The Mount Airy News and North Surry High School, along with the Elkin Tribune and Pilot Mountain News, hosted a candidates forum Thursday night so Surry County residents could get to know the people on November’s ballot.
While the forum included some state and countywide candidates, town commissioner races were well represented, too, as Pilot Mountain had three speakers on hand for the event.
The three candidates in attendance for the Pilot Mountain seats were Mary Meijboom, Franklin Nichols and Kimberly Quinn.
In her opening statement, Meijboom said she moved to Pilot in 1988 because she was drawn to the beauty of the town and surrounding area. The friendships and fellowships she formed are the reasons she has stayed. The town faces new and changing challenges, so she said she is stepping up to help. She wants citizens to never lose sight of the positives the town offers.
Nichols said he moved to Pilot 14 years ago and never wanted to leave, saying it is a great small town with a strong sense of community. He said it is nice that he lives in a place where you can still walk down the street and shake people’s hands. Yes, the town is facing some challenges, but he is willing to battle those challenges.
Quinn said she was born and raised in Durham, but drew west when she got her master’s degree from UNC Greensboro. Then she came to Pilot to be finance director of a tobacco company. She still works with that company and also has a CPA business focusing on corporate taxation. She is in her second year on the board; the community has seen her in action, and she wants to continue her work.
• The same topics were presented to each candidate. The first pertained to a letter the town received from the state about its financial position. What has the town done right? What left to get the town on firm ground?
Nichols said the town looks to be in good shape with its reserves and its water/sewer account. The board has been working to trim fat as well. He believes that too much has been made of that letter and that the town’s situation is a lot better than that.
Quinn said it is disheartening that some of the past decisions and investments by prior boards haven’t worked out like they were planned. In her short time on the board, the town has taken several measures to get better, and the town reserves are up. She believes the town has made good strides.
Meijboom said the town did have some problems, but the town manager and board have helped it rebound. She is proud of the turnaround that is taking place in Pilot.
• The second topic raised by The News concerned the aging infrastructure in Pilot Mountain. With some large expenses likely on the horizon, how does the town achieve these objectives?
Quinn said the town already has $10 million in repairs budgeted to get started on some of the severe issues. The water/sewer account had been getting supplemented by the general fund, and that was hurting the town’s chances to get state and federal funding for repairs. However, the water/sewer account now is break even. The water meters are outdated and need replacing. She also wonders if the town might not be better off buying water from Mount Airy or King.
Meijboom said residents have seen an increase in their water bills already this year. While no one likes spending more money, she believes this is money well-spent as it is helping the town repair pipes and other needs.
As water meters age, the readings aren’t as accurate, noted Nichols. Therefore he is glad the town and county are working together to get new meters. That should give a slight boost to the water/sewer bottom line. The town cannot tax its way out of this issue, he said. Additional taxes not only would hurt the residents (especially seniors), but they would hurt small businesses. Instead, the town needs great incentives to bring in new small businesses.
• Pilot’s town manager is also serving as finance officer. Does this raise any eyebrows with candidates?
Meijboom said she would like to see a second person take on the finance duties. She believes that would be better for the town.
Nichols noted that it was a unanimous vote to approve the finance officer to also be manager. He doesn’t believe the town needs two full-time positions for these roles. He wonders if a part-time position would be appropriate to look over the books and work with the town manager. The town already has an audit every year, and there are checks and balances built it.
As a finance director herself, Quinn said she strongly disagrees with having both jobs under one person. Yes, she voted for Michael Boaz to be town manager, but she still would like to revisit the finance post. She said she isn’t accusing anyone of wrongdoing, but she thinks the town needs to divide up the roles for its own protection.
• On the topic of economic development, Nichols said that Pilot needs to ease up on all the restrictions and fees that burden a small business. It takes almost $400 to get the necessary permits and fees in order to paint a front door, he noted. Allow businesses to come in without permitting them to death.
Quinn stated that the state took away the town’s right to annex. And, she added, with the town’s work to improve its finances, Pilot can’t afford to offer big incentive deals to attract companies. She said she has concerns about the water in town, and she thinks continuing to work on town infrastructure will make Pilot more appealing to businesses.
Meijboom said the town is still dealing with a need to increase the tax base. However, she believes the town needs to remain vigilant to what kind of businesses it attracts. She said she didn’t want to name names, but one company downtown has been the source of many complaints.
• In closing, Quinn said she believes she brings a lot to table. She has an awareness of her community and has been involved in developing some events in town. Pilot can’t rely on the state to make things better, so every little piece helps. Bringing people downtown through events can help businesses stay afloat.
Meijboom said that as a business owner herself, she understands that no one person can make the necessary changes to improve the town. She said it will take the whole community working together.
Nichols said that he believes in Pilot Mountain and sees this as an opportunity to help the town grow. Every town large and small has problems, and the town board has to take these one at a time. The board can’t tax and spend its way out of issues or it will drive companies and residents out of Pilot. He said he has spearheaded developments in town. This isn’t a popularity contest, but rather a vote to choose the right person who cares for every resident in town.
Reach Jeff at 415-4692.