Remarks by Candidates for Public Office in Davidson, Election 2019
The Editorial Board of News of Davidson asked the candidates for public office in Davidson to tell our readers three important issues facing Davidson and how they would like to address them. The following are their responses.
Rusty Knox, Candidate for Mayor
- The most important issue for me in Davidson is providing an opportunity for anyone that chooses to live in our town to have that opportunity. Affordability continues to be more challenging every day. The physical cost of dirt on which to build and lack of land afforded for development make the involvement of the town and non-profit participation crucial if we are going to achieve any level of affordability. We need to continue to work with developers committing them to build units on the ground. We need to continue to buy homes that come available to replenish the inventory of affordable homes (to be maintained and controlled by an entity other than the town). We need to continue to provide emergency repairs for those that are aging in place, to insure that they are safe within their homes. Finally, we need to look at building new affordable housing.
- We need to protect what makes our town special, being a small college town. We have taken steps over the last two years to preserve and protect our town from the growth and makes us special. Davidson will grow, land owners do have rights and we can’t just use water/sewer as a growth tool. I would much rather see growth that we can take part in, rather than having land owners subdivide and do haphazard development with well and septic development that the town would have little to no control over what the final impacts are on the town.
- We need to build on the success of the Hurt Hub and work towards expanding our commercial/professional footprint so that the disparity between commercial and residential tax bases is narrowed. I am currently working with our corporate neighbors and developers with several projects that will provide this structure in the future.
Jane Campbell, Candidate for Town Board of Commissioners
Three issues: (1) Available, Affordable Housing, (2) Public Facilities, (3) Sale of Continuum. I’m highlighting the latter two because they will be on the ballot, and I want to draw attention to them for voters. I’ll address the issues in reverse order:
Sale of Continuum -I believe it was an appropriate time to assess our options to sell Continuum. The company offering to purchase Continuum will keep operations local, and will offer employment to current employees. I believe the $80 million bid we received makes sound financial sense. It pays off the debt owed by Davidson and Mooresville in full. If approved by the voters, it will mean that we will no longer be putting $1million of our annual budget (7.89% this year) toward the debt service on Continuum. I ask the voters to support this sale.
Public Facilities –Last year the town purchased the historic Davidson School located at 251 South Street. The proposed plans to turn the main building into our town center, combined with renovations to our current Town Hall, will provide much needed community space in addition to town administrative space. I believe that this vote to issue general obligation bonds belongs to the voters. If approved, we will be able to consolidate administrative functions at 251 South Street. I’m also very excited about the auditorium space. I think it will provide a great 250-300 seat venue for our town. It is not an extravagant renovation, but provides the necessary upgrades to an historic building. The subsequent renovations to existing Town Hall are critical. Our Police Department has been doing a lot with “less” – with officers using their patrol cars as their desks for administrative work, with a lack of secure transfer area, and limited interview space. Those renovations will also provide a 5-10 year solution for our Fire Department. I believe this is a critically important bond referendum for our town, and I ask voters to support it.
Affordable Housing– Our town has been a leader in addressing affordable housing for decades. We are one of only 3 municipalities in the state that has an affordable housing ordinance. However, that doesn’t mean that we can rest on the work that has already been done. Statistics from a 2018 study show that 1 out of 4 residents of our town has an income below $50,000. While we won’t be able to fix our affordable housing challenges by building our way out, I have asked every developer who has come before the Board if they would include affordable into their plan. And at least one said yes. Most importantly, we must develop a comprehensive affordable housing strategy. It must include helping seniors remain in the houses they already own, developing new affordable rental properties (including affordable senior rentals), and looking for opportunities to partner with our local nonprofits to leverage their expertise and additional funding.
Matthew Fort, Candidate for Town Board of Commissioners
Two years ago, I ran on the following:
- Improved Trust and Transparency in our local government
- Balanced Growth
- Exiting Continuum
We are well down the path on accomplishing all three of these objectives. I am the right person to represent The Town of Davidson because I have a proven record of delivering on the commitments that I make. In addition, over the past two years I have demonstrated the ability to make thoughtful, informed choices representing all of the people in our unique and special town.
Three important issues we are facing today are:
- Continued residential growth pressures
- Lack of existing infrastructure
- The need to enhance our Commercial Tax Base
I believe that the first two issues mentioned above are separate, but also intertwined. The previously approved high-density development has had a significant impact on our existing infrastructure. As a board, we have been more stringent on approving projects that come before us. Projects that have been approved by our current board are much lower density and will have a far less substantial impact on our existing infrastructure. We are in the process of adding conditional approvals on all areas of Davidson based on a number of unit threshold. If a proposed development would exceed a certain number of units, it would then have to come before the board for final approval even if it met all of the conditions of the current planning area. Implementation of this policy will help us to balance growth and grow more thoughtfully and responsibly.
