The Mount Airy News is concluding a series of profiles on candidates for Tuesday’s municipal election here.
Those running for South Ward commissioner are featured today — incumbent Shirley Brinkley, who is seeking her second four-year term on the board, and two write-in challengers, Bill Clark and Joe Reid.
Each was presented with the same set of questions to determine candidates’ positions on issues facing the city.
Candidate name: Joe Reid
Address: Virginia Street
Occupation: Director of information systems at Pike Electric (retired).
Previous political experience: None
Question: What makes you the best choice for the office you are seeking?
Answer: I believe that with my knowledge, business experience and leadership skills, I can play a key role in positively impacting the economic development and growth of Mount Airy. I want to be the South Ward commissioner because the city council is the lifeline to Mount Airy’s quality of life and its future.
I will be the best choice because as your commissioner, I am willing to think outside the box and consider creative solutions to reach “win-win” outcomes for all concerned citizens. I am the best choice because our taxpayers demand and deserve integrity and financial responsibility.
Most importantly, I will listen closely, eagerly and with an open mind to our citizens’ suggestions, opinions and concerns, and will strive to improve the communications between City Hall and the citizens of Mount Airy.
Question: What would be your top priorities if elected?
Answer: Economic development to “move Mount Airy forward.”
Creating opportunities for existing businesses to expand and to attract entrepreneurs.
Working with city and county economic-development groups to attract new businesses and industries that will bring jobs. We to need to think outside the box to develop new strategies to attract 21st-century employers such as software developers and Internet-based companies.
Continuing to promote and showcase downtown Mount Airy to appeal to more tourists who bring in new dollars.
Improving infrastructure (sidewalks, streets, way-finding signage, high-speed communications, the downtown area).
Holding the line on the property tax rate.
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: The redevelopment commission has done an outstanding job in formulating the Westside Redevelopment Plan which includes the Spencer’s property.
At this time, it is still in a “draft version” and is a work in progress. Several weeks ago the citizens had the opportunity to hear several developers present ideas that included a boutique hotel, market-rate apartments, a center for entertainment and business incubator space.
At this stage, I am keeping an open mind until all of the information is assembled and presented in its final form. There could be a risk of losing tax credits, grants and developers’ interest if only the city-owned Spencer’s property is developed. The surrounding area and access to the property plays a key role in the success of this effort to improve the city’s economic health and vitality.
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: First of all, I am NOT in favor of increasing property taxes to fund this project. I am in favor of applying for all possible grants to do so. The redevelopment commission reported that a $2 million grant is highly probable and there could be other state and federal grants to cover the majority of the cost. Our city has a reserve fund balance of $13.5 million, which is above average for a city of our size.
I would be in favor of accessing a reasonable percentage of that fund to invest in improvements on the Spencer’s property. Keep in mind that today this 10-acre site is generating zero property taxes. Considering the proposed development plans we heard a few weeks ago, there is a potential to generate property taxes on an approximate $35 million investment, in addition to revenue from sales taxes, hotel occupancy taxes, etc.
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: Mount Airy is a “certified retirement and relocation community” and our seniors, who include my wife and me, deserve a quality life in Mount Airy. Improving our infrastructure (one of my goals) would benefit our seniors in the area of safety. Sidewalks need to be re-worked, accessible parking spaces made available in the downtown area and additional street lighting would be beneficial. Many of our empty-nesters are selling their large homes and downsizing.
The Spencer property could be a housing solution for this segment, as several developers are proposing apartments and/or condos. Baby boomers, such as my wife and me, like living downtown in secure complexes such as Renfro Lofts where we enjoy downtown shopping, dining and night life, plus we don’t have yard work and outside maintenance.
As far as transportation, Mount Airy residents do have access to Yadkin Valley Economic Development District (YVEDDI) buses/vans for medical appointments and shopping. Also, the PART bus is available to transport citizens to medical facilities in the Piedmont area for a reasonable fare. As your commissioner, I would work with our older population to identify needs not presently addressed and help find solutions.
Question: Census figures indicate that Mount Airy’s population is stagnant, having dropped slightly since 2010. How can this be reversed?
Answer: Again, economic development is critical to increase our population. The key to success in building a healthy and thriving business community in a small town is to create an economic-development plan that maximizes the community’s strengths and minimizes its weaknesses.
It is vital that the bulk of our citizens are included in planning and execution. We must be visionary and creative in our efforts to showcase Mount Airy’s assets and quality of life to attract businesses and industries that will bring new workers and their families to the city.
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: Economic development (my number one priority) would provide jobs and lower this percentage. Our community is a loving group of citizens who care about those less fortunate and are quick to help those in need. As a community, we should partner with and support the efforts of many non-profit charitable, civic and religious organizations to assist those in need.
Some examples are The Salvation Army, Yokefellow, Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, the Shepherd’s House, Meals on Wheels and churches/civic groups.
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: Not knowing the specifics on these 17 structures/properties, I do not have an opinion. On enforcement in general, I would want detailed information on each case before making a decision. I respect the rights of property owners, but if there were public health or safety issues involved, those circumstances would have to be considered.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.