Candidates court farmers at forum
by Anna Oakes
The Watauga County Farm Bureau Women’s Committee sponsored a
Meet Your Candidates Forum at the Holiday Inn Express in Boone Thursday.
Billy Kennedy, a Democratic county commissioner candidate,
said the county could encourage programs that keep taxes low for farmers and
shield them from the negative effects of development.
“Government does have a role in … helping to support
farming,” he said.
Republican Perry Yates said the county should help farmers
market their products.
“I’d like to see us market our products and get a good price
for them. A lot of that’s shopping local,” Yates said.
Virginia Roseman, a Democrat running for the commission,
said, “Part of our job will be to figure out how to protect you. A large
apartment complex, in beautiful farmlands — I’m not sure that’s in the best
interest of your community.”
Republican commissioner candidate Tommy Adams said an
apartment complex likely wouldn’t be built in a rural community, adding, “The
market will dictate where something will go.”
Vince Gable, the one-term Republican county commissioner
running for re-election, said he wants to protect farmland and waterways but “I
am 100 percent against any type of zoning.”
Other candidates said that a “hands off” approach would best
“I’m a personal property rights advocate. You have the right
to do what you want to do with your land,” said Adams.
“Stay back,” said Democrat commissioner candidate John
Welch. “Probably the best thing is to let them be.”
One question posed to the candidates was about how much
authority the county commission has over health inspectors. Earlier this year,
homebuilders and other businesses decried the lengthy amount of time involved
in securing permits and inspections.
Gable said the commission addressed the situation this year by withholding funds from the health department until the director could show how the inspection process would be improved.
Kennedy said he has personally had negative experiences with
inspectors and that the county must ensure that the right inspectors are hired
and that they are courteous to the public.
“If you feel you weren’t treated in such a fashion that was
in your best interest, let us know how you’ve been treated,” Roseman said.
Welch vowed to hold a town hall-style meeting in December to
hear from community members if he is elected.
Yates said he would like to see more horticultural education
at Watauga High School and to work with the school board to establish
student-run garden beds at the school.
Kennedy said he would also like to see programs that involve
children in agriculture.
“I’m worried about the kids that don’t have any connection
to nature any more,” he said.
Gable concluded that during his term as commissioner, the
county has lowered its debt amount and is scheduled to pay off three projects
within the next three years.
“I promise to you that I’ll do nothing to raise your taxes in any way, shape or form,” said Gable.
Adams said his three top issues —personal property rights,
keeping taxes low and economic development — affect everyone, including
Roy Carter, a Democrat running against Republican incumbent
Dan Soucek for the 45th District seat in the N.C. Senate, said he wants to help
families keep their farms and that a balanced approach is needed to maintain
necessary regulations without hampering businesses.
“The state has no business trying to micro-manage other
businesses,” said Democrat Cullie Tarleton, seeking election to the N.C. House
of Representatives seat he lost to Republican Jonathan Jordan two years ago.
Soucek and Jordan said they supported the General Assembly’s
effort to put a moratorium on new regulations during their first terms.
Jordan said he sponsored a bill called the North Carolina
Farmers Freedom Protection Act to exempt farmers from federal regulations if
they grow, market and sell their products only within North Carolina borders.
The bill did not go to a full House vote in the past session, but Jordan said
he’d push for the bill again in 2013.
The candidates were asked about tax reform.
Soucek said the current tax code is 100 years old and has
been “patched” numerous times. He said he favors “a simpler tax code that’s
broader based. It needs to be revenue neutral.”
Carter acknowledged that the tax system is “antiquated” but
vowed not to take away tax exemptions that benefit the agricultural sector, as
did the other candidates.
Carter also the state should work to ensure that public
universities such as Appalachian State purchase locally.
“Let’s get a little bit out of the box” and think of
innovative ways to help industries thrive, he said. “Our farmers will meet the
Soucek told attendees that he and Jordan worked to reduce
taxes, but Tarleton raised taxes while in office.
“I’m very proud of my record — the four years I served in the legislature,” Tarleton said. “I’ll make you this promise. I’ll work hard for you every single day of the week.”