Incumbent Watauga County commissioners and their challengers listened to local concerns during a roundtable discussion at the Blowing Rock American Legion on Thursday.
With an even split between incumbent commissioners and challengers, each candidate was faced with pressing discussion topics, including questions about a full-time Blowing Rock ambulance service and finances for the new Blowing Rock wellness center.
All six candidates began with opening statements, followed by questions written by audience members before the event began.
County Commissioner Republican candidate David Blust was elected to the Board of Commissioners three separate times in 2002, 2010 and 2014, and served 10 years total.
“I know in the last election I got defeated by (Democratic candidate Larry Turnbow),” Blust said in his opening statement. “Immediately, they raised property taxes by 13 percent. I know that in the 10 years I’ve been county commissioner, I didn’t raise taxes one time.”
Turnbow, who followed Blust, sighed before beginning his opening statement.
“When I ran, I promised to support a recreation facility. It has been talked about for 40 years, and nothing was done about it,” Turnbow said. “It is unfortunate that we had to raise taxes because we do have schools that have aged out. We’ve given 1.5 million dollars to students since I was elected to the commission.”
One of the main concerns of the evening was the new wellness center coming to the Blowing Rock area and the financial sacrifices being made to cover its costs.
“The wellness center is important to the community as a whole,” Republican challenger Tim Hodges said. “I did do some research and have been told that it will make a 26 to 46 million dollar economic impact. If I had been on (the Board of Commissioners) though, I would have tried to make the cost less than that.”
Democratic incumbent Billy Kennedy filled in the audience on the wellness center and how tax rates are affected.
“This recreational center is a dream that people have wanted for 40 years,” Kennedy said. “We had to figure out how to pay for it. We raised the tax rate and it came to a 1 percent increase yearly for 12 years, which is below inflation. We still have the third lowest property tax rate in the state.”
Another main issue was Blowing Rock emergency services.
“One of the things that I believe in is that we do have proper (emergency service) coverage,” Democratic challenger Charlie Wallin said. “When I get on the commission, I want to make sure you have the coverage that everybody in this county deserves.”
Wallin mentioned that in the most recent Board of Commissioners’ budget plan, education was a top priority in receiving funding but emergency services was not.
The Board of Commissioners roundtable discussion was hosted by the Blowing Rock Civic Association before the November election.
Story by Christina Beals
Photos by Christina Beals
Featured photo caption: Candidates for county commissioner listened to local concerns during a roundtable discussion at the Blowing Rock American Legion on Thursday.