By Pete Zamplas-Hendersonville Mayor Barbara Volk sees many of the achievements in her first term when walking downtown or in city parks.
Volk, at 67, is the youngest candidate for mayor in the Nov. 5 election. She has served the city for parts of four decades. She spent nearly 20 years on Council — since 1989, when she was the first female elected to the board. Then, four years ago, she won her first mayor election to gain the seat vacated when predecessor Greg Newman (now the district attorney) ran for Congress.
Volk as mayor most enjoys “representing citizens, and talking to them in groups. Getting out and meeting people. Letting them know what’s happening in the city. Hearing directly what their concerns are. Presenting proclamations and certificates.”
On Facebook, she lists city achievements in a 1,650-word message. Many relate to sprucing up Main Street which, she told The Tribune, helps bring in more residents and visitors. In turn, that boosts merchants’ business and in turn city shares of sales tax revenue. Keeping businesses in town boosts the property tax base.
Main Street area’s aesthetics, infrastructure and function are better, she said. She trumpets the historic, scenic and “quaint” small-town ambience. “The quality of life that it sustains is vital to our continued success as a community and the businesses, visitors, and new residents that it draws,” she said. Volk noted a new book, Resilient Downtowns: A New Approach to Revitalizing Small and Medium-City Downs, by Ball State professor Michael Burayidi lauds Hendersonville as among more successful case studies during the recession, for improving its Main Street to help business.
Specific upgrades include more greenery, sidewalk space and benches, recycling bins, way-finding signs, enhanced WiFi, and two electric vehicle charging stations in Dogwood Parking Lot.
The last infrastructure upgrade phase on Main, from Fifth to Seventh avenues, is finishing after many rain delays. The new fountain at Main near Sixth Avenue has native stone, and two flowing streams. This symbolizes watersheds flowing into opposite directions (to the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico), from along the Eastern Continental Divide.
The artwork is getting mixed public reaction, Volk said. But at this point, “I can’t see spending the money to tear it down. As the copper gets more of a patina (dark tarnish), the color of the mountains will change. The plants will grow in, softening appearance of some rock.”
In Volk’s first term, the city hired a Main Street director, set up a Main Street Advisory Committee, helped fund Playhouse Downtown as a cultural magnet, funded a patrol officer for Main and also Seventh Avenue, amended the downtown noise ordinance, regulated horse-drawn carriages.
“We need to move forward more with technology,” for greater efficiency and savings, Volk said. Automating water meter reading initiated last year will save money over time, by replacing meters that leaked water that was not measured and thus billed for, she added. She wants “reverse 911” auto-phone calling, to alert affected residents of upcoming street closings or utility repair shutdowns.
Volk favors continuing water system development hook-up charges, to reduce overall water rates.
The city held workshops on park needs, downtown parking with a survey concluded days ago, is building a second fire station and pursuing development of the Mill Center site. All are hot topics.
Voters decide Nov. 5 whether to authorize up to $6 million in bonds for Berkeley Mills Park by the Kimberly-Clark plant. If approved, it may result in about a 3-cent tax increase to cover up to $500,000 annually in debt payments. Volk said an overall goal is to restrain spending, and prioritize needs.
But she said in this case, the return goes beyond fitness and fun to economic once the park is an attraction to the north side of town. “Empty or underused property on 25 North is going to get developed,” she predicts. “Shops and restaurants will spring up. A housing development talked about five years ago might happen.”
Rather than to piecemeal Berkeley development over 10 years, the city is borrowing to finish it within two or three years, Volk said. That timing is extra useful if the economy recovers by then. Plans for an amphitheater were put off, to restrain the park costs. The price tag drops as grant money comes in, she added. “We’re looking for grants. We have estimates, for $500,000 or another million.” She said this is in addition to $1.2 million the city got to “almost totally” fund extending the Oklawaha Greenway path, which originates in Jackson Park, from North Main Street by Patton Park to Berkeley Mills Park.
Volk supports the Ecusta Trail project, a proposed 17-mile hike and bike trail on unused Norfolk Southern railroad right of way between Hendersonville and Pisgah Forest. But Norfolk has said it will not sell the land, keeping its options open to resume rail service. Transylvania County officials do not back the project, Volk said, and unified lobbying is needed to get Norfolk to part with the route. She said “a citizen group is working, to see that this happens.”
The new fire station project is under fire from challenger Ron Stephens, for one, as grander than needed. Volk said with construction under way, “any change order would be very expensive.”
Volk spoke to The Tribune ahead of disclosure last week of a letter on the Mill Center project, from the developer or its client Wingate University which planned to expand facilities there. Word was Wingate might want a smaller project or role, perhaps to get the city to join in joint ownership of a meeting facility. If so, Volk said, “I’d be open to all of the proposals. I want to see the numbers (costs).”
As for holding some closed sessions on issues, a matter raised in the campaign, Volk said it is legal for property issues, personnel evaluations and legal questions (such as regarding potential lawsuits). “Often Council wants to ask questions of the city attorney. ‘What if this, or that?’ It’s better to get those answers privately. A final decision is made (back) in open session” then or at a later meeting.
She said a few months ago, Council decided to air discussion on an issue publicly as there seemed “no (compelling and legal) reason” to do so behind closed doors. “We’ve tried to be very open in discussions,” she said. “When I first ran for Council (in 1989), I wanted open discussion and decisions made in the public view. We will continue to do that.”
Volk is a registered parliamentarian, versed in meetings’ rules of order. She is retired from computer-related business services. She has a math degree from Valparaiso (Ind.) University. She is a graduate of the N.C. Institute of Political Leadership, with training in financial and managerial accounting and public disputes mediation. Her husband Dr. Jim Volk is a physician. For more on Mayor Volk and her campaign, search Barbara Volk for Mayor on Facebook.