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Cleveland will have a new mayor, commissioner

CLEVELAND — After Tuesday, the town will have a new mayor and at least one new commissioner.
Mayor John Steele is not seeking re-election, and current Mayor Pro Tem Danny Gabriel — who is at the end of his four-year term on the town board — is the only person who has filed for that seat.
That leaves Gabriel’s spot on the board open, with incumbents Pat Phifer and Travis Summitt seeking new terms and challengers Gerald Osborne and Richard Taylor tossing their hats into the ring.
Here’s what each of the four candidates for Town Board of Commissioners had to say about challenges and opportunities facing Cleveland — and what elected officials can do about them — and their priorities if elected.
The candidates are listed in alphabetical order.

Osborne said he wants to improve communication between town hall and Cleveland residents, especially about police activities and the operation and control of the town’s wastewater treatment plant. He’d like monthly reports.
“We don’t have very much of that right now, and I think we need to have more communication in that line,” he said.
Elected officials, he said must make sure Cleveland’s water and sewer system are maintained and in good repair, and that what residents pay for those services stays low. He wants the same good maintenance and operation of the waste treatment plant.
Osborne admits he’s not yet very familiar with water and wastewater operations, but said he plans to educate himself about it elected. And, he said, with his a degree in engineering, he believes he can help better manage those systems.
He also believes his background in management and running a small business will benefit town government.
“We have a peaceful area here,” he said. “We have good police protection, we have water and sewer and anything anybody would need in terms of being involved with the town of Cleveland. All we’ve got to do is manage it properly.”
Pat Phifer

Phifer said Cleveland is at a crossroads, and as the town’s longest-serving commissioner, he believes he can help navigate the right path.
Sitting on U.S. 70 between Salisbury and Statesville, he said, the potential for growth presents both opportunities and challenges.Freightliner is a good corporate citizen, he said, but the town can broaden its tax base by attracting more business. And that would help residents by keeping property taxes and rates for water and sewer at levels which are “nothing compared to other towns that provide the services we provide.”
Meanwhile, Phifer said, the town needs to be careful and not let growth overtake its ability to provide those services. The sewer system, he said, is at an age now where the town is having to replace components.
“We’ve got to make sure that infrastructure stays ahead of any growth,” he said, and “not build to today’s needs” but plan for the future.
Phifer said he’d like to increase Cleveland’s annual festival to twice each year. In the meantime, he wants to see the town maintain the level of service it provides for the best price possible, take care of its citizens and remain financially stable.
All the candidates “have the best interests of the town at heart,” Phifer said, but with 22 years on the board, his candidacy stands apart.
“I have a tremendous amount of experience,” he said. “I think that’s a lot to offer.”
Summitt called his first term on the board “a learning experience,” and he wants a second term to apply that knowledge.
He’d apply it to next year’s budgeting process, with the town losing about $95,000 in funding it has gotten to compensate for a tax repealed a decade ago.
“The biggest thing is keeping our tax rate low,” he said. “Right now, we have one of the lowest in the county, so I’d like to keep it that way.”
Summitt said he also wants to keep working with the county, as Cleveland did to get a new EMS station, as well as other government bodies and agencies such as RowanWorks Economic Development “to bring business to our community and also keep the small town feel.”
He said one of his priorities would be “bringing in new business and getting people back to work. It’s hard for elected officials to actually bring business in, but there are things you can do to help the EDC.”
He said the town has been preparing for economic expansion, with one example the moving of a sewage lift station to cover more territory.
Summitt said as a board member he’s been honest, dependable and available. He works at Freightliner and can be reached on his cell phone, he said.
“I always voted, as far as in the past four years, the way I thought would be best for everybody involved,” he said. “I just want to be part of the town where, hopefully, my little girl will one day be an adult and have her own house here.”
Taylor said he’s wanted to run for a spot on the town board for years and now finds himself with time to do it.
“I don’t think anybody’s doing a bad job. I’m just running because I have time and I want to help,” he said. “I’m new to it and willing to work, willing to help out. Maybe some new ideas might help.”
Taylor said Cleveland’s challenges aren’t unlike those faced by other municipalities.
“The economy’s not the greatest, but the town’s still got to run,” he said. “That’s a challenge for everybody, I would think.”
Even though the town has a couple of large taxpayers, he said, “the money has to be used wisely, because you don’t ever know when something might come up that you don’t have that.”
Taylor said his priorities if elected would be simply “to do my job as a commissioner and to try to help the town out, be an asset to the town board and the people who live in the town.”

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