The Mount Airy News is publishing a series of profiles today and Saturday on candidates for contested races in Tuesday’s election in the city.
Those running for mayor are featured here — incumbent David Rowe, who is seeking his first four-year term in the office after being elected in 2015 to fill an unexpired term triggered by Deborah Cochran’s resignation, and Ivy Sheppard.
Each was presented with an identical set of questions aimed at highlighting the candidates’ positions on key issues facing Mount Airy and aiding voters in their decisions.
Candidates for a South Ward commissioner seat will be profiled Saturday.
Name: David Lewis Rowe
Address: Country Club Road
Occupation: Heavy/highway construction (contractor); vice president of H.B. Rowe & Co. Inc. 1970-83; president of Smith-Rowe, LLC, 1983-present.
Previous political or relevant experience: Mayor, city of Mount Airy 2015-present; city commissioner, 1994; Mount Airy Board of Education member, 1996-2012, chairman 1996-2004; U.S. Army National Guard, 1966-73, company commander, 1971; graduated in 1966 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in business administration.
Question No. 1: Why are you running for office?
Answer: Mount Airy is at a crossroads in that we must more forcefully implement those important projects that will help solidify our future — including the redevelopment of the Spencer’s property, improving our infrastructure and increasing diversity and active participation among all citizens in local government. That being said, for the past 23 months having had the honor of serving as your mayor, I have been instrumental in pushing those projects (and others) forward, laying a strong foundation for our continued growth and prosperity. As your mayor now and, hopefully, in the future I am committed to seeing each of those projects through to completion.
Question 2: What makes you the better choice for the office you are seeking?
Answer: Experience in multiple settings. My experience as a successful businessman, as an elected official familiar with the lengthy (and frequently frustrating) legislative process and as a lifelong, proud native of Mount Airy has given me a broad spectrum of knowledge and practical know-how translating into a greater ability to get things done. I welcome the opportunity to use my experience and skills to enhance the present and future of Mount Airy.
Question 3: What would be your top priorities if elected?
Answer: (1) Complete the Spencer’s redevelopment project; (2) direct and implement a more-coordinated, focused approach to improving our infrastructure — including water and sewer facilities; (3) increase communication between the city and community so as to encourage a greater diversity of opinion and participation in local government.
Question 4: In your opinion, what is the biggest problem now facing Mount Airy?
Answer: Like many small towns throughout the nation, we are challenged with making investments in our future requiring huge expenditures. For the immediate future, our biggest challenge will be to secure the understanding and support of the citizenry to fully fund the Spencer’s redevelopment project. Once completed, our return-on-investment should serve us well by having a positive impact on our economy and ability to attract new businesses and residents.
Question 5: Are you satisfied with the present status of the redevelopment project for the former Spencer’s industrial property? What, in your opinion, might be done differently to facilitate that effort?
Answer: I am reasonably satisfied with the current redevelopment status, but not with the time it has taken to get to this point. There are various “hoops” through which the prospective developers must navigate, and it has taken more time than originally thought to accomplish all the necessary submittals for approval by the State Historical Preservation Office and the National Park Service. To expedite that process, I will recommend the appointment of a volunteer overseer from among the city council who would become responsible for monitoring and reporting regularly on our progress in accordance with a defined timeline.
Question 6: The city of Mount Airy is said to be facing a major financial crunch due to having insufficient funding for infrastructure projects, salary increases and other upcoming expenses. Other than raising property taxes or dipping into its reserve funds, what is the best way(s) for the municipality to increase revenues or reduce spending to meet those needs?
Answer: Mount Airy’s elected leaders, including myself as mayor and all city council members, are responsible stewards of the city’s financial resources. Simply put, that means generating income through establishing property taxes on an annual basis, establishing an annual budget, meeting all expected financial obligations and planning and saving money for future emergencies (i.e., a reserve fund). As has occurred in years past, the cost to maintain our existing level of services exceeds our income despite our best efforts to hold to a tight budget.
At this time, Mount Airy has an audited reserve fund balance of $14 million, allowing almost a full year of operation without an infusion of additional monies. Accessing that fund to pay non-emergency expenses would be quite foolish and place the city in financial jeopardy. We could also cut expenses, but which ones, especially when we’re already operating from such a lean budget?
Consequently, we are left with increasing revenues from something other than property taxes and something that would spread the financial burden to all citizens, not just property owners. If elected, I will work closely with the council to develop and implement an alternative source or sources of revenue enhancement to improve our financial outlook, allowing us to better meet our everyday needs including appropriate pay increases and the repair/replacement of aging and/or rapidly deteriorating infrastructure systems.
Question 7: In what ways would you address high-traffic and high-density development issues while maintaining Mount Airy’s small-town character?
Answer: Mount Airy’s unique “small-town” character can never be diluted or destroyed by traffic patterns or increased population. Our character comes from the core of who we are — a town full of friendly, helpful, curious, adventurous and forward-thinking individuals of all ages, ethnicities, genders and faiths. I hear constantly from visitors about how the attitude of Mount Airy is expressed again and again in our positive interactions with them and with each other. As citizens and ambassadors of this incomparable city, we must continue to ensure others adopt our winning attitudes of “do unto others” and “love your neighbors as yourself.”
Question 8: Is there anything else that you want to share?
Answer: I am grateful for having served as mayor of Mount Airy. We have a wonderful place to live, work and enjoy life and each other. In the past nearly two years, I have learned much about the city’s many functions and about the excellent staff members who make the entire complex operation and organization run as smoothly as it does. As is frequently said in one of our local establishments, “my pleasure.”
I’ve also learned that this “old dog” can be taught new tricks, and for that I’m forever grateful. If elected your mayor, I pledge to continue our efforts to achieve greater inclusion in all we do. And I also pledge to continue to support all business and cultural efforts, helping to ensure Mount Airy’s position as a desired destination for our children, grandchildren and the generations to come.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter