Smathers vies for alderman post
With 36 years of experience working in various departments at the Town of Canton and rarely missing a town board meeting since his retirement, Phil Smathers is almost as familiar with the inner workings of the town as the current board members.
A lifelong resident of Canton, Smathers retired from the U.S. Army as a sergeant in 2007. During his tenure at the town, he worked as fire chief, assistant director of public works and chief building inspector.
The 66-year-old threw his name into the hat at the last minute possible after learning that none of the current board members were running again, he said.
He ran unsuccessfully for alderman in 2011, and many of his goals remain the same.
Making improvements to recreation facilities is one of Smathers’ main goals if elected. One aspect of that is to finally decide the fate of the old deteriorating pool. While the current board made steps to have engineers look at the pool and make recommendations, no decisions have been made.
Smathers believes it’s important to keep some sort of water recreation at the park, whether it’s a pool or a small water park.
“Maybe we can do something a little different so that we can satisfy the taxpayers and the surrounding people as far as having a pool or a place to go and get in the water,” he said.
He would also like to achieve the original vision of the International Sports Complex in Beaverdam, which would involve adding more ball fields and installing lighting.
“Lighting will be a big factor as far as drawing tournaments in. We are doing fairly well on the tournaments, but most tournaments I go to, they run until after dark. To really draw the big crowds, we really need to be able to play after dark out there,” he said.
Smathers said he would like to get an engineer’s opinion about possibly setting up concrete pads to support light poles as well as other options.
“We need to look at new ideas as far as how to light those fields. Of course, funding is going to be the key thing and the board is going to have a hard time figuring out how to finance some of these problems,” he said.
As the legal case regarding Camp Hope heads to the NC Court of Appeals, it will be an issue the new board members must quickly familiarize themselves with. However, Smathers has followed the case closely.
“We need a long range plan right now — what we’re going to do with the camp, how we’re going to use it and how we’re going to fund it. It would be good to at least get some of that on paper now whether we wind up with Camp Hope or not and then we will have a plan about how we will support Camp Hope,” he said.
He believes the town recreation director should control Camp Hope. However, he realizes there will come a time when the board must examine the legal fees and how much more taxpayer money they are willing to spend on the case.
Smathers said he is supportive of the idea of raising the county’s occupancy tax to help fund recreation projects.
“Certainly I would be in favor of the occupancy tax and that’s because it will help us throughout the whole county,” he said.
He also intends to address problems with aging infrastructure in town. Because of his experience in building maintenance, he keeps up with the near constant changes in state mandates, especially water quality.
“Some of these areas are shy on water pressure, and we’ve got to address that. It’s obvious we will have to install pumps or some other means to get more pressure in these areas,” he said.
He would also like to update town facilities and equipment and attempt to recruit “top notch” businesses to Champion Drive. When it comes to improving the appearance of downtown, he plans to “make a concerted effort” to build a downtown association involving building owners and renters.
Smathers said he believes lack of funding has held the current board back from making progress on many of these goals. But he hopes to explore new ways, such as bond referendums, to overcome budget restraints.
“Grants are not available like they used to be. We really need to look at a progressive way of funding different projects. Everything, of course, but raise taxes,” he said.
More than anything, Smathers said his goal is to create unity on the board. If elected, he promises to make compromises and get along with his fellow board members.
"I think I can add to the board with my knowledge of the past and what's been going on for the past 36 years," he said, adding that he considers each of his competitors a friend. "It would be a joy to work with any of these people because I think they are progressive and I imagine the voters are going to have a hard time picking four of us."