Secondly, we need to thoughtfully execute the approved 2017 G.O. Bond and if approved the 2019 G.O. Public Facilities bond. Due to the purchase of Continuum and its subsequent debt service payments, we have been unable to substantially invest in key areas such as Police, Fire, Mobility/Transportation, Greenways, & Parks. If/when the sale of Continuum happens, we will be able to implement of all $15M of the 2017 G.O. Bonds and the proposed $14M 2019 G.O. Bond for Public Facilities without raising taxes. The implementation of these two bonds will provide some much-needed investment in infrastructure.
Finally, we need to increase our commercial tax base. Today, over 80% of our tax base is residential which puts a tremendous burden on all property owners in Davidson. Also, as affordable housing is one of the board’s strategic initiatives, reductions in the tax rate will help achieve that initiative. The Town of Davidson has the second highest tax rate of all the surrounding towns in Mecklenburg County. While I believe that we provide high quality services, I would like to see us reduce the overall tax rate. One of the best ways to accomplish that is to improve the mix of commercial vs. residential tax base.
I believe that our Small-Town Charm is what makes Davidson such a unique and special place to live. My goal is to ensure Davidson remains that way for generations to come. Together, we can work to keep Davidson a unique and special place to live.
Jim Fuller, Candidate for Town Board of Commissioners
My campaign has three points of focus: Experience, Communication, and Pragmatic Implementation.
EXPERIENCE: Of course, my service on the BoC is valuble to me. Each new issue, and each vote, arises in historical context. However, more than mere longevity, I value the breadth of my experience within our Town.
Over the years, I have had the pleasure of service. In addition to serving as president of the Davidson Lands Conservancy, I have served as volunteer or board member of the Ada Jenkins Center, Davidson Community Players, LN Chamber of Commerce, Visit LN, Davidson Lifeline, Davidson Learns, and Davidson Planning Board. I have also taught courses at Davidson College, and now serve with Commissioner Campbell and Mayor Knox on our Town/Gown Committee. I value each of these experiences for providing concomitant opportunities to learn and to meet extraordinary people who help to shape our town. Tennyson wrote, “I am a part of all that I have met.” So, too, am I.
COMMUNICATION: Each week provides opportunities to exchange views with our engaged, informed citizens. Since I believe democracy flourishes in the clash of opinions in the marketplace of ideas, I invite candid discussion and critique. Our BoC, individually and collectively, tries to come to solutions that are truly best for all our citizens. Our discussions often include respectful disagreement that reflects our diverse backgrounds. Always, these discussions are in public, and show our commitment to transparency. We let the sun shine in and close the door only when required by law.
PRAGMATIC IMPLEMENTATION: I try never to make up my mind until every voice has been heard and every opinion given weight. Most weeks are replete with citizen calls, emails, and meetings. My ultimate criterion for decision is: What is best and fair for all of Davidson’s citizens. If re-elected, that will be my commitment for the next term. We face important issues of public facilities, protection of trees and our environment, greenways, walkability and connectivity, traffic, housing, and appropriate growth. For each of these, I solicit your input.
There is, however, one issue on which I have come thoughtfully to a concrete conclusion—the sale of MI-Connection/Continuum. I give special credit to Jamie, David, and Matthew. However, without question, Jane, Autumn, Rusty, and I have pulled our oars hard to bring this boat into shore. Now, we await the vote of our citizens—and I strongly urge a YES vote.
This sale of Continuum will immediately stop the hemorrhage of an annual payment in excess of $1million, and erase a contingent liability in excess of $20million. Subject to final accounting, we may also clear as much as $3million to plug into the economic calculus in the 2020 budget.
As was true last year, and the year before, we will carefully evaluate the needs of our town and of our our citizens. We will then prepare a balanced budget that uses the highest standards of stewardship. in our role as fiduciaries of the people, and we will try to be fair to everyone.
I recognize that we have “promises to keep” and “miles to go before we sleep.” THANK YOU to each citizen in this small, wonderful town that we love. Let’s continue…together.
Autumn Rierson Michael, Candidate for Town Board of Commissioners
Community Character and Sense of Place. When I decided to run in 2017, I ran on a platform of “people, preservation, and place,” with grave concerns about the potential loss of community character if Davidson continued on its same trajectory. I think this current Board has made substantial strides in two years in some of these areas with the passing of the new tree ordinance, the mobility plan, expediting the comprehensive plan process, becoming a “Certified Local Government” (CLG) which enhances our historic preservation program, and passing a “missing middle” ordinance as some of those examples. The first draft of that comprehensive plan has just been released with recommendations, and I would foresee a first task of the new Board as evaluating and implementing some of those recommendations. I also think it’s important to complete the expansion of the designation of the local historic district, which has begun, but is not yet complete. Furthermore, I would like to continue to be part of the process to determine and envision future use for the Davidson School (the old IB school), which is currently being considered for possible town admin and community uses. Lastly, I think the food economy is a robust one in Davidson, and I would like to explore entrepreneurial ways to support that, such as supporting sustainable farming efforts in our Rural Area.
