3 of the board's 5 seats up for grabs on Election Day
PENDER COUNTY -- Three of the five seats on the Pender County Board of Commissioners will be contested on Election Day.
In District 1, incumbent Republican Commissioner David Williams faces Democratic Party challenger Morgan Lashaw. In District 2, incumbent Republican David Piepmeyer is facing Democratic challenger Carol Ann Johnson. In District 3, current Chairman George Brown is running as a Republican and faces a challenge from Peggy Lanier, representing a fairly new conservative entity in the county, the Constitution Party.
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Issues the county is grappling with include traffic and overcrowded schools in Pender's fast-growing coastal areas, including Hampstead and Topsail Island, and promoting economic-development projects and Hurricane Florence recovery efforts in the county's more rural western and central areas.
Pender commissioners serve four-year terms and make $12,935 annually, with the chairman making $16,214. They also receive a $4,800 annual travel allowance.
As one of the fastest-growing counties in the country, what are the biggest challenges facing Pender County?
Lashaw: Affordable and safe housing, high quality schools with low student-teacher ratios, significant traffic congestion, and safe drinking water are some of the challenges that we are facing.
Williams: The biggest challenge is managing the growth in a sustainable manner. This includes a variety of components including balancing growth around the county, expanding water and sewer capacity and service areas, applying planning and land-use regulations to assure quality and safe development, collaborating with the towns on tourism and planning issues, continuing to recruit new business and industry to create higher paying jobs that will increase the county’s average wage, and assuring our school system has the facilities and resources to maintain high performance educational results for our children.
Johnson: I believe our biggest challenges will be in our ability to work together as neighbors. We must work to ensure that everyone plays a critical role in developing a plan for growth. A plan that includes mitigating the impacts of building and overcrowding roadways on our environment by executing smart zoning practices and clean water initiatives. A plan that includes putting our schools first and increasing teacher pay supplements. A plan that recruits companies and creates a well trained job workforce. And lastly, a plan to listen and to communicate with one another with respect and without bias.
Piepmeyer: Pender County Commissioners spent two days this year during our annual retreat talking about water. This discussion included not only potential source identification and future quantity needed but also the plans, equipment needs & locations, technology, timing and associated costs to expand the county water system to support the growth we are experiencing. Other challenges are the need to build more schools, identification and prioritization of road projects, rural internet connectivity expansion, and enhance our ability to hire, train and retain county employees (teachers, construction inspectors, deputies, etc..) all while not raising taxes.
Brown: Continuing to bring Industry and jobs to our area. Thanks to the seed work of the County Commissioners (present and past) with regard to our Commerce Park and Sewer/Water infrastructure, we are well positioned to bring additional industry and jobs to our county. We can no longer rely on residential ad valorem taxes to pay the bills. Almost half of every property tax dollar goes to our schools for bond payments, operating expenses, teacher supplements, etc. We need additional funding streams to avoid or help offset future tax increases.
Lanier: Pender County has many challenges to work through and address due to rapid growth. Areas of focus include assuring adequate infrastructure, providing safe school facilities, securing positive economic development while ensuring fiscal accountability with a well balanced budget. The Board of Education presented a growth study to the Board of County Commissioners several years ago. This study should be updated annually and utilized in an effort to be proactive and prepared for additional growth while maintaining the integrity and beauty of our county.
Does Pender County get enough attention in Raleigh?
L: No. We need attention from Raleigh to help us with safe housing related to flooding and potential flood management. Raleigh can help with improved water quality standards, testing and enforcement especially from upstream sources. Our roads and highways can be improved with more assistance from Raleigh.
W: Pender County has been and continues to be well represented in the General Assembly. We have benefited over many years through active lobbying and collaboration for county needs, evidenced in recent years by the new wildlife access in Hampstead and funding for the Hampstead Bypass. The county has developed excellent relationships with the various state agencies in Raleigh and in the region, resulting in a variety of resources, funding, and policy/administrative decisions that benefit the county and its residents, as well as our region.
J: During my 35 years of teaching, my students were often concerned with attention. My biggest challenge was to redirect that adolescent energy toward personal goals and civil responsibility. As an elected official it will be my job and the job of the Pender commissioners to work together to redirect our community growth away from simply building housing and toward building a community in a way that benefits all of our citizens. I am committed to working with state agencies, faith-based organization, boards of education, county leaders and citizens to make Pender County a place people continue to proudly call home.
P: Generally I would say “yes”. Pender County was recently notified that all funding has been awarded (for) the Hampstead Bypass. Pender County does a nice job of supplying an annual list of issues to state legislators that require their assistance to be addressed and goes to great length to maintain an open dialogue with our state representatives through frequent phone calls, emails, passage of resolutions, planned visits to Raleigh and extending invitations to attend our meetings. The biggest thing we need from Raleigh right now is solid funding support to get our schools repaired and our children back in class.
B: Our State Senator (Bill Rabon) and Representative (Bob Muller) are great to work with and responsive to our requests. I appreciate their support. I am disappointed with the very low marks I would have to give to the Governor's office with regard to the (regional) Gen X issue, Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Florence.
L: Unfortunately, Pender County does not receive the attention it deserves from our leaders in Raleigh. Sadly, too many elected officials are only concerned with securing a seat and retaining the seat. I believe the Board of County Commissioners should develop a legislative agenda to present to our representatives in Raleigh. This agenda along with responses and actions of our representatives should be well disseminated with the citizens of Pender County in order for each voter to be well informed of those who are truly working on our behalf.
