Davidson candidates answer questions
by Staff Writer
Candidates for school board, mayor and town board came out in the rain to St. Alban’s Episcopal Church Tuesday night to share their views with voters.
Mayor John Woods and mayoral candidate Vince Winegardner clashed on government’s role and spending decisions in their opening statements and questions from moderator David Boraks, DavidsonNews.net editor and event sponsor.
Winegardner values Davidson’s open spaces, farmers market, development and community. But he said the 2011-12 budget is too large for what it provides. He compared the upcoming fiscal year’s $10 million budget to 2006-2007’s $7 million budget.
“We have significantly less government service and 42 percent more taxes,” Winegardner said.
Woods acknowledged that Davidson is facing challenges but the town would persevere.
“My work as your mayor is clearly not over,” Woods said.
Winegardner reiterated why purchasing broadband cable company MI-Connection was a bad idea and said the town needs to get out of that business within two to four years.
Woods and incumbent commissioners seemed more optimistic about healing MI-Connection and getting it in shape to sell. While he agreed that there is no positive outlook for municipal-owned broadband services in Mecklenburg County, Woods does see a light at the end of the MI-Connection tunnel.
He continued saying, town finances are his greatest priority and that Davidson’s per-capita spending is among the lowest of its peer towns.
Winegardner helped found the Davidson Coalition for Fiscal Responsibility earlier this year but removed himself from leadership with the coalition before announcing his candidacy. He continues to stand for less nonessential government expenditures.
“We have a very healthy community. … But we are not going to waste our money on vacant homes or real estate,” Winegardner said, referring to the town purchase of properties like the Armour Street Theater and homes for affordable housing.
Woods had a different definition of essential services, referring to the town’s core values.
“The services you see offered in Davidson today are within the definition of those core values,” Woods said.
The two mayoral candidates’ differing views were highlighted in discussion of the library and the Armour Street Theatre.
When library funding was drastically cut last year, Woods said he met with other Mecklenburg County mayors and found a solution to save Davidson’s library.
“We were two weeks away from our library being shut down … A citizen task force raised money in a highly successful, fun, community-building way,” Woods said.
Winegardner would have taken a different approach.
“We pay good taxes. The highest in the area,” Winegardner said. “We could have saved, we could have bought that library. I did not buy a brick (the fundraising method used). I’m sorry. But I do pay a lot of taxes.”
Winegardner called the town purchase of the Armour Street Theatre, which it leases to the Davidson Community Players and uses for parks and recreation, an “inappropriate expenditure of your tax dollars.”
Incumbents Laurie Venzon, Brian Jenest and Connie Wessner and candidates Kristen Coupal, Rodney Graham, Mickey Pettus and Jim Fuller are competing for five town board seats Nov. 8.
Graham, Davidson Lands Conservancy vice president, said Davidson should continue to grow and provide services, but respect taxpayers’ money. To find that balance, he said the board should be optimistic but not complacent.
Pettus tackled transparency.
“I am seeking an end to the perception of board consensus,” Pettus said. “There needs to be more discussion in front of the general public.”
Other candidates generally agreed. The perception of a lack of transparency, Venzon said, means that town leadership needs to make even more of an effort.
Coupal said communication could be improved by disseminating facts and dollar amounts around town decisions.
Wessner disagreed, pointing to efforts like quarterly commissioner chats to increase communication.
“It’s not a transparency issue,” she said. “It’s education.”
Board candidates also took differing views on essential versus nonessential services.
Services maintain a high quality of life in Davidson, Wessner said, and have kept property values high while they have plummeted in neighboring towns through the recent economic downturn. Fuller and Coupal agreed that the town must maintain extraneous benefits.
Graham defended amenities in town that, he said, don’t cost taxpayers much, like nonprofits, open spaces and the farmers market.
Venzon, Jenest and Pettest advocated spending proportional to available resources.
Pettus said he would work for zero-based budgeting, making sure fire, police and roads are funded and employing frugality and intelligence when dealing with scarce funds.