Today, The Mount Airy News begins a series of profiles on candidates in next Tuesday’s municipal election here. Those featured today are in the race to become Mount Airy’s next mayor, Steve Yokeley and David Rowe.
The same set of questions was posed to each candidate, along with those running for three seats on the city board of commissioners, in an effort to inform voters about where office-seekers stand on various issues.
Candidate Name: Steve Yokeley
Address: Greystone Lane
Occupation: Retired dentist, active real estate broker.
Previous political experience: Mount Airy city commissioner from the South Ward, from 2009 to the present, including serving as mayor pro tem since 2011.
Question: What makes you the best choice for the office you are seeking?
Answer: As evidenced by my past active duty and reserve military service in the U.S. Navy, by my first career of 33 years of being a professional service provider and by my community service over many, many years, I always have been a strong leader. My leadership style is leading by example. I have been and always will be committed to a life of service to others and with others. I enjoy working with people and for them.
There is a lot involved in being mayor. We need to remember our past, but if Mount Airy is going to move into the future, the mayor needs to take a leadership role. Ribbon cuttings and reading proclamations, being in the mayor’s office occasionally and presiding at the bimonthly meetings are only small parts of the job. I am fully aware that the position of mayor is a part-time job, but it should be and will be a full-time commitment.
I have built two successful businesses from scratch. I know what it takes to run a business. I understand profit and loss, and having to balance budgets. However, the business of city government is much different than private business. There are different rules and regulations, as well as hoops to jump through.
Question: What would you be your top priorities if elected?
Answer: The clock is ticking on the Spencer’s property. We know there is a deadline. I will continue my efforts to facilitate the process whereby private developers begin actual renovation work without delay. Time is of the essence.
Other important issues in the city need attention as soon as possible. We need to continue and try to hasten the long-needed water and sewer infrastructure improvements. These important items are easily overlooked, because they are not readily visible. We already have begun, but we need to accelerate the speed of the improvements before major breakdowns occur.
Street and sidewalk improvements also will be a top priority.
Question: Regarding the proposed redevelopment plan, there seems to be some momentum for focusing only on the city-owned Spencer’s property at this time. What is your position on this, and why?
Answer: I don’t think there ever have been any discussions about not concentrating on the Spencer’s property first. Because this is the only property where the historic tax credits are available and there is a deadline looming to take advantage of those credits, it is mandatory that the Spencer’s property have the initial focus.
On April 27, the city planning board voted 9-0 to adopt a redevelopment area with boundaries outside the Spencer’s property and caused to be produced a document called “Certification of Westside Non-Residential Redevelopment Area.”
After that document was presented to the redevelopment commission, it began working on the redevelopment plan. A draft of the plan was introduced at the Sept. 9 meeting of the commission. Further work is being done on the plan, which has included listening to presentations on potential projects by four developers at the Oct. 14 commission meeting.
When a final draft of the plan is ready, all remaining steps in the process, as prescribed in the North Carolina Urban Redevelopment Law, need to be followed item by item in the order in which they are listed in the law.
Question: There are estimates that preparing the Spencer’s area for revitalization projects could exceed $5 million for street work and other infrastructure needs. If grants aren’t awarded for this, should the money come from the city’s fund balance, or some other source you can suggest?
Answer: I have every reason to believe that grants can be found which will pay for much of the city’s investment in the revitalization of the redevelopment area.
If grants can’t be obtained or do not fully pay the costs, I do not think the fund balance should be used for the improvements. I think we must maintain a fiscally responsible approach to the fund balance, and a healthy balance.
I think the estimated cost of $5.4 million is too high. If it is determined that a traffic circle is the best way to improve the Franklin Street/South South Street/West Pine Street intersection, the estimated construction cost is about $750,000 to $1.5 million. If these intersections are improved in any way, I expect the majority of the costs would be borne by the N.C. Department of Transportation.
For whatever costs could not be paid for by grants or by the DOT, new tax revenue for the property being redeveloped by private redevelopers should be used for the improvements.
Question: Recently, a political forum was held that focused on ways city candidates might help younger residents, the so-called millennials. But what can be done for the city’s older population (23 percent of which is 65 or higher) in areas such as housing, transportation, etc.?
Answer: This group, which includes the Greatest Generation, the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers, contains a wide range of ages and economic diversity. Many in this group are quite self-sufficient and mobile, and do not expect, want or need much government help and in many instances, no such help. They remain extremely active. They would like many of the same things millennials want, including nice public spaces to gather, greenways, parks, recreational opportunities, etc.
However, there unquestionably is a segment of the older population that does need help. We need to do everything we can to help make their lives better. Affordable, clean, comfortable housing is probably the number one priority.
Question: Census figures indicate that Mount Airy’s population is stagnant, having dropped slightly since 2010. How can this be reversed?
Answer: We can encourage the city Retirement/Relocation Committee, which has been an extremely active group. It already is enthusiastically promoting what a great city Mount Airy is in which to retire and relocate.
We can create great spaces and great amenities. When people of all ages see great spaces, they first will want to visit and then permanently move. We can be vocal supporters of our public schools. One of the most important gifts that we can give a child is the opportunity for a great education.
Question: Given that about 22 percent of Mount Airy residents live below the poverty level, what can/should city government do to help them?
Answer: Although the poverty level is not as high as it is in other areas of North Carolina, especially the northeast and southeast parts of the state, it is appalling that it is that high.
Poverty is a social issue, which goes much deeper than can be solved at any level of government. It is an important issue that must be addressed. All levels of government, in conjunction with private groups, foundations and organizations, can help, but they can’t solve all of society’s problems overnight.
Local government can help these people by encouraging private investors to build and maintain clean, comfortable low-income housing in convenient areas of the city.
Question: Is the stepped-up enforcement of Mount Airy’s minimum housing codes (which has led to about 17 structures being demolished or otherwise addressed in the last few years) going too far or not far enough?
Answer: Yes, there are about 17 properties that have been affected by the increased enforcement of the minimum housing codes. In all instances, the values of the nearby properties should have been enhanced by whatever action was taken. Even the value of the subject property itself could have been enhanced in some instances.
Habitat for Humanity is in the process of reviewing the suitability of 14 of those locations for the building of Habitat houses.
It is my opinion that this increased enforcement has been quite beneficial.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.