MONROE – The eight candidates running for county commission answered questions at a forum organized by the League of Women Voters on April 23 at the Union County Chamber of Commerce.
Here’s how they answered three of the eight questions:
1. What are the most important issues the county commission will have to address in the next two years?
2. With the county’s tax base at 83 percent residential and 17 percent business, what role can the county commission take to encourage more commercial growth?
3. What policies will you enact to improve economic mobility?
Blood is a fiscal conservative, but voters may also connect with her being a business owner and mother of two young children. The Waxhaw attorney is among the most engaging speakers on the ballot.
• Top issues: Blood believes ensuring an adequate water source as the county grows is the most important issue. The Norwood water project should provide some relief once complete in 2022. She’s also passionate about balancing out the tax base by attracting more jobs so less burden is on residential.
• Commercial growth: Blood explained town and city councils are responsible for zoning in large portions of the county. While commissioners are responsible for unincorporated areas, they should maintain great relationships with local leaders and encourage them to consider commercial growth.
• Economic mobility: Blood agreed with Simpson and Atkinson that ensuring economic mobility is not the role of the county commission. She’s personally involved with trying to turn around juvenile defenders and serving on a charter school board.
Rushing, owner of Take Aim Training Range, spoke with pride about some of the ways the county commission has improved over time. The Wingate resident has served as a commissioner from 2002 to 2006 and 2014 to 2018.
• Top issues: Rushing agreed with Blood’s assessment about the importance of water, but noted commissioners have to face how to take command of the issue. He’s in favor of putting water in different areas of the county, including those overlooked in the past, to avoid issues of overcrowding.
• Commercial growth: He mentioned enticing firms with incentive grants and effectively managing limited water and sewer, but he stressed maintaining a low tax rate. “If we don’t keep our tax rate low, we’re not going to be able to attract businesses from surrounding counties to this county.”
• Economic mobility: Rushing said education programs, low taxes and business-friendly environments contribute to mobility. “A child who is afraid can not learn.”
Davis is the lone Democrat in the race, allowing some of his answers at the forum to really stand out from the rest of the pack. The Indian Trail resident got his message across with clarity.
• Top issues: Davis acknowledged water is important, but he emphasized education. The county must create a safe environment for children to grow and learn effectively.
• Commercial growth: Davis said the county can promote more small business, which he defined as the lifeblood of any community. He also believes the county must let bigger companies know that Union has the workforce to fill jobs
• Economic mobility: “We got to learn to value each other.” That includes establishing a living wage for economically disenfranchised people and ensuring teachers aren’t getting second jobs or spending money on school supplies.
Atkinson has strong face and name recognition, being a former TV news anchor. The Waxhaw resident also has a calm, reassuring temperament and strong communication skills.
• Top issues: Having been in news for 27 years, Atkinson is used to asking questions. Leaders must ask several. How do we handle growth from Charlotte? How do we decide where businesses or homes locate? How do we allocate water? How do we pay for fire protection? What do we do about roads?
• Commercial growth: Atkinson suggested the county find a niche to capitalize on, such as how the aerospace industry has evolved in Monroe. “We ought to be partnering with developers who can bring quality development here to provide not only jobs but services to our people.”
• Economic mobility: Atkinson doesn’t think it’s the government’s job to be the answer, pointing to faith and civic organizations to get involved. The county can, however, focus on issues like education and safety.
Commission meetings aren’t always the best showcase of one’s knowledge, especially when the commissioners have served a while. The forum gave the Waxhaw resident a platform to flex his eight years of board experience and his sense of humor.
• Top issues: The county needs to support the sheriff’s office as it addresses crime, drugs and gangs. Along with that are issues such as mental health and a fair and equitable fire funding system.
• Commercial growth: Simpson touted how as a first-term commissioner, he combined Monroe and Union County economic development efforts, which has been making strides. Regarding the 70 percent of people who work outside of Union County, he joked “tell those people to stop at the grocery store before you cross the county line.”
• Economic mobility: As a conservative, Simpson doesn’t feel like the government should necessarily focus on mobility. The county will focus on having great education opportunities and infrastructure, however.
Rape, a retired teacher, has served on the Union County Public Schools Board of Education since 2016. School boards are good springboards for county office. The Monroe resident spoke favorably of incumbents Jerry Simpson and Stony Rushing.
• Top issues: Rape, who serves on the school board, would like to continue the great relationship shared between the county and school board. He vowed not to let politics destroy his 50-year friendship with Jerry Simpson. He also wants to focus industrial development along the Monroe Expressway.
• Commercial growth: Rape reiterated the opportunity for industrial companies along the Monroe Expressway. He wants to see infrastructure in place to land such companies. “If we bring the big fish in, the minnows will follow.”
• Economic mobility: A former commissioner once told him that government should provide services for the community that the private industry can’t until it got up and running, like garbage collection. Rape, again, described industrial parks as the answer. He said the county is in great financial condition.
Wilson, of Waxhaw, offered thoughtful and nuanced answers to questions, giving the impression that he’s capable of thinking outside the box. He’s not as old as a lot of the other candidates.
• Top issues: Wilson believes the most important issue is the diversification of the tax base, noting that commercial property should contribute upwards of 30 percent, as opposed to 17 percent. He suggested they try to bring in more companies to Monroe and Marshville.
• Commercial growth: Wilson acknowledged there’s no silver bullet, but he mentioned an apprenticeship program he’s seen in South Carolina that could attract companies. He pointed to steps the county can take in the comprehensive plan.
• Economic mobility: Wilson said the county provides education opportunities for people to learn the skills they need to get available jobs.
Lucas knows a thing or two about the county budget, considering he’s served as division director for information technology for several years. The Indian Trail resident was the most straightforward of the candidates, often giving short answers. He complimented the current board at least a couple of times.
• Top issues: Lucas agrees with the notion of locating water and sewer in strategic areas to reduce congestion out of the west side of the county. He also wants to work with the N.C. Department of Transportation to improve roads.
• Commercial growth: Lucas kept it simple: keep the tax rate low, improve infrastructure in roads and water, and continue the partnership between Monroe and county economic developers.
• Economic mobility: Lucas believes this isn’t the job of government, but the county could partner with schools to provide education. He mentioned the need for high-speed internet for those unconnected.