Mount Holly elects 2 incumbents, one newcomer

by Tori Hamby

Mount Holly residents selected a political newcomer and two incumbents to fill three seats on the city council during November’s municipal election.

Incumbents Carolyn Breyare and Perry Toomey will hold on to their seats for another four years, while newcomer J. Jason Gowen will take the seat now filled by Bennie Brookshire.

Toomey led the pack of six candidates with 453 votes, or 22.04 percent of the vote. Breyare came out ahead of Gowen by only three votes, earning 397 votes, or 19.32 percent of the vote. Gowen came in third with 394, or 19.17 percent of the vote.

Mayor Bryan Hough, who ran unopposed, also will serve another term.

The Mountain Island Monitor asked Gowen, the newest member of the council, some questions about his expectations for his upcoming term in office, plans to make the estimated $30 million in upgrades to the city’s wastewater treatment facility and ideas on how to attract new businesses to Mount Holly.

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Monitor: First of all, what would you like to say to Mount Holly’s citizens who you will represent during the next four years?

Gowen: I would like to thank all of the citizens of Mount Holly who supported me during the election and am honored to be able to serve them for the next four years. I only hope that I am able to live up to their expectations and help the other leaders see this city through to greatness.

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Monitor: What issues do you see the new council tackling first?

Gowen: We will obviously tackle wastewater because we must do something soon. I do have a few “quick” agenda items I would like to bring to the forefront early because I see them as tweaks that can bring big improvements.

In terms of business, I would like to see us refine parts of the sign ordinance to help reduce confusion for small businesses, making it easy to promote themselves without sacrificing the city’s beauty and set a uniform starting time for council meetings and work sessions.

We also need to reduce the number of city committees so that we are working together and taking a more cohesive approach and put together a list of community service contacts, projects and needs. This list could be kept at the city’s Municipal Complex for citizens and businesses to use when they want to find a way to volunteer.

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Monitor: What changes would you like to see the newly elected council make in the way it handles city business?

Gowen: I think that the current council is full of people who share a love for this community and care very deeply for it. I hope that I can work with all members to see through the visions of the city and continue to make it a great place to live, work and play.

I also hope that in the future we are able to do so with more speed and agility than in the past. We also need to improve our ability to get the accomplishments of the city recognized by citizens so that people can see that we are working for them.

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Monitor: A major part of your platform during the election involved a plan to make affordable updates to the city’s current water treatment plant? Explain your plan for our readers.

Gowen: The basics of my plan for our wastewater issues are centered around the idea, first and foremost, that we must keep things “in house.” The estimated cost to update the plant will be roughly $30 million and while not all parts of my plan will be popular, I believe that it will be the most effective way to keep rates down.

We must keep the project in Mount Holly in order to control long-term costs. We cannot subject ourselves to the risks of changes or rate increases that could come with partnering with another municipality. Instead, we may be able to use excess capacity early on to generate revenue by treating water for others.

Funding should be generated through a General Obligation, or “Go Bond,” with an early call feature to keep interest rates low. I suggest we work to pay for this bond primarily through revenue we collect from treating wastewater since that is the most equitable approach for the citizens of Mount Holly. Pay for what you produce. At the same time, we would leverage our great city staff to generate grants that may reduce the overall burden. They have generated $5 million in grants during the last three years so I am sure that we can get some assistance on this project.

We would then make a 25 cent per 1,000 gallon increase on water and sewage rates, across the board for all customers, to build reserves. The average residential customer currently uses about 2,000 gallons of water per month. When we have a firm figure on the project, we should make additional increases to rates and build in a small cushion for fluctuations in usage. Then all excess is to be used for early repayment. A “sunset clause” should also be added so that if no action is taken or development is discontinued on a project, we can reduce our requirements per state regulation.

Finally, we look at ways we can generate revenue from the waste. There are several marketable by-products, such as bio-gas and compost components. I’ve also recently looked into a company that partners with cities and their wastewater facilities to produce energy from sewage. This may be another viable option and a win-win scenario.

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Monitor: Mount Holly has made recent strides in attracting new business to the area, especially downtown. How do you think the council can continue to attract new business to the area?

Gowen: Mount Holly is well positioned for a boom downtown and the fuse has already been lit. I personally approached one of our newest businesses, Hojo & CC’s Wing Shack, when they were in Stanley, and asked them about coming to Mount Holly. The move turned out to be a great fit for them.

We are very attractive to businesses that want affordable space in a downtown area. The key is letting those new businesses know that Mount Holly is a great place to be. As a council, we need to work closely with the Chamber of Commerce to design a marketing plan and make sure that our great accomplishments are known to people in the area. I have never been a fan of incentives to bring in businesses, but I am by no means opposed to using grants to bring buildings up to code so that a business has the opportunity to be successful.

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Monitor: You were a long-time Charlotte resident before moving to Mount Holly? What attracted you to the area?

Gowen: I grew up in southwest Charlotte and lived in and around Charlotte my entire life. When my wife and I started looking at buying a new home, someone suggested we look in the neighborhood where we live now. I instantly fell in love with Mount Holly because it reminds me so much of the town my grandparents live in. I have seen the sense of community dissolve from Charlotte, and I wanted to be in a place where I know the people where I shop, know my neighbors and could feel like it was a place called home. I found that here, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

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Monitor: How can the council prioritize city projects in the case of another tight budget year?

Gowen: We have to look at our core priorities and work down. It is obvious that we must provide the necessities, such as emergency protection, water, garbage collection, etc. From there we must assess other needs, then wants and then the wants that are most likely to produce positive results and growth. In some cases, I think we may have to look for creative solutions to complex problems. For instance, if we don’t have the money to market the city to new businesses, the least we can do is make it easier to set up shop and start your own business.

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Monitor: According to your Facebook page, you’re a former University of North Carolina at Charlotte rugby player and huge fan of the sport. Do you still play from time-to-time?

Gowen: After a plethora of injuries, my doctors aren’t too fond of my playing, but I play in our alumni game almost every year. It’s one of my favorite events of the year – where the old has-beens get to raise money for and play against the current team.

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