The Mount Airy News is continuing a series of profiles on candidates for next Tuesday’s non-partisan municipal election.
Today’s focus is the city’s at-large commissioner’s race, in which incumbent Jim Armbrister is seeking his first full four-year term against Jerry Taylor.
The same questions were posed to both candidates to allow voters to learn their positions on various issues facing Mount Airy.
Candidate name: Jim Armbrister
Address: West Devon Drive
Occupation: Retired from law enforcement, corporate business
Previous political experience: City of Mount Airy commissioner at large, since early 2014.
Question: What makes you the best choice for the office you are seeking?
Answer: I am the most capable candidate and a leader with solid integrity. I best know the inner workings of our city and its government. I have no obligations to any groups or individuals inside or outside our city, therefore I represent citizens as a whole without political bias.
I have the most passion to genuinely serve citizens with the benefit of influencing matters that will enhance the quality of life in our community. I make myself approachable to all; I listen and apply information received to make experienced, knowledgeable decisions based on fairness to all and on the will of the citizens. I have extensive business knowledge and experience.
I have immersed myself in our community for more than 20 years as a public servant, and worked more closely with our residents from all walks of life and ages, businesses, schools and churches. I have gained a perspective and knowledge of our community needs which only I offer. I am the only candidate who daily for years laid my life on the line many times on behalf of our citizens as ultimate proof of caring and serving.
Question: What would be your top priorities if re-elected?
Answer: LISTENING to our citizens from all walks of life and being a voice for them. Prioritizing their needs based on fairness and how great the need is versus who or what they are.
Also, the promotion of economic development, maintaining a low tax rate, working to improve unity and trust among leaders and citizens through increased transparency of local government and reducing its influence in the private lives of citizens.
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 support the redevelopment plan for only the city-owned Spencer’s property, to further economic development in our city and create jobs, temporary and long-term, while increasing our tax base to allow a low tax rate to be maintained for citizens.
Attention has been given to privately owned parcels and buildings, but any attention there for redevelopment purposes is and should remain an opportunity for private enterprise — not the city government.
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: Having worked with various grants through the years, I have never seen one that was guaranteed. All are subject to availability of funds, which can change at any second. Initially, I want the developers involved in this process, not just for planning purposes but for funding coming from them and/or their investors to be negotiated by the city during initial contractual sessions.
I think this would greatly offset the city’s financial responsibility, and Powell Bill funding from the state for local street needs could target that part. These funds total more than $330,000 annually, and other funding opportunities also could offset the cost.
Low on the list would be the use of the city’s fund balance. At this point without further knowledge, I cannot say a portion will or will not be invested to make the projects successful.
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: By 2030, the over-65 population is projected to double, and the over-85 group is set to almost triple. I will support aspects of designing an age-friendly community — a walkable downtown, cohesive transit networks, mixed-use urban villages and the like for needed improvement or creation.
We also can be flexible by requiring levels of health and housing supports to be adjustable, whether an individual lives in a single-family home, rents a privately or publicly managed apartment or resides in an assisted-living facility — capitalizing on the collective purchasing power of an organized community of older adults.
The growing older adult population presents not only challenges but opportunities. New economies of scale exist as the percentage of older adults in a community grows, presenting new opportunities for affordable service delivery.
Question: Census figures indicate that Mount Airy’s population is stagnant, having dropped slightly since 2010. How can this be reversed?
Answer: Active marketing of our area for individuals and families works toward encouraging growth. We must expand and enhance what our city and area have to offer.
Actively marketing our area to lure a variety of small and large businesses also will enhance growth. Planned development to enhance our city’s environment as a growth city is crucial, while also adapting that to the present and future needs of citizens and businesses.
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: Poverty cannot be reduced unless economic development occurs and increases job opportunities. So actively participating in development efforts as a commissioner is most likely the best way overall to reduce the number of citizens living below the poverty level.
We must understand that persistent poverty among a substantial portion of our population can dampen the prospects for economic growth. Citizens also live in poverty due to inadequate schooling or training. This leaves them with difficulty being hired or low wages associated with certain jobs. So we must continue our efforts partnering with local educational and trade-training resources to allow affordable, accessible and pertinent opportunities.
This still leaves us with another group of those living in poverty due to individual choice, for reasons such as not being motivated to work or having a better income from charities and big government than if they were employed, etc. Changing this frame of mind goes back to early education, and reducing the present cycle of poverty lessens the likelihood of future residents staying in poverty.
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: Providing wages and benefits for city employees to enforce codes, and the administrative costs plus demolition expenses, makes this a costly issue for taxpayers. Our minimum housing codes only address safety issues and not appearance issues, so I believe the enforcement done so far is not going too far.
We also have an opportunity to do more on our part to promote the likelihood of structures scheduled for demolition to be rescued, as those we have seen recently which were saved by individuals with the ability to have the homes restored. Safe and healthy housing contributes to a good overall environment and further encourages economic development.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.