Non-incumbents discuss county issues
Political candidates from three parties in Haywood County held a public meeting Wednesday night at Sagebrush Steakhouse in Waynesville to get feedback from residents.
As non-incumbents, the candidates named several issues of concern, including the county's emergency management ordinance that infringes on property rights and the county debt.
More than 30 people showed up to hear from the candidates and ask them questions. Phillip Wight, a Maggie Valley alderman and Republican candidate for county commissioner, organized the meeting.
Also in attendance was Mike Clampitt, Republican candidate for NC House of Representatives Seat 119, Windy McKinney, the first Haywood County Libertarian candidate for county commissioner, Kyle Edwards, Democratic candidate for county commissioner, Mike Matthews, Republican candidate for tax collector, and Denny King, Republican candidate for county commissioner.
While introducing himself, Clampitt said his priorities are creating jobs, education and state’s rights.
“I’m all about our state taking back the rights we deserve… someone’s got to stand up and say no,” he said.
McKinney thanked everyone for the great turn out and encouraged public discussion on how the candidates could improve the county.
“I hope we can continue to do this after we’re elected,” she said.
As a Libertarian, she said she is a strict Constitutionalist, meaning that the government should be defined by the powers granted in the Constitution and nothing more. She said government has overstepped its boundaries and shouldn’t be involved in people’s everyday lives.
Edwards said he decided to run because of several personal property issues he has had in the past.
“I’ve got stories that will scare you to death. If not for (lawyer) Rusty McLean, I’d probably be in jail right now,” he said. He added that Rep. Michelle Presnell, R-Burnsville, also went out of her way to help him.
Matthews, who served as a Maggie Valley alderman for two years but lost in the election last year, said he was running for tax collector against incumbent David Francis because “somehow in this economy, they’ve (the county) figured out a way to raise taxes through the tax collector’s office.” He said the county needed to stop using the tax collector’s office as a bank account.
“A town can prosper and grow without raising taxes,” he said. “Increasing the tax base needs to be done by enticing people to come here — not by raising taxes on the people already here.”
The current tax rate is about 54 cents. Julie Davis, county finance director, said the county tax rate historically has decreased over the last 10 years. But in the 2008-09 fiscal year, it increased from about 49 cents to 51 cents because property values dropped during the re-valuation and rates were increased to have revenue neutral rates.
"But before 2009, it was 61 cents and before that it was 72 cents, so historically it's come down," Davis said.
King, an engineer from Canton, said he had an issue with the property tax increases in the county. While most people in the county saw a 6-percent increase to their taxes, he said he received a 30-percent increase.
“A lot of people in our county are afraid of our government and we need to reverse that,” he said. “… Our government needs to have a fear of the people of this county.”
A big topic at the gathering was the emergency management ordinance the county passed in 2009. All of the candidates agreed that the ordinance infringed on resident’s property rights.
McKinney said the language in the ordinance gave FEMA authority to come into someone’s house during a state of emergency without consent. She said she was in favor of nullifying the ordinance because she sees it as unconstitutional.
“They can take your possessions without regard to any other law,” she said.
Clampitt said the ordinance was a result of President Barack Obama’s Emergency Management Act. He said the act empowers FEMA to come into an area declared a natural disaster and establish marshal law over local law enforcement.
“I’ve got a lot of heartburn with that,” Clampitt said.
Wight said there were videos all over YouTube of FEMA taking away guns from people after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.
McKinney said an act like that should have gone to a referendum before being passed. She also said other counties, like Macon County, didn’t choose to pass an emergency management ordinance.
“The big thing I have against it, is it’s totally unconstitutional all the way through,” King said. “I would take an oath to not pass anything unconstitutional.”
The candidates also discussed the county’s debt, claiming it needs to be lowered. McKinney said the county’s debt was at $68 million and she was interested in hearing ideas from the public on how to starting cutting down that debt.
However, according to Davis, the county debt as of December 2013 was $63,391,440. She said the estimated debt for June 2014 was $60,975,868. That debt includes several capital projects on the courthouse, justice center, several Haywood County schools and the new Department of Social Services building. She added that many of the loans were general obligation loans, which required a public vote.
Waynesville resident Jonnie Cure said she spoke with Davis, who told her the county has the ability to borrow up to 8 percent of the total value of real property in Haywood County, which would total more than $500 million.
Since the county is way below that percentage, “they feel like they’ve done a good job because they can borrow a lot more,” Cure said.
McKinney said the only options to pay off that debt more quickly is to stop borrowing money, cut spending or cut services. She said another solution is to privatize some of the services the county is currently providing.
“I’m willing to cut taxes, but you have to tell me what services you’re willing to do without,” she said to the residents.
King agreed that some services could be privatized to reduce the size of the government.
“I’ve said before even though I’ve been told not to — our property tax is way too high. People need to be able to keep more of their money,” he said.
Matthews said the county didn’t have to get rid of services in order to cut taxes just like he did in Maggie Valley.
“There’s so much fat in the budget and just because a budget is balanced doesn’t mean you can go buy new cars — that’s where you cut it,” he said.
After the discussion candidates answered questions from the audience. McKinney said the candidates would continue to hold public meetings to get input from constituents.