HUNTERSVILLE – The 10 candidates vying for six town board seats had a chance to speak at the dais in front of a crowd on Oct. 17.
All six board members – Melinda Bales, Charles Guignard, Ron Julian, Sarah McAulay, Jeff Neely and Danny Phillips – are running for re-election.
Lawrence Brinson, Franklin Freeman, Rob Kidwell and Nick Walsh seek their first election to the town board.
Questions to the candidates in the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce-hosted event included what can be done to widen Interstate 77 and challenges facing business development.
Candidates were broken up into two groups of five: Bales, Freeman, Julian, McAulay and Phillips were the first group to answer questions. Brinson, Guignard, Kidwell, Neely and Walsh were the second group.
Opinions were mixed on potential I-77 toll lanes.
“I understand public and private partnerships,” Freeman said. “I don’t think that’s the right route. We have options to look at.”
Phillips echoed Freeman’s sentiments, telling those in the audience he believes the state “misappropriated funds,” and that “our money has been mismanaged.”
“I won’t suggest toll lanes until every avenue has been exhausted,” he added.
Kidwell, Walsh and Brinson agreed. The subject was far from one-sided, however.
“I’ve changed my mind. I do support the toll system,” Commissioner Ron Julian said. “If I-77 is not widened, it’ll gridlock Huntersville. It’ll devalue our lands and make it tougher for businesses to come here.”
McAulay agreed. Bales said efforts could be made to make N.C. 73, U.S. 21 and other local highways a better option for commuters.
Guignard and Neely said it’s a challenge to find an ideal solution to widening the interstate.
“At the end of the day, a decision had to be made: It’s toll roads or nothing,” Neely said, adding the state doesn’t have the money to pay for everything that is needed. “There’s no pot of gold in Raleigh.”
Guignard said I-77 wasn’t planned properly. He expects, even with tolls, for I-77 to be “a catastrophe around mile marker 31,” but Guignard said he doesn’t know of a better idea.
Neely said one subject is at the heart of most discussions when board members talk about improving the town.
“They all look at roads and infrastructure,” he said.
Freeman sided with Neely.
“If I’m a business owner,” Freeman said, “I’m going to look at a town and say, ‘If there aren’t good roads for me to bring in my equipment and transport what I need, why do I want to move my business to Huntersville?’”
Other challenges to business development brought up by candidates included the stringency of town policies on buildings and the issue of needing space to attract companies.
“We don’t have the space for larger businesses,” Julian said. “ABB is the type of business we need to bring in. That’s a multi-million-dollar business that pays taxes in our town, and those taxes and that money improves our quality of life.”
Moderator Jerry Hancock also asked candidates about their thoughts on splitting the six non-mayoral town board seats into four districted and two at-large seats. The board’s elections are currently all at-large seats.
Phillips, who spoke in favor of using wards or districts for seats, said the western portion of the town needs more representation. Bales and Freeman said the concept was a good one, but Julian and McAulay opposed it.
“Even though a commissioner lives in one district, it doesn’t mean they (don’t have input) with others,” Julian said.