Black Mountain candidates answer questions

Fred McCormick

Municipalities across the state will head to the polls starting at 8 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 3 to elect leaders for vacant government positions. The Town of Black Mountain will see three of the five seats on the board of aldermen decided by voters.

Four candidates are on the ballot for three seats.

Incumbents Don Collins, Maggie Tuttle and Larry Harris were each elected in 2011 and are being opposed by challenger Rachel Allen, who most recently served as the chair of the zoning board of adjustment.

The Black Mountain News submitted four questions to each candidate and allowed a maximum of 200 words per response.

What single issue do you believe is the most important issue the town is currently facing?

Collins: Continuing growth without losing our small town character. There has been a lot of push in the last four years to do things that did not pass the character test.

Growing the town and maintaining who we are is important to me. Running the town efficiently in all departments, like what is being done now by the town manager and staff, allows us to tie in the next three questions together because no single issue is more pressing.

By running efficiently we can keep the town tax rate the second lowest in the county and keeping your taxes in check allowing us all to have vision on new projects and how to pay for them.

Harris: Stay the course on the current path of debt reduction, saving and prudent spending that has been a priority for the board of aldermen over the past four years.

Over the past four years the board has decreased our long-term debt by almost $2 million. During that same period of time money was set aside for dredging the lake, a new firetruck and other investments for our town.

Debt is necessary at times but it’s hard to make an argument for more debt and less savings. If we can stay the course that was started four years ago and continue to keep our financial house in order we lay a great foundation for the future.

When times get hard or a great opportunity presents itself, money in the bank and less debt to repay will be a good thing for the citizens of Black Mountain.

We should use the most current updated comprehensive plan as a guide along with a well thought out long term capital budget. The comprehensive plan was developed with significant public input and I think fairly represents a workable blue print for future spending.

Tuttle: The most current issue facing the town is the upcoming election on Tuesday, Nov. 3. Maintaining the level of competence and trust that has been demonstrated and established by the entire town operation is critical.

Teamwork is at its best and voting for the three incumbents will ensure the process will continue. It’s vital that the voters get to the polls and indicate their support for the most effective results.

Voters, please get out and show the quality and pride that we have in Black Mountain.

Allen: Strengthening and encouraging the economic growth of Black Mountain is vital to the long term health and development of our town.

So far, our town has done a wonderful job of creating sidewalks and greenways. It has maintained recreational areas beautifully.

Our town needs to continue to work toward being a pedestrian-biker-runner-friendly town.

Continuing the sidewalk all the way to the Town of Montreat would provide a totally safe walking environment connecting the two towns. This would be to the benefit of the ever-growing number of runners and strollers we have in Black Mountain.

A bike lane on Old Highway 70 to Ridgecrest would create a much safer environment for bikers and runners, while connecting Black Mountain with the community of Ridgecrest.

Completing the connection of sidewalks in town, continuing the sidewalk down from Ingles onto Blue Ridge Road to Rec Park should also be considered. By focusing on completing these projects, the town would not only encourage the residents to explore our unique town, but also continue to strengthen the local economy.

Collins: The Town of Black Mountain promotes affordable housing in 3 ways.

The first is our inclusionary housing bonus. We allow density bonus development that includes housing sold at price points affordable for citizens of average median income.

We can also allow a developer to construct more units per acre than is allowed. The second way we promote is through our fee schedule. The town provides a 50% rebate from the calculated building permit fee for construction projects developed by a housing agency utilizing federal or state CDBG, home, HUD or other grant funds designed for affordable housing.

We promote affordable housing through our participation in the Asheville Regional Housing Consortium. The purpose of this consortium is to improve the quality and increase the supply of affordable housing.

Harris: We have to incentivize investors and we have been working on it. We provide incentives when a development is geared toward those within established income guidelines.

We recently worked with the Roberts Farm developers toward more affordable housing. Josh Harrold (Director of Planning) serves on the Asheville Regional Housing Consortium so we have a seat at the table as we work on this at the county level.

I serve on the executive committee and am Treasurer of the Land of the Sky Regional Council. I served on a LOSRC committee charged with updating the regional economic plan for the five-county region served by the council.

Affordability, according to the plan, is “a household being able to spend 30% or less of their income on housing which includes the cost of the home and utilities.”

According to the 2010 census nearly 10 percent (17,000 households) in the region served by LOSRC is unable to find affordable housing. Solutions offered by the CEDS is to facilitate integration of transportation with land use decisions in the region and work toward better infrastructure in more rural areas to incentivize the investment in affordable housing. It is not just a Black Mountain issue.

Tuttle: Affordable housing is a community issue. I would like to see the planning board take an active role researching and developing some viable options that will work for our particular issues.

The solution should involve input and support from several sources: non-profit, government (Federal, state, local), private business and individuals. Currently the town has affordable housing incentives in place such as increasing density for builders, reducing permitting fees for lower cost housing and a planning director who serves on the regional housing consortium that allocates funds for affordable housing complexes.

Allen: The lack of affordable housing, along with minimum standard housing, is very important to many of our Valley residents. As suggested by public comments in the 2014 Comprehensive Plan Update, landlords must provide affordable housing, as well as minimum standard housing.