Greenways and Connectivity. An additional area where I feel we have much more work to do is that of greenway connectivity. In this next term, and once the dust settles in terms of property revaluations, possible public facilities costs, and possible Continuum/Mi-Connection revenues, the Town will likely choose how, when, and where to spend some portion of the 2017 voter-approved GO Bonds related to parks, greenways, and mobility. Passage of the Mobility Plan will help tee those discussions up, particularly as the community, staff and Board debate and determine priorities for funding, and begin evaluating and implementing some of the plan recommendations. I think expanding the greenway network will and should be an essential part of this prioritization.
Affordable Housing. The issue of affordable housing has become increasingly important to me over the course of my first term, as I’ve learned more about the needs and available tools. Over the course of this first term, we have researched a number of possible tools to help address inequities in affordable housing, and the timing now seems ripe to move forward with some key affordable housing initiatives. This is a complex issue, and I believe that the solutions takes a multi-part approach of 1) inclusionary housing policy, 2) preservation of naturally occurring affordable housing through a possible overlay district as well as through critical repairs funding, as well as 3) new construction or “putting units on the ground.” We need to institutionalize our affordable housing committee, create an affordable strategic plan based on comp plan recommendations, and explore land banking and other new strategies, funding, and partnership opportunities for affordable housing.
David Sitton, Candidate for Town Board of Commissioners
Growth is the single most influential factor shaping Davidson today. The impacts of this pressure are felt across our community and in many different ways. Perhaps the most notable examples of the impact of growth in our community include:
Rural Area Sprawl – We have continued to advance sewer and water extensions into the Rural Area. Although the number of newly approved units is down from the last term, we approved 5 new developments in Davidson including 2 sewer and water extensions in 2019. That is the highest number of new development approvals in one term since 2004 and the third most in the last 30 years. This development push into the Rural Area continues to erode the rural qualities of living in the ETJ. It propels additional growth pressures as more families are forced to leave in search of rural living elsewhere and it taxes our already overburdened infrastructure. The first step in addressing this sprawling growth requires restricting the further expansion of sewer and water into the Rural Area. Many communities have done it very successfully, including Chapel Hill for the last 30 years. We only have to decide whether maintaining a rural area is important to the community of Davidson, the residents of the Rural Area, and our collective quality of life.
Historic Tear Downs – Growth has also created challenges in town. As property values increase and the availability of land becomes more scarce, tear-downs in our historic district are incurring with increasing frequency. In the last two years we have had 1 tear-down in the historic district every 60 days. Preventing the loss of these homes and our historic character will require an expansion of our local historic district, which is currently underway, stronger legislative support, and an increase in landmarked structures.
Gentrification and Displacement – Perhaps the community that has felt the greatest impact of growth has been our historic African American Community. As the demand for housing continues to increase in Davidson, our historic communities face greater gentrification pressures. We are losing not only historic structures, but also the displacement of families that have been here for generations, and the diversity that we seek as a community. There are a number of tools to help address this issue, but all of them require the will to preserve it and the money to do it.
I hope that in the next term, regardless of who that includes, there will be the political will to make the difficult decisions required to keep Davidson the unique and charming small college town that is today with its aspirational vision of being a more inclusive and diverse community.
John Stroup, Candidate for Town Board of Commissioners
The reason I am running for commissioner for Davidson is to bring a new perspective to what seems like groupthink. I am the right person to represent the citizens of Davidson who are not in lockstep with the current commission and mayor on the agenda they are pursuing. I have lived in Davidson since 2003. My experiences growing up on a dairy farm right here in Mecklenburg county for over 20 years and being a full-time Realtor/Broker selling houses and land for another 23 years gives me the kind of experiences that this board needs. I will bring a new focus on the most important issues with my perspective.
I believe that the board needs to spend more time on what will take us into the future with the proper focus. There are always multiple issues but below are the 3 issues I believe the upcoming board should focus on with fiscal responsibility always in mind. Number one is making sure we have the infrastructure that will provide for our citizens and employees who live and work here. Taking care of those who help our town function and protect us is critical to keeping Davidson an awesome and desirable place to live. Part of that process means providing proper facilities for our first responders. I support the bond for the Renovation of 251 South Street. Number two is getting back to the basics by bringing in new businesses and diversifying our community. This will help keep our taxes down. Number three is improving transportation in Davidson. We need multiple ways to get around and through Davidson as we move into the future. These are my three priorities. If you are seeking a new perspective, I ask for your vote.