BLOWING ROCK — For the second and final time, the candidates for Blowing Rock mayor and town council got to share their ideas and thoughts as they took part in the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce’s Meet the Candidates forum on Monday, Oct. 14, at the Blowing Rock School Auditorium.
Moderated by Billy Chick, chairman of the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, the event was specifically put on by the chamber’s Community, Government and Education Committee and its 2019 Leadership Challenge.
The five candidates got to make opening and closing statements, then each answered five prepared questions while everyone else got four minutes to respond to that answer. The second half was questions from the audience with the same response format.
Councilman Albert Yount was asked the first question regarding short-term rentals and his position on the current ordinances. Currently in Blowing Rock, short-term rentals are allowed in commercial districts, but not for less than 28 days in residential districts. Yount said he’s in favor of the current ordinances, saying he had a problem with it in his neighborhood beforehand.
Councilman Jim Steele, Mayor Charlie Sellers and challenger Ray Pickett each said the current ordinances work fine and to keep an eye on the state legislator for a potential act that would deregulate short term rentals on a municipal basis. Challenger David Harwood said he would work to close the 28-day loophole in the current ordinance, saying there’s some offenders who have renters every month, longer than 28 days.
When asked about priority for future projects and how they would be funded, Sellers said that the citizens voted for the bonds which are currently replacing sidewalks, water and sewer lines on Sunset Drive.
“One thing I have learned is that things move slower in government than business,” Sellers said.
Steele said that council is currently putting together a capital fund for emergency maintenance needs, noting that sudden maintenance items have been a problem in 2019. Pickett said that funding is hard because of the limited amount of money the town has.
Yount said the town is doing a better job at maintenance than in the past and noted a lot of the aging infrastructure is old and was cheap when it was originally installed.
Harwood added that determining priority is a complex question and noted that some citizens still don’t have town water or sewer and are on gravel roads.
“There’s no fluff in our (town’s) budget,” Harwood said.
Chick asked a question about the town proactively acquiring property for economic development projects, parking, parks and recreation or other uses.
Harwood said that acquiring property isn’t the answer to fixing everything and said the town has parking management issues, instead of parking quantity issues. Harwood said meters, private/public parking partnerships are possible parking solutions. As far as parks and recreation, Harwood said the town has to look at new emerging activities and become more of a four seasons economy.
Pickett said that the town purchasing land is a “sticky situation” and said that economic development should be left to the private sector. As far as parking, Pickett said that maybe the town should move to full-time enforcement of the town’s parking.
Sellers said the parking issues are good problems to have. Yount said he wants to see a parking inventory to see if the town is using it to its fullest capacity, then make a decision based on that. Steele said he doesn’t see the town purchasing any land to use as a park right now and said that purchasing parking lots are expensive.
When asked about preferred revenue sources for funding the town’s operating requirements and capital investments, Pickett said that raising taxes is better for small-scale projects because you can pay them back, but bonds work for long-term projects.
Sellers said he hopes the town doesn’t see a tax increase in the next couple of years and those duties are left up to the town manager. Steele said that the current boom in building can’t keep the town going indefinitely and they’re going to have to look at it year by year.
Harwood contended that the town’s tax base, in general, has not grown over the years and wants to look at increasing occupancy and sales tax and take the burden off the residents. Steele said that sales tax goes to the state and the town can’t count on it due to the county’s hybrid sales tax distribution method.
During the audience question portion of the program, Yount was asked about specific items he wanted to accomplish for growth and prosperity. Yount has progress goes hand in hand with preservation in Blowing Rock.
Steele said you either grow or die, and that the issue is growing gracefully.
“We got a nice community here, we don’t need wholesale changes,” Steele said.
Pickett added that he likes to work on the codes and their priorities for growth and prosperity need to encompass all groups from day trippers to full-time residents.
Harwood said that he would use the 2014 Comprehensive Plan, saying it has been put on the shelf since it was finished.
In Blowing Rock, Yount, Steele, Harwood and Pickett are running for two spots on the Blowing Rock Town Council. Sellers is running for mayor unopposed.