no other funds available to us."
Sloan said he would vote in favor of the new tax because "we must pay for the schools."
The three who support the sales tax said it would help to offset the property tax rate hike regarded as inevitable to pay for the $69.5 million in school and college bonds approved at the polls in November. In the same election, however, Moore County voters overwhelmingly rejected a land transfer tax, also a measure added to the ballot as a means of alleviating the property tax burden.
The Seven Lakes West Community Center meeting room was filled almost to capacity for the forum sponsored by the Seven Lakes Civic Group, the Moore County chapter of the NAACP and the League of Women Voters of Moore County.
Greg Hankins, editor of The Seven Lakes Times, moderated the forum, which featured five candidates for legislative office as well as the four candidates for Board of Commissioners.
Legislative candidates include incumbent state Sen. Harris Blake and challenger Cindy Morgan for Senate District 22, and incumbent state Rep. Joe Boylan and challengers Jamie Boles and Lane Toomey for House District 52.
For about two hours candidates fielded questions posed by forum sponsors, then remained to answer questions submitted from the audience. The question about the sales tax vote came from the audience. It was not submitted to the legislative candidates.
Addressing Water Needs
Asked how to address the state's water problem, Morgan said that first, North Carolina must raise awareness about ways to conserve water but in the long term, there is a need to increase water resources.
Blake said there is "a tremendous water table here" and called the major challenge a matter of preventing pollution. He agreed that a long-term plan is needed but said the issue is manageable.
Toomey said he was not sure the problem is a shortage of water as much as it is a surplus of people using water. He suggested that water could be conserved by adjusting the fee schedule to require heavy users of water to pay a higher rate and also by restricting tap-ons, a measure that could be used to control growth in times of drought.
Toomey also said that if elected, he would introduce legislation to provide grants to help communities meet their water needs.
Boles said the water issue could be helped through cooperative planning by local governments. He said the state could help local communities by improving the inter-basin transfer (IBT) system, which delays and complicates the transfer of water from one area to another.
"In reality, Moore County, as a whole, has plenty of water," Boylan said. "It's just in the wrong places because of the inter-basin transfer law." said Boylan. He said the IBT law makes it more difficult to "move water about." He said that use of Robbins facilities would relieve the pressure in many areas of the county."
All legislative candidates were asked to name the three most pressing issues facing Moore County that need addressing in Raleigh.
Boles cited water, planned growth and education. For Boylan, they were illegal immigration, working with an aging population and finding more jobs. Toomey listed water needs, coupled with environmental issues, along with infrastructure needs and sustainable growth.
Blake placed water at the top of the list, along with schools and crime issues. Morgan said water is the No. 1 challenge in Moore County and said she would work to provide grants to help communities. She also listed growth and education as the top issues.
Candidates were asked how they would handle illegal immigration problems at the state level with the understanding that states are limited legally in what they can do to address what is essentially a federal problem.
If the Republican Party succeeds in taking control of the state House this year, Boylan said there is a better chance of passing "meaningful legislation" to deal with this issue. He told of attempts to pass bills prohibiting illegal immigrants from receiving tuition to state institutions and said one bill was passed to control the use of documentation in securing such things as driver's licenses. He favors requiring voter identification at the polls.
Boles said that laws are already in place in the state and at the federal level and the first thing needed is enforcement of these existing laws. He said illegal workers perform jobs Americans don't want. He said a process already exists in which they can become American citizens and that these laws should be enforced.
Toomey said the state should focus on elimination of conditions that attract so many illegal people to North Carolina. He said that English should be established as the official language and that Spanish should not be used in the printing and dissemination of government documents. He wants to prohibit the printing or distribution of any government documents in any language other than English.
Morgan reminded members of the audience that America was founded by immigrants but said immigrants should be required to follow the law. She called for tougher penalties for employers who knowingly hire illegal workers. She said there is a need to secure the borders and follow the law.
Blake said he is puzzled as to why the federal government is not doing more to control illegal immigration. Under a bill he filed last year, he said that law enforcement officers would be required to call Homeland Security when illegal visitors are charged with crimes. He said the federal government needs to address the problem of prison overcrowding, resulting from the incarceration of large numbers of illegal residents who have been convicted of crimes.
