Maggie candidates vie for office
Six of the eight candidates for Maggie Valley Board of Aldermen answered many questions Thursday night about their future vision for the town.
About 30 people attended the candidate forum hosted by the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce. Voters in Maggie submitted the questions beforehand and candidates didn’t see them prior to the forum. Candidates Charlie Meadows and Joe Maniscalco, both running for the two-year unexpired term, were not present at the forum.
Moving Maggie Forward
Candidates were first asked about what the board of aldermen’s role should be in the Move Maggie Forward plan. The town funded the Move Maggie Forward study with a grant and Craig Madison, former CEO of Grove Park Inn, made recommendations on improving the town’s economy.
All of the candidates agreed that the plan now belonged to the business community and it would be up to them to implement the recommendations.
Janet Banks, who is running for the two-year unexpired term, said she hoped the business community would develop the plan “and I think the board’s role is to facilitate that happening.” However, she said money would be needed to implement many of the projects.
Incumbent Mike Matthews, who is running for a four-year term, said the best thing the board could do was listen to what the businesses needed and try to help if asked by the businesses.
Candidate Billy Case, a real estate agent in Maggie, said the town needed to look at the Downtown Waynesville Association as a good model for improving the town so that the plan doesn’t change with each new board or mayor.
Candidates were asked how they would educate themselves on the policies and North Carolina law if they were elected.
Steve Hurley, owner of Hurley’s Creekside Dining, said he had no idea how many laws and regulations there were when he purchased his restaurant. He said he had to educate himself, make phone calls and be diligent in making sure the rules are being followed.
Candidate Mike Eveland, manager of the Maggie Valley Inn, said he has spent the last three months educating himself by speaking to friends who are in local government and speaking to the League of Municipalities. He said he was willing to attend any classes offered to elected officials.
Incumbent Saralyn Price said as a former law enforcement officer for 30 years and an alderman for eight years, she was very familiar with government policies. She said she was committed to continue educating herself if elected.
“Not a week goes by that I haven’t learned of a new law,” Matthews said about the two years he has served on the board. He said the town had great regional and state resources available for the board as well as well-informed employees who were familiar with the law.
Banks and Case also committed to continued learning through online resources and government workshops.
Taxes and budget cuts
Candidates were asked several questions about taxes and future budget cuts. The board has cut the budget by 20 percent in the last two years and candidates were asked if they wanted to continue to make cuts and whether that would affect services. All the candidates said they would go over the budget line by line to try to find more savings.
Based on the budget he has seen, Eveland said the town had a great opportunity to continue to find places to cut.
“I can’t predict the future or what the state or federal government will do,” Price said. “But I probably pay more taxes than anyone else running and I don’t want to pay any more.”
“I promise I will do my best to keep taxes as low as possible,” Banks said.
Matthews said he was instrumental in cutting the budget by 20 percent in the last two years.
“I see no reason why we can’t go further,” he said.
Candidates also said they had no intentions of cutting any services in order to lower the budget.
As for employee benefits, the town pays for 80 percent of dependent coverage for employees, which was decreased from 100 percent this past year. While some candidates said the benefits needed to be competitive with other local governments to retain good employees, Hurley said he didn’t think it was fair to taxpayers for the town to pay anything for dependent coverage.
With the controversy surrounding the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds lately, candidates were asked how the grounds should be managed in the future. Festival grounds director Audrey Hager was fired and Town Manager Tim Barth resigned last week after the way an event was handled in August. Candidates all agreed that the town should not pay for events put on by promoters.
Hurley said he would like to see the grounds used year around instead of spring to early fall, adding that an ice-skating rink would be great for the winter months.
“We need to promote the festival grounds but we don’t need a high salaried director,” he said. “The promoter needs to pay for their event.”
“The town should never use taxpayers’ money to fund an event that’s for profit,” Eveland said.
Case said he would like to see the festival grounds managed by an association similar to DWA instead of the town subsidizing the property every year.
Banks said the policies regarding the festival grounds needed to be evaluated and clear goals needed to be set. She said her vision for the grounds was simple.
“I want to see it stand on its own as an entity. I’d like to see it grow to pay its own bills and even make a profit,” she said.
Matthews said he thought the festival grounds was doing well despite the recent issues but agreed the policies needed to be changed.
“It’s doing what it’s intended to do — bring business into the valley,” he said.
Occupancy tax increase
Candidates were asked whether they supported the proposed occupancy tax increase from 4 percent to 6 percent. The idea was floated earlier this year with the understanding that the additional revenue to Haywood could be used for new infrastructure to increase tourism. However, the bill was never brought out of committee at the General Assembly because of opposition from hotel owners in Maggie Valley.
Case said he was in favor of increasing the occupancy tax because it would be beneficial to all of Haywood County.
Hurley was also in favor of the occupancy tax increase but said the legislation needed to have clear stipulations to make sure Maggie was fairly represented.
Eveland was in favor of the increase and reminded people that it was a tax only tourist would pay that would add another $450,000 a year for projects like those outlined in Move Maggie Forward.
Price said Maggie needed to partner with other municipalities and the county to improve the economy and the occupancy tax would help everyone.
“We can’t survive by ourselves anymore,” she said.
Banks agreed with Hurley that the legislation needed stipulations in order to know where the money would go and who would decide how it would be divided.
Matthews said he was never for or against the increase.
“At one point I agreed with it but I quickly changed my mind when I realized how it would be controlled,” he said. “There’s no promise (Maggie Valley) would get any of it.”
If passed without a sunset clause, he said the county would be able to borrow money for a project, which could leave taxpayers with the bill.