County Commissioner Louis Gregory, who sailed through his first election season in 2016 unopposed, is facing a Republican primary challenge this year from homebuilder Ron Jackson.
The winner of the March 3 primary will move on to face Democrat Candice Morrison of Pinehurst in the November general election for the District 2 seat. She does not face a primary opponent.
The campaign between Gregory and Jackson has steered clear of the rancor in two other Republican primary races on the ballot for state House and District attorney. Both commissioner candidates said they are focusing on what they stand for rather than criticizing each other.
The two candidates both stress the importance of preserving the county’s rural character and being fiscally responsible with taxpayers’ money, as well as holding the school board more accountable on spending.
Although the winner will represent District 2, all Republican voters in Moore County will be able to vote in this race.
Following are brief biographical sketches of each candidate and their positions on what he sees as top priorities in the coming four years.
Gregory said he brings a “diverse personal background and a wealth of experience” to his candidacy.
He is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran. His law enforcement career began as a special agent with the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Police Department. The line later became CSX during his tenure.
After serving mostly in command positions, he finished his career with CSX as police superintendent of the north-end region. Following the Sept. 11 terror attacks, he was attached to the Joint Command Staff of the FBI’s Anti-Terrorism Task Force, in Washington, D.C.
After retiring, Gregory moved to Moore County in 2003 and was appointed chief of police in the village of Whispering Pines. He held that position until February 2009.
Gregory has remained active since he left the Whispering Pines post. He is an instructor at Sandhills Community College, where his ethics classes are geared to prospective police officers. He is a lifetime member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the North Carolina Association of Police Chiefs.
Additionally, he maintains membership in Rotary, Masons, Marine Corps League and American Legion. He served as a member of the Moore County ABC Board and is also past president of the Moore County Republican Men’s Club.
Gregory and his wife, Ann, have two children and three grandchildren.
Gregory says managing growth is the important issue facing the county in the next couple of years as it tries “to preserve the character of our community.”
“The key issue is managing growth effectively,” Gregory said. “Moore County is a great place to live, work and raise a family. No wonder we are projected to grow by 25 percent over the next 15 years. But population growth means an increased demand for services and infrastructure. We have to deal with this demand while protecting the character of our community.”
Gregory cites a new land-use plan the county is developing that he says is designed to limit sprawl.
“We also have to promote economic growth, a task with a number of components, including workforce development, public safety and education,” he said. “Promoting and accommodating growth requires smart budgeting decisions in order to prevent tax increases.”
Gregory says the growth can benefit the county and its taxpayers.
“But the challenge for me, as a county commissioner, is to be sure that we plan wisely for improved roads, well maintained schools, clean water and other services. And we have to do this without raising the tax rate.”
On the issue of school funding — something Gregory has been vocal about of late — he said commissioners “must continue to work closely with the Board of Education to meet the needs of our children.”
“We will insist that schools be properly maintained and that no child be forced to go to a substandard school,” he said. “For this reason, we will allocate a sufficient portion of the bond premium generated by the county’s sound fiscal policies to school maintenance.”
The county has more than $10.5 million in those bond premiums from the sale of $103 million in voter-approved bonds to finance three elementary schools. That is a financial practice wherein financial firms bidding on the bonds can provide more money than is requested because of its attractiveness to investors as a way to sweeten the opportunity to buy the bonds.
“We must also work with the General Assembly to improve state funding for school operational needs, and to insist that lottery revenue be fully allocated to education as required by law,” he said. “The county must work closely with the school board to understand its spending priorities and to require it to account for its use of funds.”
Gregory also says the state needs to address the inequities in the current tier system used to dole out economic development incentives and other assistance because it penalizes Moore County.
“The state classifies us as a wealthy county, but tell that to people who live in areas with little access to good jobs,” he said. “As a member of the board of directors of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, I am advocating legislation to remove inequities and inconsistencies in the current state economic tier system.
“An improved economy also depends on attracting new business and jobs to the County. That’s why we have implemented an incentive plan for qualifying new businesses. And that’s why I am a member of the board of directors of Partners in Progress.”
Jackson says his experience as a business owner and knowing how to manage a budget would serve him well on the board.
Jackson, a Maryland native, moved to Moore County via Florida 27 years ago.
Jackson and his wife live in Pinehurst. Their children have all grown up in Moore County and now help him run his businesses. His children have attended both the Moore County public schools as well as The O’Neal School.
He says he now has grandchildren attending public schools in Moore County.
Jackson says sponsorship and involvement in school and community events “are a big deal” for him.
He has owned and operated multiple businesses and has raised his family here. His main business, Quality Built Homes, is based in Aberdeen. He also owned the now-defunct Moore County Independent newspaper from about 2005 to 2007.
He and his family are members of Bethesda Presbyterian Church, where he previously served as a church elder.
Jackson says two of the biggest concerns he keeps hearing from voters is that taxes are too high, and that the county needs to do a better job of protecting its rural character.
“I feel like there are a lot of ways we can save money in this county by consolidating services,” Jackson says, though he did not specify which ones he would target, saying instead that he wanted to study it further.
Jackson is critical of how the current Board of Commissioners did not respond to speakers at the public hearing on the county budget last June, noting that many of them were calling for a smaller tax increase than was proposed.
“They all said they had major concerns,” Jackson said of those wanting a lower tax rate, “and they voted to approve the budget and didn’t answer any of the concerns. I think that is a problem. If I had been up there I would have tried to put off voting on the budget, and I would have tried to get some answers for those people.
Commissioners voted to raise the property tax rate by 4.5 cents — the first increase in a decade — to 51 cents for each $100 in value in part to fund the increased debt service on $123 million on voter-approved bonds to build three elementary schools and a health education center at Sandhills Community College, as well as other county needs, such as public safety and social services. And it came on top of a revaluation in which most residents saw their property values go up.
Jackson said he also feels like the county needs to “keep a better eye on the school board” and how it spends money.
“The county commissioners’ job is oversight of the budget,” he said. “We can ask questions. If they are not performing, if they are not spending money wisely, then we need to rein them in and tell them we are not going to approve their budget until we get (those questions) addressed.”
Jackson said he is concerned that not enough money is making its way through the bureaucracy to the classrooms.
“I’d like some answers about why that is not happening,” he said, noting that many have to use their own money for some things. “These teachers need to be looked after for the work they do. They work hard. They work more hours than they are paid for. They care about these kids. We should care enough about them. I can’t micromanage the school board, but I can ask questions and look out for our money.”
Jackson says his other main priority is preserving the rural character of the county.
“This is a great place to live,” he said. “I want to keep the rural areas rural and push development toward the towns. … Part of the problem is that none of the towns want development up near them. I think the county and the towns need to do some talking and figure out a way to promote growth up near the towns. It’s coming. There is nothing we can do to stop it. We need to have good growth, not sprawl.”
He advocates holding discussions with residents.
Jackson added that he also thinks the county needs to do a better job of working with Carthage to help the town “be the best place it can” since many of the buildings in town are county-owned and generate no taxes.
Early voting for the March 3 primary is now underway at the Pinehurst Fire Station on Magnolia Road, and at the Moore County Agricultural Center on Pinehurst Avenue in Carthage. Early voting runs through Feb. 29.
Contact David Sinclair at (910) 693-2462 or firstname.lastname@example.org.