With only 152 registered voters and a population of 245 according to 2016 census data, every vote will count.
Four of the five incumbents are running for re-election, saying they’ve seen the board work well together over the last term and want to continue that progress. Meanwhile, three challengers are throwing their names in the ring for voters to consider. The incumbent mayor is also running for re-election, unopposed.
All seven candidates agree that the incoming river park, to go in off of North River Road just outside town limits, is certain to be a boon for a town that depends on tourist traffic to support the shops and restaurants that line its streets. However, many of them said that it will be important for the next town board to keep its eyes open for ways to make the effort as successful as possible for town merchants and keep any associated problems as minimal as possible.
“They’re concerned, and there were legitimate concerns,” candidate Tim Parris said of what he’s heard from some town residents. “The lighting, the traffic. The traffic is the biggest thing we’ll have to deal with. North River Road is bad now, and it will be worse then.”
However, he said, “most of the people think it will be a good thing.”
Candidate James Cochran, whose driveway spills out right across the road from the site of the future river park, said he has no criticisms of the park plans and believes it will be ultimately be good for Dillsboro.
Candidate David Jones said he’d want to see the town do everything it could to support the river park, and that its installation would likely spur some new projects.
“We’re going to have to do some additional lighting along Front Street. We’re going to have to provide a way to get from Dillsboro and easy access to the water park and back so people that come to enjoy that can also visit us and enjoy the town,” he said.
Long-term plans for the river park would have a pedestrian bridge go in across the Tuckasegee River to allow river park patrons to walk into downtown. That’s an important issue for many business owners who want to ensure that all the out-of-towners coming to raft and fish will be able to conveniently access downtown shops too.
The number of those shops is growing, with the downtown slowly recovering from the 2008 double-whammy of the recession hitting at the same time the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad decided to relocate its main depot from Dillsboro to Bryson City. Storefronts are filling up once more, with the Haywood Smokehouse and Lee’s at the Depot two of the more significant additions of the past couple years. Innovation Brewing in Sylva announced in June that it would soon open a second location in Dillsboro. And, of course, there’s the river park, which at completion will offer rafting, fishing, camping and a variety of other outdoor recreation opportunities.
“I think the future for Dillsboro is really good with the brewery coming to town, and I think the future should be good,” said candidate David Gates.
“That’s going to be a big thing, a big boost to the community hopefully in Dillsboro,” said candidate Tim Hall.
As far as any associated problems, said candidate John Chinners, they will hopefully be minor and far outweighed by the many positive impacts of Dillsboro’s growth.
“Will there be problems? There will probably be problems, but that’s progress unless we want to go back to the 1920s,” he said.
The river park is not the only development that the prospective aldermen have their eyes on. Incumbents say they want to continue working on pedestrian connectivity, offering walkways stretching from Monteith Park all the way across the Tuckasegee to the river park. Keeping the town clean, supporting downtown merchants and catching up on paving projects are other oft-cited priorities.
Current board members point to a number of projects that the town has worked on over the past four years as evidence that Dillsboro is headed in a good direction. The town developed an economic incentive program to help attract new businesses to town, and a new bridge now provides pedestrian access across Scotts Creek along Front Street, with a newly leased property nearby improving the parking situation.
“We don’t have a lot of money, but I think we’re doing a lot with what little money we do have,” Jones said.
Alderman candidates (pick five)
Chinners, 68, has owned Country Traditions in Dillsboro for the past 11 years. He’s never served on the town board before but has been president of the Dillsboro Merchants Association for two years. If elected, he looks forward to working to make Dillsboro a more pleasant place to live.
Gates, 56, has been on the town board since 2009 and owns Appalachian Funeral Home in Sylva. He’s a licensed contractor and has previously owned David’s Place and Bradley’s General Store in Dillsboro. He served on the Sylva Board of Commissioners for four years in the 1990s. He looks forward to four more years working to help Dillsboro prosper.
Parris, 62, has been on the board since 2009. Born and raised in Dillsboro, he works in the equipment shop for the N.C. Department of Transportation in Sylva. He believes that the town board and merchant’s association together have accomplished much in the past eight years to move the town forward but still sees work to be done, such as building a restroom in Monteith Park and keeping roadbanks mowed.
Cochran, 74, is not currently on the town board but served as an alderman from 1996 to 2009. He’s currently chairman of the town planning board. His career included 27 years in property management, both in South Florida and Western North Carolina. Cochran believes the town board is doing its job well now but considers himself a team player well qualified to help the town continue improving.
Riddle, 77, is retired from a career that began as a store manager for A&P and ended with a switch to the automotive business, covering everything from sales to mechanics. He has lived in Dillsboro for 11 years and has been on the town board since his first election in 2009. Before that, he was a member of the planning board. If re-elected, he hopes to continue working to resurrect the downtown and make it a more pleasant place to shop and run a business.
Jones, 72, has lived in Dillsboro for 15 years and served on the town board for eight of those, 2009 to present. He is married with two children and two grandchildren, having spent his career as an administrator with Tri-County Community College in Murphy. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business. He believes the town board has done a lot of good for the town with the small budget it has to work with and plans to keep an eye out for anything the town can do to support the continued success of its economy.
Hall, 58, has owned Bogart’s Restaurant and Tavern in Sylva since May 2005 and moved to Dillsboro shortly thereafter. A 1981 graduate of Appalachian State University, he’s been in the restaurant business since 1984. He’s never held elected office before but was president of the Yosef Advisory Board, which supports student athletes at App State, in the 1990s. He sees service on the town board as a chance to give back to his community and believes his perspective, as a younger person than most incumbents, could be valuable to the board.
Mayor Mike Fitzgerald is running unopposed for re-election. Fitzgerald, 65, has been the mayor since 2009. Before that, he was elected to serve as an alderman in 2005 after being appointed to fill a vacancy earlier that year. He currently chairs the Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority as well as the Southwestern Rural Planning Organization. Fitzgerald owns Fitzgerald’s Shoe Shop in Sylva. He is married with six children.