Asked from the audience about their views on affirmative action, the legislative candidates had varying replies, all coming out in favor of hiring people on the basis of qualifications and character rather than race, gender or ethnicity.
Toomey said he opposes affirmative action and said people should be hired on the basis of qualifications.
Boylan said it is time for job-seekers to be hired on the basis of character and qualifications and quoted the late Martin Luther King Jr. on seeking a level playing ground for everyone.
Boles said he opposes affirmative action because "the economy will dictate" the hiring of employees.
Morgan expressed belief in equal employment opportunities for everyone but said it should be based on qualifications and character.
"We're long past the day when affirmative action is needed," Blake said.
Candidates for county commissioner were asked how they would address the county's water and growth concerns.
Sloan said the only way for the county to survive is for all institutions to work together on a countywide plan. Past leaders, he said, let the county down by ignoring growth issues and now county leaders must work to make up for lost time. He said recycling efforts should be emphasized. Sloan told of one developer who has agreed to extend water lines to all households and to apply used water for irrigation purposes.
Lea said the county has the McGill water study in hand and that the county must respond to its findings and recommendations, including use of Robbins facilities.
Picerno said county leaders must become proactive, not reactive, when it comes to addressing these issues. He said the recently reported countywide water study should be implemented and county leaders should be empowered to follow those recommendations. He said rate payers should be educated about the cost of water.
Fiorillo said the McGill water study contains short-term solutions and long-term solutions. She said county leaders must make decisions that will provide an adequate supply of water to everyone. She said the county must not let growth outpace infrastructure.
Financing Capital Needs
County commissioner candidates were asked about their ideas for financing the capital needs of the schools and college, as approved at the polls in November.
Lea said the referendum vote represents an unfunded mandate from voters, who approved almost $70 million in bonds but did not approve the land transfer tax to help pay for improvements. With interest added, he predicted that the bonds will cost in the area of $121 million, plus the cost of operating expenses once the buildings are erected. He said the county is looking at a property tax rate increase of seven to eight cents.
Sloan said the county is about 20 years behind in meeting some of its infrastructure needs. If the sales tax is not approved in May, he said the county must raise the property tax rate. He noted that as the county grows, the tax base grows and suggested that the county should look to the state for grants and a fair distribution of lottery money.
Fiorillo said voters will have another opportunity in May to address the financing issue. She said the county can explore other resources as well, such as an impact fee.
Picerno said property values climbed last year with new evaluations in place and said there should be sufficient money in the bank to cover the cost.
"The last thing we need to do in this economy is raise taxes," he said.
County commissioner candidates were also asked to name the three most important issues facing the county and how they would address them.
Picerno listed water, growth and education and added that the county has other needs, such as enlargement and upgrading of the jail and construction of government facilities.
Fiorillo said growth, water and taxes are the most important issues now and added that the county needs to update its land-use plan to add considerations about water needs and must once again engage the public in determining priorities and needs. She called the Summit "a wonderful idea" to get communities together to work on mutual concerns.
Sloan referred to water/roads, education and getting the budget under control. He said the county should look to Raleigh for assistance with water and road needs and must find a way to fund education facility needs.
Lea said the county must address its infrastructure needs and find funding to meet those needs.
In addition to their vote on the sales tax issue, these candidates were asked from the floor to give their opinion about the county's recent purchase of downtown property for expansion of the jail and construction of new government buildings.
Fiorillo called the downtown location a good one and said she supports providing facilities that are convenient to the public as well as staff. During her former service as county planning director, she told of experiences in dealing with people who had to visit several different offices in different parts of town to complete necessary business, such as securing building, zoning and septic tank permits.
Picerno agreed that the location is ideal but said the county must now educate the public about the need for the new buildings and the jail improvement.
Lea said he was the only commissioner to vote against the purchase of the tract in downtown Carthage. He agreed that the location is excellent but said the county paid much too much for the land. He said other good tracts were available at far less cost.
Sloan said that in today's market, the purchase probably was a good deal.
"This is a plan for the future," he said.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at 947-4962 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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