Canton manager forum raises questions

Canton faces major issues and needs an experienced manager
Mar 05, 2014

Saturday’s meet and greet that gave Canton residents an opportunity to chat with prospective town manager candidates was both interesting and worth attending.

It also shed light on some budget issues worth examining.

The top three candidates are an interesting mix, with Jason Burrell, the current interim manager in Canton, previous town manager in Warsaw and the town’s assistant manager for the past four-plus years; Seth Hendler-Voss, the park planning and development manager for the city of Asheville, who also has design experience in Atlanta and Vincent Wong, the senior budget and business systems analyst for the city of Gastonia, whose only supervisory experience was in the Gastonia customer service department.

It was interesting that the two outside candidates independently concluded the town has budget problems — something the mayor, town finance officer and Burrell say isn’t the case.

Hendler-Voss mentioned the large transfers from the town’s fund balance to cover ongoing operations, something which allows the town to avoid a tax increase. He also mentioned the imbalance between the costs and revenues for the town’s parks and recreation operations.

Wong went one step farther and expressed a concern about Canton’s dependence on outside government funds. That’s an alarming conclusion since the outside funds the town received last year were largely from grants for business and economic planning, as well as the Champion Drive sewer project. Securing the competitively awarded grant funding is a good thing and hardly suggests over-dependence on outside funding sources.

It could be that those running the town don’t budget in a conventional manner, or it is possible that several of the top manager candidates have failed to diligently study one of the most basic duties ahead — understanding, preparing and implementing a town budget. While Burrell has worked with all aspects of a municipal budget, the other two candidates have no such experience.

One thing all town manager prospects agreed upon is that Canton is at a crossroads. There is a vital need to address economic development and a cloud of uncertainty over the future of the town’s largest employer, a paper mill faced with a $62 million upgrade.

This town governing board could be facing unprecedented challenges — ones that will require the skills beyond those that can be offered during on-the-job training.

The revelations at the meet and greet will hopefully prompt town leaders to look more deeply into these issues.