Mount Holly candidates talk wastewater treatment updates

by Tori Hamby

More than 60 Mount Holly residents gathered at the city’s municipal building late last month for a question-and-answer Mount Holly City Council candidate forum. Judging from audience-generated questions, many are concerned with the city’s aging infrastructure, specifically its water treatment facility.

During the Oct. 18 forum, the six candidates running for three spots on the council – incumbents Carolyn Breyare and Perry Toomey, former council member Phyllis Harris and newcomers Teresa Greene, Ben Taylor III and Jason Gowen – were given questions about the use of grants to attract new businesses to the city’s downtown area, city revitalization and beautification and how making repairs and updates to the water treatment plant could affect taxes.

Gastonia Attorney Jason Shoemaker told candidates and the crowd that repairs that would keep the city’s sewer rates under control could cost anywhere from $15 million to $30 million.

Some candidates were in favor of pushing ahead with the water treatment center improvements as soon as possible, while others advocated taking a more cautious approach. But even candidates who recommended a more immediate approach to dealing with the repairs said they wanted to minimize the impact that the project’s tax funding could have on the city.

Harris said that the council should look into the option that causes the least amount of impact, but “sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and go for it.”

Breyare expressed some hesitation toward rushing into improvements because she doesn’t believe that all options have been studied thoroughly.

“We’ve talked about this for four years,” she said. “It’s really mind boggling what we have to study in this type of thing. Things will be going up. I just want you to know that we’re not going to rush into anything. Your hands are really tied in a lot of instances.”

Taylor, Greene and Toomey all told the crowd that they favor putting improvements high on the city’s priority list, with Taylor particularly emphasizing the immediate need.

“We can do it now, or we can do it later. We need to do it now,” Taylor said. “We can farm out the cost by charging other municipalities to use (the facility).”

Gowan’s platform has largely centered around ways to affordably and quickly upgrade the plant, and has said that luring business to the area is dependent upon the city improving its infrastructure. He said that he has studied the facility extensively and has come up with a detailed plan to use revenue to pay for the upgrades.

“We can build the tax base by increasing the number we permit out to,” Gowan said.

Business

In addition to audience questions, each candidate was given two questions in advance. One question dealt with whether the city should be allowed to give out grants to attract prospective downtown business owners. Two programs currently exist within the town, one of which is a loan program, which help owners deal with certain expenses that come with locating a business to Mount Holly, such as building repairs.

Breyare said that while she voted for the incentive program during her time on the council, there may come a time when budget constraints could force the city to look for other ways to bring businesses to the city.

“If the city had to cut the budget, there are other ways to attract businesses,” she said.

Toomey said he agreed that a lag in revenues could force the city to lessen its use of business incentive, but championed the continuance of it’s business loan program, in which the funds would eventually be paid back.

Greene said she favored talking to Mount Holly citizens on a “one-on-one level” to hear about what kind of businesses they want to see come to the area and to use public opinion to gauge grant funding.

Taylor emphasized the city’s need for a large, chain grocery store several times and said the grant program is needed to continue economic improvements.

“Downtown is beginning to look alive again,” he said.

Only Gowen said he discouraged the use of business incentives, but added that the program could be modified.

“The city government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers based on an application process,” Gowen said. “Generally speaking, the market should drive itself.”

He said he was in favor of modifying the process so that owners who use existing buildings in the downtown area could bring their buildings up to code and not so they could spend funds on marketing or advertising materials.

Other elections

Mountain Island residents in the Charlotte-area also will elect three at-large members on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education, four at-large city council members and a mayor. James “Smuggie” Mitchell also is running unopposed for the District 2 seat on the Charlotte City Council, which includes the Mountain Island area.

Candidates for the Charlotte City Council at-large election include incumbent and Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon-Democrat; incumbent David Howard-Democrat, Claire Fallon-Democrat, Beth Pickering-Democrat, incumbent Edwin Peacock III-Republican, Curtis Watkins-Republican, Christopher Hailey-Republican, Muhamed Moustafa-Republican and Alex Vuchnich-Libertarian.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools at-large candidates include Hans Plotseneder, Tim Morgan, Mary McCray, Ken Nelson, Keith Hurley, Erica Ellis-Stewart, Elyse Dashew, Darrin Rankin, Aaron Pomis, Larry Bumgarner, Lloyd Scher and Jeff Wise. Morgan currently is the representative for District 6, in the south Charlotte area, on the board.

Mayoral candidate Scott Stone, a Republican, is challenging current Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx.

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