Union County Commissioner Richard Helms did not originally intend to run for reelection, but he felt the urge to continue to contribute after seeing the county’s success in the last term.
Helms, a Republican, is seeking a third term as a commissioner.
“My family goes back to 1780 in Union County, so I’m a native and the county’s very important to me,” Helms said.
Helms described this past term as “the most productive Union County has seen in a long time.” He said the county hired Mark Watson as its new county manager, which has helped the county progress in its economic growth. According to Helms, Union County’s commercial tax base has improved by 2% in the past term, which is a significant improvement.
He is also proud of is putting bonds together for improvements at Union County Public Schools, which he said was also a challenge.
But the biggest challenge this term has been moving along the Yadkin project. Many voters have expressed disdain with commissioners for increasing water rates to fund the project. Helms said while he originally voted against raising the rates, he now sees how it will benefit the county in the long run and supports the project.
“There’s a lot of information being put out there that is known to not be factual, but they’re good sound bites,” Helms said.
Helms said the board evaluated all of the possible options to get water to Union County residents. He said other options would not allow the county to own the water, which could be consequential if a corporation goes bankrupt, leading the pipes to empty and leave citizens without water.
He believes the Yadkin project was the best option because it allows the county to own the water. He said the project will be theirs for the next 50 to 100 years.
The cost of the project has also been questioned by candidates and residents alike. However, Helms said consultants, engineers and professionals have validated that the Yadkin project is “the most cost-effective and most productive solution” for the county. He said if the county scrapped the project now that its design phase is 60% complete, it would be subject to lawsuits from other entities it has partnered with on the project, therefore costing them more money and making it more expensive for residents.
“It’s a matter of who wants to move this county forward and who wants to push it backward,” Helms said.
Helms also said claims about the county failing to address problems with arsenic and contamination in water are incorrect. He said county staff are in the second design phase of a project that will connect water lines together and give better hydraulics and cleaner water to residents who need it.
While water has been a hot-button issue in this primary, Helms hopes to address the county’s growth in the next term if he is reelected. He said his voting record shows that he has voted against high-density projects, like the Cresswind senior community project.
“Our infrastructure, water, sewer, roads and sometimes schools, depending on location, can’t handle that density,” Helms said. “In my personal perspective, we need to control that density. There’s a neighborhood on Potter Road and it’s a nice community with one-acre lots. And it’s going in… but they didn’t have to rezone it. That’s a good way to go. Our landowners have a right to sell their land, but your right stops when you infringe on everyone else.”
To Helms, “smart growth” means controlling density and working diligently with the board to expand the county’s commercial tax base, therefore also contributing to economic growth.
He wants to work with state legislators to facilitate road improvements that have been in the works for a long time but have yet to be completed.
“This is home and I want this county to be the best it can be,” Helms said. “I’ve got children and I want to have a better Union County for them to have in the future when I’m gone.”