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6 Republicans jockey for 3 commissioner seats in March 5 primary race

Voters in next month’s Republican primary will have no shortage of candidates to consider in the race for Alamance County’s board of commissioners. But there’s more than sheer quantity to distinguish these half dozen contenders for the party’s three slots in this fall’s general election.

There is, for starters, a fair amount of political experience within this six-person field, which includes two incumbent county commissioners, one current member of the Alamance-Burling-ton school board, and three runners up from previous local and state-level races. Yet, for all the time they’ve spent on the campaign trail, these six would-be commissioners are no mere ideological clones – as borne out by their replies to an issues questionnaire that The Alamance News sent to each of the candidates.

As of press time on Wednesday, the newspaper had not yet received a completed questionnaire from commissioner hopeful Leonard Harrison. Even so, the replies of the other five contenders reveal some genuine distinctions on issues like the sufficiency of the county’s current property tax rate, the need for a sales tax increase, and the wisdom of introducing zoning to Alamance County’s unincorporated reaches. The five candidates also espoused some rather nuanced positions on the use of publicly-funded incentives to recruit business and industry as well as the propriety of a Confederate monument that stands on the grounds of Alamance County’s Historic Court House.

The diversity of opinion on taxes is particularly noteworthy given the Republican Party’s oft-proclaimed opposition to taxation of almost any stripe.

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According to their responses, incumbent commissioner Pamela Tyler Thompson and school board member Ryan Bowden consider the county’s current property tax rate of 43.2 cents for every $100 of value to be “about right.” This figure is too high, however, in the estimation of John Paisley, Jr., the current chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners and the only member of the county’s governing board to have voted against the existing rate.

Paisley goes on to state his preference for a level of 42.59 cents – which the county’s tax office had previously calculated as the “revenue neutral,” or break even, rate that the county needed to make ends meet after its last property tax revaluation. Also opposed to the current tax rate are Barry Joyce, a second-time contender for the board of commissioners who didn’t reveal the rate he himself would prefer; and Ed Priola, a former state house candidate who throws his support behind a rate of 42.2 cents. Priola nevertheless pays deference to Paisley as the only current commissioner who had opposed the existing property tax rate.

Although only Paisley espouses the revenue neutral alternative over the county’s current property tax rate, all five of the candidates insist that they’d support a break even rate after the county’s next revaluation in 2027. Even so, Bowden tempers his answer with the disclaimer that he doesn’t “make promises” that may prove untenable but “will make every good faith effort when the time comes.” Meanwhile, Joyce insists that an “accurate” revaluation “by qualified personnel” will translate to a revenue neutral tax rate, and Priola takes a swipe at one of the incumbent commissioners in order to underscore his own commitment to revenue neutrality.

“I fought for lower taxes as field director of [the] National Taxpayers Union,” he says, “unlike Pamela Thompson, who voted for one tax increase and against two tax cuts.”

In the final analysis, Priola asserts a rather consistent position on taxes and government spending, arguing that public services should be pared back to the bare minimum “so families can keep more of their hard-earned money.” He goes on to complain of the “administrative bloat” in county government and finds the funding levels for just about every county department excessive, save for the sheriff’s office – whose revenue he judges “too little” while the rest of the field deems it “about right.”

In much the same vein, Priola objects to a potential referendum on a 1/4-cent hike in the local sales tax – a proposal that a previous all-Republican board of commissioners had supported when it was shot down by the local electorate for the fourth time in 2018. Paisley, likewise, opposes another referendum, which Joyce, Bowden, and Thompson all back – although in Thompson’s case, it’s with the caveat that it will be “up to the citizen to vote yes or no.”

Another area of divergence among the five candidates is the proposed implementation of countywide zoning. Commissioner Pam Thompson declares herself amenable to this one-time third rail of politics in Alamance County.

“Enormous changes are happening in Alamance County,” she adds. “I want the citizens of our county to have a stronger voice in what builds here.”

Joyce also counts himself a supporter of countywide zoning, offering the hypothetical case of a farmer who finds himself next to a residential development, whose homeowners go on to grouse about his agricultural operations. Meanwhile, Paisley, Priola, and Bowden acknowledge they still consider zoning to be beyond the pale for the rural quarters of Alamance County.

Another divisive area for the five candidates is the use of publicly-funded incentives to recruit business and industry into the county.

In addressing this practice, Paisley insists that a company must “earn” the subsidies it receives from the county.

“To receive incentives,” he adds, “a company must sufficiently increase tax revenues and employment to a substantial level during the incentive period.”

Priola contends that he would promote transparent deliberations and avoid policies that “pick winners or losers” in recruiting business and industry. Meanwhile, Thompson reflects on the complex calculus involved in decisions to subsidize a particular company. Bowden, likewise, contends that he would evaluate every request for corporate subsidies on its own merits.

“I would look at incentives on a case by case basis,” he notes, “and see what benefits it brings to the citizens of Alamance County. Buc-ee’s is a prime example that you don’t need incentives all the time to bring business into [the] county.”

Joyce, for his part, seems to have the harshest view of the five candidates on the use of public funds to encourage corporate development.

“I am not in favor of incentives,” he states flatly. “The companies that have located here [have done so] mainly for cheap labor. That is incentive enough.”

By and large, the five Republican hopefuls see eye to eye on most of the other issues raised in the newspaper’s survey. All five profess their support for the sheriff’s detention agreement with ICE and the U.S. Marshals Service. With the exception of Priola, the candidates support the shuttle service offered by Alamance County Transportation Authority, and all five oppose to any expansion of the county’s contribution to Burlington’s Link Transit bus system. They’re also unanimous in their support for new charter schools and equally united in their resistance to county-level restrictions on outdoor shooting ranges.

But of all the areas where the candidates are in lock step, there is one where the precise reasons for their common position may be worth mentioning.

When asked about the proposed removal of the Confederate monument from the grounds of the county’s historic courthouse, all five insist that the commissioners should leave the century-old pillar in peace. Priola argues that a decision to relocate this landmark should come from the courts or the local electorate instead of the county’s governing board. In the meantime, Joyce offers an intriguing, if rarely heard, rationale for letting the monument remain where it is.

“This monument reminds us of a dark time in our history,” he acknowledges. “It should serve as a reminder that no human being should be owned by another.”

Each candidate’s full response to the newspaper’s questionnaire appears HERE. Biographical information can be found here:

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