Flooding remains a major concern in many areas of Pender. What can the county do to help?
L: Our county has been giving special use permits and allowing housing developments to be built pretty much wherever. After the recent hurricanes, if you drove to many of the new housing developments you would see where some of the planned houses would have been flooded and even some currently under construction were flooded. The county needs to enact better zoning controls that will protect our current and future citizens. We cannot continue to keep draining local wetlands as it causes water to concentrate and run into our neighbors property.
W: Immediately the county continues to facilitate efforts in coordination with FEMA and state agencies to address the more immediate and short-term housing needs of impacted and displaced flood victims, as well as assuring the businesses in our county get recovery assistance. The county will also coordinate with the agencies to help renovate damaged homes, facilitate relocating displaced families to new homes, and to buyout properties in floodplains. Long term the county needs to reevaluate zoning, planning and building codes to assure that in the future development if all types is directed away from floodplains and low-lying areas.
J: Going forward, I believe that we need to concentrate on helping those impacted by flooding by rebuilding stronger and more sustainable structures. At the same time we need to look at our zoning laws to protect against future instances of flooding. We need to consider working with our waterways and estuaries to ensure that we respect our natural resources.
P: This is a tough question. Obviously with approximately 2/3 rds of Pender County experiencing some degree of flooding during Hurricane Florence, this issue has climbed up the list of significant issues. In 2017, Pender County hired a Flood Plane Administrator to manage our flood damage prevention ordinances, work on Hazard Mitigation Grants (federal funds used to elevate flooded homes, or buyout flooded homes as well as educate public) and to complete actions required to get us into the CRS (which allows us to obtain district flood ratings that ultimately help certain residents obtain lower flood insurance rates).
B: The first response in the mind of most people would be to restrict the ability to build on flooded area properties. That would impact a large amount of geography in Pender County as seen by this storm when almost half of the land mass had some degree of flooding. It is difficult to tell someone they cannot build on their property considering we had areas affected during this storm that had never flooded before. I do think there needs to be some collaboration and discussions between federal, state and county with regard to common sense allowances or restrictions on the repetitive areas.
L: Our county officials should definitely learn and prepare from the catastrophic devastation it has plagued on our county. To better assist flood victims, there should be a designated location for a FEMA representative with authority to remain throughout the process. Ensuring limited "red-tape" with regard to acquiring temporary housing for flood victims should be a daily priority. Assisting flood victims with debris removal should also be a priority regardless of their location. Partnering with community outreach groups to provide food, cleaning supplies and other necessities should also be of utmost importance.
How do you think the county responded to Hurricane Florence? Are there any areas that can be improved upon?
L: Our first-responders, county personnel, state agencies, local churches and organizations have done remarkable things. Our neighbors have been helping each other. Pulling together in our time of need has been fantastic. There are always opportunities to do things better. Clearing roads, mosquito control, providing shelter and temporary housing, helping businesses reopen quickly are just a few items that we should look out how we can continue to improve. The county should look into what role can be played to help our tourism centers like the beaches, intercoastal and recreational areas.
W: The county coordinates routinely with state, federal and local officials and agencies for emergency planning. This has enabled us to be well-prepared for preparing and responding to major storms like Florence. Cooperation and planning with our local towns has benefited us greatly. With every storm we and our emergency partners conduct thorough evaluations to assess areas of strength and weakness in our planning and response efforts. We learn much through these post storm evaluations and always find areas and operations where we can do better in the future.
J: I believe we can be proud of our community for the response (of) our neighbors, our faith-based communities, our local businesses and organizations and emergency management team. I also believe that we can do more. First, we need to institute a mass notification system so that citizens can instantly receive updates on storm related issues on their phones. Second, we need to develop and launch 10-20 year maintenance plans on all government buildings, especially schools. Third, we need to work with Pender schools to come up with a strategic plan to prioritize reopening of schools after a storm.
P: Exceptional considering the extent of the disaster conditions. Pender County first-responders successfully completed more recorded rescue evacuations than anywhere else in the state during Hurricane Florence. Likewise our Animal Shelter personnel and volunteers worked very hard throughout the storm to save numerous animals. Lastly, Pender County had proactively identified contractors and debris collection sites prior to Hurricane Florence so debris pickup could be initiated immediately after roads were cleared.
B: I will have to say I was proud of our Emergency Management team as well as the related workers and volunteers. I believe they were as prepared as any team could have been for such an event. Preparing for 36 plus inches of water is a monumental task. I had to appreciate the hard decisions to remove the elements of bad behavior during the storm and aftermath when it came in the misguided form of volunteers or folks coming here for their own selfish opportunities. I am glad there was a very small number of those incidents.
L: Obtaining and analyzing constructive criticism is the only way to glean the best means for improvement and growth. Overall, I have heard positive feedback regarding our first responders, emergency management officials, search and rescue teams and law enforcement. I believe communication needs to be improved upon from the County Manager and Board of County Commissioners. Radio stations were inundated with information from New Hanover County but had no reports from Pender County. The entire ordeal from the initial preparatory stage to the response stage should be reviewed so that we can offer the very best to our citizens.
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