2017-09-23 / Featured

Candidates discuss challenges facing city

BY BILL WILLCOX
COURIER-TIMES STAFF WRITER


Rhonda Wright marks her ballot Friday morning at the Board of Elections office at 331. S. Morgan Street. Thirty voters cast their ballots on Thursday, the first day of early voting in the municipal election. One Stop Early Voting continues until Oct. 7 at the Elections office only. The hours are Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday, Oct. 7, from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Election Day is Tuesday, Oct. 10. 
Bill Willcox | Courier-Times Rhonda Wright marks her ballot Friday morning at the Board of Elections office at 331. S. Morgan Street. Thirty voters cast their ballots on Thursday, the first day of early voting in the municipal election. One Stop Early Voting continues until Oct. 7 at the Elections office only. The hours are Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday, Oct. 7, from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Election Day is Tuesday, Oct. 10. Bill Willcox | Courier-Times What are the greatest challenges facing the City of Roxboro in the next four years?

This was one of the questions posed to the two mayoral candidates and city council candidates in live interviews published on The Courier- Times Facebook page this week, and through email. Responses were received from all of the candidates except council candidates Tim Bonafair and Sandy Stigall.

Incumbent Mayor Merilyn Newell and Councilman Henry Daniel are vying for the mayor’s seat.

Newell said the biggest challenge is meeting the expectations of citizens for the quality of services while managing ever-rising expenses and satisfying state mandates for improvements to infrastructure, which will require significant borrowing to complete, she said referring to an upgrade at the wastewater treatment plant, estimated to cost around $22 million. “We have had flat growth in our tax base for many years and while we are seeing some improvement in our local sales tax revenues due to increased local spending, it is not enough to balance the rising costs we face for the services we provide,” she said. “We are exploring many different ways to attract infill growth – housing options, attracting appropriate business/industry and working with Economic Development to create more jobs. At the same time, we must work all the harder to keep expenses in check, explore all possible ways to utilize technology and make our operations more efficient to meet the required mandates in the most cost effective manner.”

Daniel also mentioned the upgrade to the wastewater treatment plant, built in the 1960s.

“That’s a big thing and then other than that the state has sort of handcuffed most of the counties in that you cannot annex without voluntary annexation. If we annex somebody into the city, then we have to get their approval to do it, so growth is something we need to do as a city.”

He said the city needs to grow, and especially some places, but there is no way to get them into the city limits without voluntary annexation.

“Getting those people to pay another tax will be a tough road,” he said, “but there may be some time in future, because we have to provide water and sewer to anybody that’s annexed into the city. I think it’s tough, so growth is a tough situation.”

For Roxboro City Council, the candidates are Reggie Horton, Mark Phillips, Jermaine Wallace, Marshall Oliver, Tim Chandler, Byrd Blackwell, Tim Bonafair and Sandy Stigall.

Horton said there have been steps towards development of Uptown, and he would like to see that continue, but also work on the outlying areas.

“There are some of the smaller communities that need some work, some revitalization,” he said, “and I think if we [need to] get these communities involved and spruce up their areas.”

He said it is important for the mayor and council members to get out in the community and do face-toface work, ask questions, find out what citizens need and what they think would be better, and come up with a group of answers.

Phillips said one of the things he would like to focus on is infill in the city, being able to fill the vacant spaces, whether with neighborhoods or businesses.

“About the best thing we can do as a council, as a city, is to make Roxboro the best it can be, make it look the best we can,” he said. “I want to see our neighborhoods look better. I think general beautification, not just one or two areas of the city, but focus on all of them. We redid our code recently. In fact, next month there’s some more changes to the code that will help with grass, abandoned vehicles and delapidated buildings.”

He said beautifying the city goes hand in hand with economic development.

Wallace said one of the challenges is retaining and recruiting members of the police department, and he was concerned about the turnover rate.

“That’s an issue we need to really target,” he said, “because if we don’t have enough officers, then that becomes a problem when it comes to protecting and serving. You’re either going to have to work someone extra hard or ask someone else to help on certain situations.”

He added that he believed continuing education of officers was important.

“Things change every day,” he said. “There is a new drug every day. There is a new gang that organizes every day, so you want to be familiar with those things.”

Oliver said Roxboro is uniquely positioned as a bedroom community, and this has benefits.

“We’re really close to bigger cities that have a lot to offer in terms of entertainment and dining experiences,” he said, “but we have lower tax rates than some of those areas, so I think keeping the benefits of small-town Roxboro, while also bringing in new shopping experiences and companies, employers specifically, I think that’s where we really need to be focusing our efforts.”

He said growing jobs is one of his passions.

“Something I will work on win, lose or draw, is bringing opportunities to the city to improve the workforce that we currently have,” he said.

Chandler said the city council needs to do more to fill vacant buildings in the Uptown district.

“One challenge Roxboro has that a lot of cities don’t have is there are some privately owned buildings up there, and until they are freed up to where they can be sold or occupied, that’s always going to be a challenge,” he said, “and that would be my goal is to get these buildings that are not occupied, other than with furniture and things like that, to a place where Roxboro can make use of that.”

Blackwell said there were many challenges facing the city at this time but not one stands out as most pressing.

“No one issue is more important than the other,” he said. “I would carefully prioritize the challenges according to the need. There’s always room for improvement. I will continue to work with the mayor and council to help make the City of Roxboro a safe, beautiful, prosperous and desirable place to live.”

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