Meet the Candidates: Board of commissioners and sheriff

Election Day is Nov. 8 and with 19 candidates on the local ballot, Watauga voters have many decisions to make. The Appalachian has curated responses to questions on certain policy positions of candidates in local office.

The questions and responses below are curated from The Boone Chamber of Commerce’s  “Meet The Candidates” event held at the Appalachian Theatre of the High Country Oct. 6.


Board of commissioners

Note: The board of commissioners are elected from three districts throughout Watauga County. Candidates in each district were asked the same questions

The following questions were asked to board of commissioners district one candidates Anglea King and Todd Castle, BOC district three candidates Braxton Eggers and Billy Kennedy and BOC district five candidates Melissa Tausche and Larry Turnbow. 

  • What are your priorities for various housing concerns and how would you work to further engage the board of commissioners on this issue?

Melissa Tausche: 

Tausche said she supports hiring from within, instead of promoting from the outside. She believes this can help even out the housing issue, as more buildings won’t need to be built to house outsiders. 

Billy Kennedy: 

Kennedy believes funding to schools and school-supported mental health must be funded as well.   

Larry Turnbow: 

Turnbow said “setting up land trusts so that employees of the municipalities in the county or the individuals that are living in these properties, working in these properties, spending their income in this county” is one of his top priorities.

Angela King: 

King said interagency partnerships and using funds between government agencies to allocate towards new and different resources.

“I applaud App State for what they’re doing with the Innovation quarter and including faculty housing and I think we need to look at that model and do that in the county as well,” King said.

Todd Castle: 

Castle emphasized working on raising wages in Watauga County and working towards helping young professionals find affordable housing in the county. 

“We all know that if you live in Watauga County you make less than if you live in Raleigh. The wages are certainly higher off the mountain, yet, our cost of living is the highest here,” Castle said. “So we really need to study where we can work the fastest, the most efficient way and maybe that is talking with employers about raising their rate.” 

Braxton Eggers: 

Eggers said he wants to minimize harm to rural communities and consider the rising taxes in costs while making decisions. 

“We need to give back to the people in those communities to local people, and your people to feel like they don’t have a voice anymore,” Eggers said.  

  • How do property taxes play into the overall revenue generation formula for this county?

Melissa Tausche: 

Tausche said she believes taxes must be changed for individuals who are not renting through a landlord. She has approved several grants  for use to help lower taxes for people living. 

Billy Kennedy: 

Kennedy wants to set up a separate housing fund specific to helping with non-government affiliated housing. He said he believes this is going to help alleviate the housing issues that have arisen in the county.   

Larry Turnbow: 

Turnbow emphasized long-term planning in order to appease the people.

“We base our budgets on money that we can depend on,” Turnbow said. “So we plan long term with the expectation of lowering taxes to hurt the people of this county as little as possible, but we’re building what people of the county have asked for.”

Angela King: 

King emphasized the length of time between tax evaluations as an issue which tends to surprise taxpayers. 

“I think if we could have different tax rates for people that do live here and work here versus all the vacation homes that would be fantastic,” King said.

Todd Castle: 

Castle mentioned the inability of the incumbent commissioners to go revenue neutral with their taxes. 

“I realize we have to have taxes to make the wheels turn. But I think that there’s better times to do that than an unprecedented 40-year high inflation,” Castle said. 

Braxton Eggers: 

Eggers aims to focus on property taxes and the effects it has on the wider Watauga community. 

“When we raise property taxes, it makes rent higher because that landlord is not gonna sit back and pay their property taxes. That hurts our young college students,” Eggers said. 

  • How will you advocate on behalf of Watauga County with other state officials?

Melissa Tausche: 

Tausche said she believes in advocacy with state officials, and would like to make sure that housing is available to all. She said she also aims to advocate for more student housing for App State students. 

Billy Kennedy: 

Kennedy said he wishes to advocate for providing more affordable housing, as well as creating an opioid relief program with lasting funding to provide lasting care for those who need it. 

Larry Turnbow: 

In his response, Turnbow discussed communication efforts and trying to get more funding.

“We’ve made clear to our state representative the needs and the buildings that we’re trying to accomplish in this county,” Turnbow said. “It’s not a matter of communication, it’s a matter of our officials having the will to actually cooperate and work with.” 

Angela King:

King mentioned her previous service on the economic development commission and how it equipped her to serve. 

“I’ve been proud to be a part of the stake our claim conversation looking at the outdoor economy. I think that’s such a vital part of what happens in Watauga County and how we can move that forward. I really hope I get to stay on the EDC and see what happens,” King said.

Todd Castle: 

Castle briefly discussed plans for a business park in the county which did not move forward. 

“They realized that they could not pitch to companies because we are unable to provide places for them,” Castle said. 

Castle also criticized the work from home model being adapted since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Braxton Eggers: 

Eggers highlighted local businesses in Boone and wants to “give back” to those who serve the community on a personal level. 

“I think we’ve really got to look at our local businesses for that kind of development. Got to show people hey, this is who we are,” Eggers said.“This is how great our local communities are living and we have some of the greatest business owners in our county.”

Watauga County Sheriff

The questions below were asked to candidates Len Hagaman and David Searcy for Watauga County Sheriff:

  • How well are Watauga County Schools doing in protecting students, and where is more emphasis needed in terms of school safety for children?

David Searcy: 

In his response, Searcy said he believes in having a resource officer in every school. 

“Putting a resource officer in our schools does not only give that officer a role to provide protection but it’s also a mentorship to these children as far as what I’m seeing in this county,” Searcy said. 

Searcy said it is important to give officers key code access to the schools in order to stop potential threats. 

“It is a big thing for that officer to not have to wait for anybody else to get in there to let them into that room, they can go ahead and keep moving forward,” Searcy said.

Len Hagaman: 

Hagaman mentioned his current plan to put resource officers into every school in Watauga County. 

“We are working with the schools and the county commissioners, to get resource officers in every school. That’s our goal and those funds come through DPI and the state and the county,” Hagaman said. 

  • What do you think about interagency partnerships to keep residents and businesses  safe and secure, especially on our busiest days?

David Searcy: 

Searcy discussed the importance of leadership in busy situations.

 “To let your people know that you are with them and you are standing behind them during these times,” Searcy said.

Searcy also discussed the consistent turnover the field of policing has within it.

“If you’re not called to come into law enforcement, you’re probably not going to stay on it more than five or six years,” Searcy said.

Len Hagaman: 

Hagaman recounted some of the local partnerships the sheriff’s office utilizes to ensure safety. 

“If there’s a big investigation, for instance, Blowing Rock had a bank robbery, Boone and the sheriff’s office went there and helped them, provided some folks that could do interviews and remained so Blowing Rock can still keep Blowing Rock safe,” Hagaman said.

  • How can law enforcement help with mental support challenges?

David Searcy: 

Searcy emphasized the importance of training to help with mental support challenges officers are tasked with facing. 

“If you can foresee something coming you can have your people prepared, you can cope with the problem you’re expecting to have,” Searcy said.

Len Hagaman: 

Hagaman brought up a new program the law enforcement crisis negotiation team utilizes. 

“We recently started where we are able to put out in the field, tablets, iPads if you will, where a person that’s in crisis can actually talk to some professional one-on-one and that’s so far, it’s a pilot program,” Hagaman said.