The Mount Airy News is publishing a series of profiles on candidates for contested races in Tuesday’s election in the city.
Those vying for a South Ward commissioner seat are featured here — incumbent Steve Yokeley, who is seeking his third four-year term, and Todd Harris, who formerly occupied Mount Airy’s other South Ward seat for 12 straight years ending in 2011.
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. (Profiles on the two mayoral candidates were published Friday.)
Name: Steve Yokeley
Address: Greystone Lane
Occupation: Retired dentist, active real estate broker/business owner
Previous political or relevant experience: Mount Airy city commissioner, 2009-present; currently vice chairman of the Piedmont Triad Regional Council (PTRC); currently the PTRC representative to the North Carolina Association of Regional Councils of Government; currently chairman of the Transportation Advisory Committee of the Northwest Piedmont Rural Planning Organization; U.S. Navy veteran; business owner, knowing how to manage a budget and treat both employees and clients (citizens) with fairness and respect; member and past president of many boards, organizations and committees.
Question No. 1: Why are you running for office?
Answer: I want to continue to partner with all who support our wonderful city to help make it an even better place than it already is to live, work and enjoy. I have the desire, energy, enthusiasm, passion and most importantly the knowledge and experience to lead our city toward a very positive future.
Question 2: What makes you the better choice for the office you are seeking?
Answer: I am fiscally responsible. I have built two successful businesses and know what it takes to run a business smoothly and efficiently. The business of city government, while still a business, is much different than private enterprise. I have the experience to know the different rules and regulations and how to navigate the ever-changing and, most times, very muddy and turbulent waters.
I am a good listener and have the common sense to make intelligent, informed decisions. I want what is best for the vast majority of our citizens, both residents and business owners.
Question 3: What would be your top priorities if elected?
Answer: (1) Redevelopment/revitalization of the Spencer’s property by private developers. Partnering with these private developers to provide needed streets, parking, water and sewer for their projects.
(2) Helping to create an even better and greater place to work, live and enjoy by providing the atmosphere for high-quality, good-paying jobs in the private sector. Working with both existing and potential new businesses to help them grow and thrive.
(3) Remaining fiscally responsible, balancing revenues and expenses while trying to keep the tax rate as low as possible and still maintain a healthy general fund balance
Question 4: In your opinion, what is the biggest problem now facing Mount Airy?
Answer: The lack of high-quality, good-paying 21st-century private-sector jobs.
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 personally wish that it could be moving much faster. I am sure that most people feel the same way. It is very easy to be impatient when something you want so badly to happen seems to be taking an eternity. However, any redevelopment of historic buildings is a very complicated process, both renovation-wise and financially.
The existence of tax credits makes it very feasible for the existing private developers, but there is a long, intricate process to which they must strictly adhere. The two remaining developers are working as quickly as is humanly possible. They remain committed to being in Mount Airy and to having exciting, successful projects.
We can’t dwell on what could have been done differently. We need to focus on our long-term goal of having flourishing private-sector revitalization projects at Spencer’s, which will benefit all of Mount Airy, Surry County and our surrounding geographic area.
Right now, we just need to stay the course and keep working diligently with the private developers to make the revitalization of the Spencer’s property an exciting group of projects, which will blend in with our existing businesses and enhance our city’s long-term financial growth.
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: Proper long-term planning is absolutely essential. We can’t make “off the cuff” decisions or be forced to make quick judgments to react to problems that we should be able to foresee. Any unnecessary spending is always senseless.
There are many ways to increase revenue. Expanding the tax base is one way. We need to encourage the expansion of the facilities of existing businesses; bring in new, complementary businesses that will renovate existing buildings or build new ones; and make potential new residents aware of all that Mount Airy has to offer, so that they will buy and remodel existing homes or build new ones. We also need to take advantage of every grant opportunity that we can find.
Another way is by supporting tourism and encouraging many different types of entertainment venues, which will increase sales at local businesses with a corresponding increase in the amount of sales taxes collected. Sometimes it is good to be trend setting and other times it helps to follow examples set by others. We can follow the lead of other successful cities in using innovative ways to provide increased revenues.
Question 7: In what ways would you address high-traffic and high-density development issues while maintaining Mount Airy’s small-town character?
Answer: To maintain the financial health of our city, we need some areas of high-traffic and high-density development. They need to be where they already are. Downtown Mount Airy and areas on major highways such as U.S. 601 and N.C. 89 already are developed to a certain extent. We need to encourage growth of businesses in these areas, so that the tax base can be increased.
Also, having expanded existing businesses and new businesses coming in will help keep our spending local and bring in new people who will spend money, thus increasing sales tax revenue. We need to work hard to keep our small-town character, friendliness and charm in all parts of the city, including high-traffic and high-density areas. Our existing zoning laws are important in protecting us from development in historical or residential areas, which will help in maintaining our small-town atmosphere.
Question 8: Is there anything else that you want to share?
Answer: Not all change in our city is under our immediate control. There are a lot of outside influences and opportunities that will affect Mount Airy’s future. I have worked hard to develop friendships with other leaders in our region and state. When I am re-elected as city commissioner, I will remain active not only in Mount Airy, but also regionally and in Raleigh to advocate for what is in Mount Airy’s best interests.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.