With the economy still wavering and Davidson County unemployment at an all-time high, many constituents have begun clamoring for a changing of the guard.
But three incumbents of the Davidson County Board of Commissioners stood calm and confident at the commissioners’ forum — held Friday at Piedmont Crossing Retirement Community — to state their case for the coming primaries.
“Political pundits are saying that this is an anti-incumbent year,” said Republican Sam Watford. “I don’t mind taking some of the blame for what’s wrong as long as I get some of the credit for what’s good. I’ve been exceptionally proud of being part of county government.”
Four county commissioner seats are up for reelection this time around. Watford with compatriots Don Truell and Billy Joe Kepley all decided to run, while Chairman Dr. Max Walser elected to step down. The three incumbents will be challenged by 13 other candidates, five of them Democrats.
During their two-minute introductory talks, the candidates each addressed the priority of jobs, acknowledging that no matter the party, color or creed, unemployment will be a focus of whoever takes office.
“Everyone that’s in here is going to tell you that we need jobs,” Truell said. “It’ll be a priority for the next four years.”
Where the candidates attempted to differentiate themselves was in how they would approach economic development, though again the similarities ran rampant.
All three incumbents focused on drawing businesses to the county to create more jobs. Although they also spoke of encouraging and supporting existing local businesses, the incumbents emphasized commercial and manufacture growth.
“What I see us having is more commercial development, especially around the major intersections,” Watford said. “Our manufacturing base is still here, but we’re going to have to diversify it. There’s no reason that we can’t have something like [shopping centers] around the major intersections.”
Kepley built upon this argument, saying that other commercial areas draw money out of Davidson County.
“Every time my wife pulls into Hanes Mall, their stock goes up,” he said.
Truell took a slightly different angle, suggesting the county take a different approach to attracting businesses.
“I think we need to put a tool into his bag that’s not being used right now, which is regionalism to promote industry in Davidson County,” Truell said. “We need to find a way to make sure that we’ve got good schools, we’ve got good restaurants, we’ve got good tourism, we’ve got a good tax rate. That’s what companies look at.”
Instead of solely relying on the incentives package the county currently offers incoming businesses, Truell says working on the overall quality of living in the county will be an incentive in and of itself.
“Right now all we’re doing it’s almost like an auction sale,” he said. “We’re bidding against Guilford County or Forsyth County for a company. It shouldn’t be that way.”
But though jobs and the economy may be the most pressing topic on everybody’s minds, the candidates reminded constituents that the county has other projects on the to-do list.
Truell discussed the possibility of merging Thomasville and Lexington City schools with the Davidson County school system. He says that in the long-run a merger would lose the county money because it would lose state funding for underprivileged children.
“Now the city school systems, with the makeup of students, are under the free lunch program,” he said. “If we put the city schools in with the county school system, which is more of the students that don’t get free lunches, then we’re going to lose all of that. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. And it’s not broke.”
Kepley touched on the environment and the efficiency of the solar energy program.
“I’m pretty much a solid green man,” Kepley said. “I have had a solar system for about 30 years.”
Kepley built his own solar system on his property, and, while he said he likes solar power, it has its downfalls.
“Solar systems work extremely well until you get into the winter months,” he said. “December, January, February you can forget it.”
Days are too short in the winter with not enough sunlight and too much wind, he says. But Kepley also mentioned a windmill he saw at a school in western North Carolina that generated all the power for the campus and sold some into the grid. The windmill cost only $25,000, and Kepley says he has started talking to Davidson County Community College about looking into testing a model.
“I think it would be a great asset if we could be the first there with that,” he said.
Staff Writer Erin Wiltgen can be reached at 888-3576 or at email@example.com
Pullout box –
Primaries are on May 4. For the commissioners’ race, citizens can vote for four Republican commissioner candidates and four Democrat commissioner candidates.
Four commissioner seats are open for the final election in November
Pullout – what they talked about at the forum
• Building commercial centers at intersections
• Giving local businesses a year off on taxes if they buy something new
• Diversifying manufacturing
• Extending sewer lines to the intersection of Interstate-85 and Hwy 64
• Building the jail and building more schools
• Not raising taxes
• Health care for uninsured and under-insured citizens
• Raising awareness of the issues of senior citizens
• Improving quality of living in the county to attract businesses rather than just an incentives package
• Keeping the school systems separate to ensure the maximum amount of state funding
• Expanding the transportation system, including setting up fixed bus routes in Thomasville
• Homebound meals and congregate meals for senior citizens
Billy Joe Kepley
• Keeping taxes the same by raising sales tax and generating more revenue from tourism
• Supporting small businesses
• Constructing a reservoir to ensure clean water
• Attracting a cafeteria, such as a barbecue restaurant, to the county
• Sustainable sources of energy: solar power and wind power