Five vie for three seats on Haywood boardWritten by Becky Johnson
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There are five candidates running for three seats on the Haywood County Board of Commissioners.
Kirk Kirkpatrick, Democrat, attorney
Kirkpatrick has served four years on the board. He was the top vote-getter among the five candidates in the Democrat primary.
“I was a little surprised,” Kirkpatrick said. “I didn’t know how it would come out.”
Kirkpatrick said he does not have any specific initiatives that he wants to pursue in the next four years, but is ready to look at any project brought up by the other commissioners.
“I don’t feel I am an initiator. I don’t feel that is my role on that board. I am more interested in making sure we don’t do stupid stuff,” he said.
By that, Kirkpatrick was referring to his role as a critiquer of new policies or projects.
“I will analyze the things that are promoted by the county and look at legal problems, liability problems and the unforeseen consequences,” Kirkpatrick said. “That’s the way I am trained to perceive things: if this is the issue we are taking on or the project we are taking on, what are the potential results of taking on this issue that way.?”
Kirkpatrick has at least one thing on his to-do list for the next board, however. Haywood Community College will need attention in the next four years, he said.
“At some point in time you are going to have to bite the bullet and raise the money for buildings that are in disrepair. They have been asking for too long and we have been promising for too long not to help them this time.”
Skeeter Curtis, 70, Democrat, deputy insurance commissioner for western region, retired from Champion management, retired insurance salesman
Curtis’ top mission if elected is to address property tax breaks for low-income seniors.
Property tax breaks for seniors are currently limited to those who own 10 acres or less of land and have a household income of less than $20,000. If they meet that requirement, they can get a 50 percent reduction in property tax only on the value of their house, but not their land.
“Times have changed. We need to look at raising that minimum. We need to look at tax breaks on the acreage and not just the home value.”
The current board of commissioners passed a resolution recently calling on state representatives to explore a new formula for property tax breaks for low-income seniors.
Curtis said that’s not an adequate step.
“Where have they been for the last four years? Haywood County needs a voice and a part of that legislation before it is introduced. We need to start getting progressive of how we do these things. We want to have input and we probably want to get some of our joining counties to come on board.”
Curtis also said the school system needs more money from the county for building repairs and for teacher salary supplements. He also wants to help Haywood Community College with building needs.
“It is going to be a tough situation to give tax relief and at the same time try to bring up our facilities where they need to be,” Curtis said.
Bill Upton, 61, retired school superintendent and high school principal
Upton is advocating education as his top campaign platform.
“I still think education is number one,” Upton said. Primarily, Upton wants to increase salary supplements for teachers. Like many counties, Haywood supplements the base salary provided by the state. A formula was created three years ago to inch the supplement up bit by bit, but it is not enough to keep up, Upton said.
“If we don’t retain our most valuable resources, our teachers, our educational system will go backwards. I think we are going to have to pay a supplement that is competitive to keep our teachers. I think everyone feels like they want their child to have it better than they had it, so we have to educate our children.”
Upton said luring the best teachers means better education, which in turn means a better economy.
“The better education we have in our county, the better jobs we will be able to pull into the county. To me that ties together. If we don’t educate our workforce we aren’t going to get jobs in here. Any industry when they come into the county, the first thing they ask is what kind of school system do you have.”
Kevin Ensley, 45, Republican, surveyor
Ensley has served on the board of commissioners for four years.
Ensley said the board has made a lot of changes in four years in how they operate.
“Before I felt like a lot of the commissioners didn’t inform themselves on the issues. I felt they didn’t go about making decisions the right way.”
Ensley said county government is now more transparent and open, witnessed by a lack of public opposition. For example, no one showed up to the public hearing on the county budget this year, compared to the couple of hundred that showed up for the budget public hearing in 2002.
During Ensley’s first tenure he helped lead an overhaul of the county economic development commission to make it more effective.
“I also felt like they didn’t go after jobs like they should. There were a lot of complaints with the EDC. It seemed like the only job they were doing was the one for the director and his secretary. There was a 1980s mindset that you could build an industrial park and get big industry to locate there. but it’s a changing economy and we had to adapt to it.”
The new EDC played a direct role in keeping two major employers from leaving the county, assisted with flood recovery for small business, helped find a buyer to reopen Ghost Town amusement park, and found a buyer for the old Dayco industrial site, namely Super Wal-Mart and Home Depot.
“All of these would not have been pursued under the old EDC,” Ensley said. “The evidence shows that it is working, it is doing what I think the average citizen expects it to be doing, which is getting jobs in the areas.”
Ensley also cited many improvements in county recreation facilities.
Carlyle Ferguson, 65, Republican, retired dairy farmer
Ferguson served six years on the board of county commissioners from 1998 to 2004. He decided to run again due to the narrow margin that he lost by two years ago — only 1 percent.
Ferguson said he wants to expand property tax breaks for seniors with low-incomes.
“I would like to talk about that with the rest of the board and the state and see how possible that would be.”
Ferguson also wants to pursue projects for Haywood Community College.
“We have ignored them. For years we’ve just said folks ‘Give us a chance to get this other stuff done and we’ll get to you.’ I think everybody is ready to help them out.”
Ferguson pledges to be a fair commissioner.
“As a commissioner you can have all these dreams but when you go into that meeting, you don’t know what’s coming across that desk. You need to be prepared to meet the challenges and respect other people’s ideas.”