Tuesday, May 17, 2022

114 West Elm Street
Graham, NC 27253
Ph: 336.228.7851

Taxing, spending priorities at heart of candidate differences

Candidates for Graham mayor and city council are generally satisfied with the city’s current tax rate and most areas of spending.

Most of the mayoral and city council candidates say that the city’s property tax rate, 45.5 cents per $100 valuation, is “about right.”

As noted elsewhere, Jeanette E. Beaudry refused to respond to any of the newspaper’s questions. Incumbent council member Melody Wiggins voices the view that the tax rate is “too low,” although she did not respond to a separate question about what level she would recommend.

Bobby Chin says that as a non-incumbent, “it is difficult to assess whether the tax rates are too high or too low.”

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Priorities for which departments deserve more funding
Adding more officers to the Graham Police Department is a “high” priority for seven of the eight responding candidates. Only Edith J. Montoya rates it as a “moderate” priority.

Adding more firefighters to the Graham Fire Department is a “high” priority for six of the eight responding candidates. Mayoral candidate Jennifer Talley and city council candidate Brooke Flood rate it as a “moderate” priority.

Six of eight candidates say joining Burlington’s bus service is a “low” priority. Montoya says it is a “high” priority for her; Joey Parsons rates it as a “moderate” priority.

Candidates had very mixed reactions to how high a priority should be assigned to additional funding for the Graham Regional Park.

Montoya and Wiggins (retired director of the city’s recreation department) rate it “high”; mayoral candidate Chip Turner and council candidate Parsons rate it a “moderate” priority; and Talley, Alvis, and Flood rate it “low.” Council candidate Bobby Chin says he is “undecided” about the priority for spending more on the park.

Most candidates demur on just how important the priorities are when asked whether they would vote to raise property taxes to increasing funding for any of the four categories.

Alvis and Wiggins say they would be willing to raise taxes for “public safety.” Flood says she would for “more personnel.” Chin says, “Raising property taxes should be the last option after all other options for raising revenue have been exhausted.”

Talley and Parsons say “no,” they do not favor raising taxes to accomplish any increases. Adds Talley, “No need to raise taxes. We are applying for grant funding and can adjust the budget to fund more police officers.”

Turner says, “My plan would increase spending based on growth in the tax base, not the tax rate.”

 

Growth in Graham – commercial, residential, industrial
Candidates varied widely on whether the city’s growth rate is too low, too high, or about right. The newspaper asked candidates to give their assessments in three broad areas: commercial, residential, and industrial.

Chin did not provide a rating, saying, “I have been a resident of Graham for only two years and have not formed a definitive position on the growth rate in regards to these three areas.”
The remaining seven candidates split 4-3 in their interpretations, but with a different configuration on each dimension.

For commercial growth, candidates say, by 4-3, that commercial growth is “too low.” Candidates taking that view are: Talley, Turner, Flood, and Montoya. Three others say it is about right: Alvis, Parsons, and Wiggins.

For residential growth, candidates say, again by 4-3, that growth has been “too high,” with Talley, Alvis, Flood, and Parsons expressing that assessment. Turner, Montoya, and Wiggins say it is “about right.”

Also by 4-3, candidates say that industrial growth has been “too low.” Turner, Alvis, Flood, and Montoya take that view. Talley, Parsons, and Wiggins say it is “about right.”

 

Gay rights antidiscrimination ordinance
Most of the candidates oppose the idea that Graham should join some other North Carolina municipalities in adopting an ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation (i.e., lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people).

Only Montoya says she favors such an ordinance. Talley, Turner, Alvis, Chin, Flood, and Parsons say Graham does not need such an ordinance. Parsons and Chin add similar statements about existing law. Chin: “There are laws in place that address equal opportunity and discrimination for all.” Parsons: “We have state and federal laws that prohibit discrimination.”

Wiggins did not respond with “yes/no,” but made a similar statement about existing laws already providing protections: “We already have local, state, and federal mandates in place for accommodations and employment.”

