Candidates weigh in on county issues

by Miriah Hamrick
Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Staff photo by Allison Potter 

Incumbents Don Hayes, from left, and Ed Higgins, and challenger Bruce Shell discuss the issues involved in the race for New Hanover County Board of Education during a candidate forum held by the League of Women Voters of Lower Cape Fear Thursday, April 17 at the Senior Resource Center.



County funding for beach nourishment projects was a topic addressed by Republican candidates for New Hanover County Board of Commission during an April 17 forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Lower Cape Fear.

Dave Conklin, John Dismukes, Campell Dodd, Dr. Derrick Hickey, Charles Kuebler, Ricky Meeks, Frank Roberts, Hank Thomas and Skip Watkins were present. 

All candidates underscored the importance of county beaches to the local economy and pledged to support beach nourishment projects, but the candidates splintered on the particulars.

Roberts and Meeks said they would find county dollars to fund nourishment projects. Meeks said the city should also pony up funds if necessary.

Dodd and Thomas said they would look at the county budget to find support but would focus on hounding legislators for continued funding. 

Dismukes, Hickey and Watkins pointed to the importance of other beach maintenance efforts, namely dredging.

“We’ve got to worry about Mason Inlet and Carolina Beach Inlet. That’s critical not only to maintaining tourism but … [also] commercial fishing, recreational fishing,” Watkins said.

Hickey pledged to be an active participant in the Port, Waterway and Beach Commission if elected.

Kuebler suggested implementing a small sales tax in beach communities to pay for projects, or even setting aside a portion of parking fees. 

“The beaches have to understand that they’re not just taking the revenue. They have to reinvest it into the beaches too,” Kuebler said.

Conklin supported Kuebler’s idea, adding that potential funding opportunities must be considered.

Candidates also explained views on consolidation of City of Wilmington and county services and tax incentives.

Conklin, Dodd, Hickey, Kuebler, Meeks, Roberts, Thomas and Watkins were all open to consider consolidation as long as services were not diminished. 

Conklin, Dodd and Hickey oppose law enforcement consolidation. Dismukes said consolidation creates a “government boondoggle.”

Dismukes, Dodd and Hickey all opposed tax incentives. Other candidates gave measured responses, noting the unique situation with film incentives and need to compete with other states offering incentives.

Candidate Chuck Kays was unable to attend.

New Hanover County Sheriff

Four candidates with an eye on the New Hanover County Sheriff’s badge answered questions about gang violence, drug use and the suggested merger with the Wilmington Police Department.

Sheriff Ed McMahon said he would continue to work together with the Wilmington Police Department and with federal agencies to capture and incarcerate gang leaders.

Marc Benson also pledged to capture and incarcerate leaders. Sid Causey said he would reinstate a gang task force that included diversion programs, which was funded at the end of his tenure as sheriff in 2009. Jason Vaughn suggested more community involvement to deter young people from gang involvement, especially in schools. 

Benson, Causey and McMahon agreed that major traffickers must be tackled to contain the county’s drug problem. Vaughn called for a strong presence in the community with zero tolerance and more education efforts.

McMahon and Vaughn supported cooperation between units but not a merger. Benson and Causey said a merger could lead to uncertainty about the sheriff’s authority. 

Benson, Vaughn and Causey all pointed to daily crime reports as evidence that the community is not safer since McMahon took office in 2009. 

McMahon cited the sheriff’s constitutional duties to protect the unincorporated areas of the community, where crime has dropped almost 16 percent. 

New Hanover County Board of Education

Republican candidates Jim Brumit, Janice Cavenaugh, Don Hayes, Ed Higgins and Bruce Shell discussed teachers’ pay, a November bond referendum to fund school improvement projects and charter schools.

Candidates were hesitant to support Governor McCrory’s plan to boost beginning teachers’ pay, saying all teachers need a raise. 

All candidates except Brumit supported a law repealing the 2013 budget amendment that discontinued 10 percent pay increases for teachers with master’s degrees. Brumit agreed that master’s degrees should be rewarded but questioned if 10 percent was too much.

The November bond referendum, capped around $160 million to build a new school in Porters Neck and improve existing schools, also elicited unanimous support. 

Shell said the public should understand need and be willing to support the bond even if it comes with a tax increase. 

The candidates supported school choice but Hayes, Higgins and Shell expressed concern about preferential treatment received by charter schools.

All candidates opposed taxpayer-funded vouchers for students to attend charter and private schools. 

Hayes added there was not enough accountability for voucher funds.

email miriah@luminanews.com


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