There are homes, apartments and mobile homes in Black Mountain for rent that are affordable, but not well cared for by the landlord. The Comprehensive Plan could be revisited to see how well these guidelines are working and what issues need to be revised. In addition to revisiting this document, Aldermen could also work hand-in-hand with contractors to find areas of common understanding which could lower the overall costs to the builders with agreements that would ensure, not just quality-built homes, but guaranteed levels of affordability.

I think with my four years’ of service on the zoning board of adjustment (three of which I served as Chair), I have a great deal of insight on how we might accomplish all of this.

How do you think the Town of Black Mountain can maintain its unique character while balancing the need to attract more residents and businesses?

Collins: By continuing to use existing grants and forward thinking when spending town, tax-payer money we can look at bike trails, greenways, and things that most good-paying businesses are drawn to in any municipality.

Harris: Effective transportation planning and land use polices are key for the balance we all desire in character and growth. Transportation includes motor vehicles, walking and biking.

We will always be developing and improving our greenways, sidewalks and bike paths since this means so much to our citizens. Traffic flow is the important factor in preserving the character of our down town business district and overall business development. The French Broad Metropolitan Planning Organization is the regional forum to approve transportation projects for funding.

Maggie Tuttle was appointed by the board of aldermen to serve as our representative to MPO and has represented us well. We have projects on the funding list.

Land use codes are essential to managing growth that will maintain the unique character of Black Mountain. Josh Harrold our Planning and Development Director has done a great job since arriving on the scene reviewing our land use code for inconsistencies and short comings and recommending changes as needed.

In calendar 2015 we will begin work on an amendment to the comprehensive plan to include a land use map. The land use map will highlight areas for growth and general design guidelines according the current comprehensive plan update.

Tuttle: Never forget where our unique character came from, our past. The balance comes from supporting what we have using the comprehensive plan that was recently updated.

This plan covers all aspects of the town and was written with input from citizens and approved by the planning board and aldermen.

Allen: The unique character of Black Mountain has been attractive to me since I first laid eyes on it as an infant. The quaint downtown atmosphere is pleasant and inviting, while being accessible to residents and tourists who want to stroll through and enjoy the many different shops.

Maintaining all of this is critical to attracting more residents and the highest caliber of businesses. Keeping the business district and the residential district separate, but easily attainable to each other, through sidewalks and greenways is a calling card for Black Mountain.

Business expansion on the edges of town can be used to continue to revitalize our town, while preserving the neighborhoods.

Renovating historic buildings through voluntary standards which maintain the unique character of our town adds to the charm of Black Mountain’s history, encouraging economic growth.

What do you believe are the keys to successfully moving Black Mountain forward into the future?

Collins: The keys to successfully moving any town forward or any municipality is focusing on the budget which we have done the last four years. We have $1,872,000 less debt. We have $792,000 more in the general fund. All this with eliminating the $1.2 million garbage tax.

Things will come down the road that are unforeseen. Having your finances in order makes those large issues, smaller issues when your finances are sound.

Harris: First and foremost if we want to move forward successfully into the future we must keep our financial house in good order. We must stay the course ($1.8 million less debt over the past four years) in keeping our debt burden as low as possible while setting aside funds for firetrucks and deferred maintenance for our town buildings and water lines.

The comprehensive strategic plan updated just a few years ago should serve as our blue print as we move forward into the future. The strategic plan update was developed with significant input from our citizens so we know there is broad community support for this important blue print for the future.

Leadership matters. The board of aldermen should be mindful of developing and encouraging leadership within the ranks of our town employees and the volunteer efforts by so many who serve on boards, commissions, and committees.

All these people keep our community moving forward and we are indeed blessed. May God continue to bless those who work, serve and live in Black Mountain.

Tuttle: The process by which we operate is key. The teamwork that has been established will enable us to accomplish any task at hand and keep the future open. Stop. Take care of what we have.

At the present we are concentrating on infrastructure improvements to the water system, making town facilities (such as the Carver Center) energy efficient, replacing worn-out service vehicles, dredging Lake Tomahawk, addressing storm water runoff, street paving and stream bank restoration.

Completing our greenways, sidewalks and bicycle paths are essential to economic development. The I-40 Blue Ridge interchange will make our town safer and enhance economic growth. U.S. 70 West will become a denser business corridor. U.S. 70 East also has potential for growth. The core for success is maintaining a sound economic plan. As a town, we welcome diversity and change.

Black Mountain is a retirement community where tourism fuels our economic engine. We must keep in perspective the people who live here and see their needs are addressed. Caring about our town makes us safer, better and wiser.

Allen: Black Mountain has shown tremendous growth in just a few short years. While being able to compete with larger towns and cities, Black Mountain has kept its small town atmosphere of neighbors helping neighbors providing a safe and secure environment to live, work and explore our many natural surroundings.

In order to have that safe and secure environment we must equip our law enforcement and emergency personnel with the very best tools available to maintain that sense of security. Through this, visitors to our town will feel welcome and want to visit again and again, further boosting our economy.

We must also invest in our local schools to support the safe and secure learning environment of our future. As a teacher of 22 years at the (former) JEC, Black Mountain Primary School and W.D. Williams, no one else on the board of aldermen could know this as well as I do for our local schools.

We should work with parents and staff to nurture children in promoting community relationships which, in turn, will encourage entrepreneurship. All of this will help move Black Mountain forward.