Asked specifically whether they would vote for or against such an ordinance, Alvis, Montoya, and Wiggins say they would vote for, with Wiggins adding, “if any discrimination of any kind exists.”

 

Covid vaccination mandate for employees?
The Alamance News asked each of the candidates whether they would support or oppose a Covid vaccination mandate for Graham’s city employees.

The candidates universally oppose such a mandate.

Chin is especially incensed, although it is unclear whether it was by at the newspaper’s question or the underlying policy about which the newspaper sought candidates’ position. “This is a totally inappropriate question. Asking employees whether they have been vaccinated is reflective of Nazi Germany asking its citizens whether they were a Jew or not.”

All eight responding candidates say they also oppose other “incentives” designed to persuade city workers to get a vaccination.

The newspaper also asked candidates whether they are, themselves, vaccinated. Most did not answer, with some taking exception to the newspaper even proffering such a question. Chin, Flood, and Montoya gave no response to the question, leaving it blank without any explanation.

Alvis and Wiggins say they are vaccinated against Covid-19, with Wiggins adding, “but this is not an appropriate question.”

Similarly, Turner says, “This is a personal health question and not appropriate for public information.”

Talley and Parsons say they do not want to disclose their vaccination status.

 

Race relations in Graham
Candidates had widely varying interpretations on the state of race relations in Graham.
Montoya and Wiggins gave the same one-word description on the low end of the scale: “poor.”

Most others were mixed, but generally express that Graham is fairly typical.

Turner’s take: “good not perfect.”

Talley’s: “I personally interact with citizens on a regular basis, and I personally love that our community is so rich in diversity. I do acknowledge that we have work to do to unite our community, and as mayor I will strive to bring our community together.”

Chin: “In the two years I have lived here in Graham, I have not experienced any ill-will or prejudicial treatment from anyone I have met. My guide is Matthew 22:39 – ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’”

Flood: “ I do not feel that the racial climate/ race relations are as bad as some like to make it seem. Graham is a very welcoming and accepting community. There is always room for improvement across all races and cultures, and in all parts of the US not just in Graham.”

Parsons: “There is always room for improvement. Although, much of the recent tension has come from sources outside of Graham. Overall, Graham has been and continues to be welcoming and inviting to all people.

 

Wyatt Outlaw tribute?

Six of the eight candidates who responded unanimously oppose the idea of renaming Sesquicentennial Park across from the Historic Court House to honor Wyatt Outlaw, a black Reconstruction-era figure who was a Republican leader and local lawman who was hung by a white mob.

Chin says, “If the intent is to recognize the contribution of the black community to the history of Graham, instead of re-naming a park for an individual who was hung, would it not be more appropriate to name the park after a person who has made a significant contribution to the betterment of Graham?”

Most candidates are generally willing to consider some alternative form of a tribute. Says Wiggins, “Would love to discuss with any interested groups the possibilities.”

 

Mayor, council salaries
Seven of the eight candidates who responded to the newspaper’s questionnaire say that the current salaries for mayor ($756.65 monthly, $9262 annually) and city council member ($473.84 monthly, $5,686 annually) are “adequate and fair.”

Chin responds, “Serving as the mayor or as a city councilman is a civic duty. Whether the compensation is adequate and fair is moot.”

Talley, Turner, Alvis, Flood, Montoya, Parsons, and Wiggins say they would vote to “keep the same” salaries during their term, with Turner adding the caveat “for now.”

The full questionnaire, with all candidates’ responses, edited to comply with word limitations given to all candidates, can be found HERE

Their biographical information is on page 5, see: https://alamancenews.com/meet-the-candidates-for-graham-mayor-and-graham-city-council/

A supplemental questionnaire specifically about Graham’s downtown master plan, as recommended by a consultant in 2019, is on page 14.  A story on it begins on page 1. See: https://alamancenews.com/2019-downtown-master-plan-still-stirs-controversy-debate/

The full questionnaire is HERE  Scroll to last page for questions specifically on the downtown plan.

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