Vote 2011: Spencer candidates talk growth, independence

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 27, 2011

By Hugh Fisher
SPENCER — Growth and independence were recurring themes at Thursday’s Spencer Woman’s Club candidate forum.
All seven candidates for the Board of Aldermen, plus unopposed Mayor Jody Everhart, gathered for the 90-minute Q&A session.
They were asked how they would make Spencer more business-friendly and how they would partner with Rowan County and adjacent municipalities to hold down expenses.
The first to speak, chosen at random, was challenger Jim Gobbel.
He said he’d start by working with merchants to address their concerns.
Also, Gobbel said the N.C. Transportation Museum could be a worthwhile partner to grow business.
He said Spencer could participate with neighboring Salisbury and other municipalities to plan festivals and the like, but can remain independent in most aspects.
“I think Spencer can take care of Spencer,” Gobbel said.
Reid Walters, seeking re-election, said joint meetings between aldermen and the Planning Board could guide discussions on business growth.
He was one of several aldermen to favor simplifying the process for new businesses to be licensed, including simplifying the town’s sign ordinances to remove what he called “subjectivity.”
Walters also said he’d like to see a coalition of governments work together to combat what he called unreasonably high water and sewer rates paid to Salisbury.
Spencer depends on Salisbury to meet those needs. The town’s current contract expires in 2019.
Scott Benfield, another incumbent, agreed. But he also said residents need to support their local businesses.
“Spend your dollars in town,” Benfield told the audience of about 30. “I’ve always said, take care of your businesses here.”
Benfield agreed with others on the matter of water rates. He also said he’d work with other municipalities to be sure that mutual aid for police and fire was at its strongest.
Incumbent Jeff Morris said that independence would strengthen Spencer.
“I believe we have to resist the urge for higher taxes and regulations,” Morris said.
At several times during the evening, Morris praised Spencer’s unique nature.
On the topic of cooperation, Morris also condemned what he called Salisbury’s unreasonably high water and sewer rates.
He suggested looking to Davidson for a more favorable partnership. “Now’s the time to start that conversation,” Morris said.
First-time candidate Kevin Jones said he’d work to improve the quality of life and bring new residents to Spencer.
As a business owner, he said he’d provide a unique perspective and the energy to learn all he could about the city’s needs.
Jones also supported the idea of a coalition of municipalities, not just to respond to water and sewer rates but to discuss how other towns could take advantage of Spencer’s unique qualities.
Robert Bennett, former town police chief, said the city’s core services were most important.
He said the main problems facing Spencer’s growth are high rents for business property and a lack of traffic downtown.
“We cannot affect them,” Bennett said.
As for businesses, “We need to stay out of their way” by reducing ordinances, he said.
He also said he’d look at whether city services could be consolidated.
“You have to look at everything,” Bennett said.
David Smith, appointed last year to fill an unexpired term, said the town would have to adjust to less traffic after the closure of the Wil-Cox Bridge.
He said the lack of prospective customers would be a continuing challenge.
Smith said he’d like to have a good working relationship with nearby communities, also saying he’d work to reduce expenses.
In his responses to those questions, Everhart said he’d like to continue to be proactive, seeking new businesses to locate in the town.
He praised the town’s police and fire departments, but added that Davidson County might provide sources for expanded mutual aid.
The evening closed with a series of 19 questions submitted by residents, drawn at random for candidates to address.
Topics ranged from the town’s recent work with the LandTrust for Central North Carolina to preserving woodlands to what could be done to improve code enforcement.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.