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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

A dozen vie for county seats

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Ten Republicans and two Democrats have set sights on two open seats on the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners.

An additional seat may open after the election if current commissioners Jonathan Barfield Jr. or Woody White win the 7th district congressional seat.

Economic growth and long-term planning were top concerns for Democrats and Republicans.

For Democrat Rob Zapple, growth must be carefully directed.

“We need to attract clean industries with a focus on innovative technologies. … We need to take a good hard look around and decide what kind of place we want to live in,” Zapple said during an April 1 phone interview.

The film industry is a prime example of the clean industry Zapple prefers.

Republican Dr. Derrick Hickey agrees that potential consequences of growth opportunities should be considered.

“We’re not growing as many jobs as we need to support growth [in the community],” Hickey said during a March 31 phone interview. “But we can’t risk damaging the beaches, the river, the things that make people want to come live here.”

Like Hickey, Republican Skip Watkins would focus on growing the tax base to support county services.

“We need to bring in businesses that will pay better wages and pay property tax on their buildings. Sales tax and property tax are the county’s two biggest revenue sources,” Watkins said during a March 31 phone interview.

Democrat Patricia Spear supported the use of incentives to draw new jobs to the area.

“I know the government can’t create jobs but we can certainly bring them in with incentives,” Spear said during a March 28 interview.

Republican John Dismukes would rather use that money to foster small business growth.

“We just gave a half-million dollar incentive to a company that is bringing zero jobs to the county. I would see if that’s a best use of the money, or if we can promote small business incubators and make it easier to do business,” Dismukes said during a March 31 phone interview.

Improving the economic environment was a concern for Republican Chuck Kays.

“We need to create a climate of economic opportunity that helps our community grow,” Kays said during an April 1 phone interview.

Kays listed building an educated workforce, recruiting the right industry and creating a safe community as necessary ingredients to create that climate.

Republican Ricky Meeks said all of New Hanover County should benefit from growth.

“Some parts of the county are isolated from growth. Long-term planning would be good, such as housing and businesses,” Meeks said during an April 1 phone interview.

A long-lasting plan for county development was a priority for Republican Charles Kuebler.

“It’s really hard to navigate around the county. It’s so crowded, so congested. We need to come up with a comprehensive plan that affects generations down the road, not just right now,” Kuebler said during a March 28 phone interview.

To ensure a viable future, Republican Hank Thomas sees a need for consolidation and cost-cutting measures.

“Our government needs some tweaking. We are borrowing too much money for the things we have to do here. … I find in government, there’s always waste somewhere,” Thomas said during a March 31 phone interview, adding he would consider the current discussion for a merger between the county health department and social services department, as long as services would not suffer.

Other important issues for many contenders were public safety and education.

Republican Dave Conklin said it was important for educators and public safety professionals to have a voice in county government.

“Between public safety and education, that’s the backbone of what we need to do to improve our society… We have to give them some input. I think we can make better decisions if we do that,” Conklin, a retired police officer, said during a March 28 phone interview.

Republican Frank Roberts said he was concerned about the effect of the Biggert-Waters Reform Act.

“That’s a challenge because … insurance premiums over a year could almost equate to a mortgage payment,” Roberts said during a March 28 phone interview. “We’re basically a peninsula. We stand a chance to be highly impacted in this county.”

Republican Campbell Dodd said his focus would be on continuity.

“This is a great place to live and we have to maintain that … in a financially [responsible] way. We don’t want to pay too much for what we get. We want to feel like we’re getting what we pay for,” Dodd said during a March 28 phone interview.

The primary election is May 6. Election Day is Nov. 4. The deadline for voter registration is April 11.

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