By Pete Zamplas- Andrew Riddle campaigns for a prompt property tax cut while Hogan Corn suggests helping Flat Rock Playhouse get loans, as they challenge commissioner Mike Edney in District One.
“You’re hiring the next steward of your tax money,” Riddle said at the Chamber of Commerce-sponsored forum April 23, for all seven commissioner candidates vying for three seats. “This is your money.”
District One represents mainly Hendersonville and East Flat Rock. Voters countywide elect one commissioner in each of three districts, in the GOP primary Tuesday, May 6.
Saving less in the unreserve fund balance is a way to free money to either spend on priority projects, return to taxpayers via a lower property tax rate or to do both. As the fund balance percentage is higher, it typically secures a better bond rating and thus lower interest rates on loans.
Earlier Henderson County commissioners set a threshold of 12 percent, to get through recessionary times. That is 50 percent above the statewide standard of eight percent, set by the the Local Government Commission. The LGC authorizes and handles municipal bond sales.
The unreserved fund balance was a whopping 23.2 percent nearly a full year ago, according to the audit for fiscal 2012-13 that ended June 30, 2013. The amount was $25,332,238. This does not count money earmarked, such as to pay debt interest. District 3 commissioner Larry Young said as the fiscal year nears its end, the fund balance is at least 20 percent.Riddle was among strongest forum speakers for slashing that “money sitting in a savings account. It needs to be reinvested wisely and frugally, back into the community.” He eyes a tax-rate cut. He suggested spending more on mental health, and school maintenance. He said Atkinson Elementary has “mold growing on the side,” and “broken” playground equipment.Corn sided with Bill Lapsley, District 3 challenger, among others in wanting the fund balance capped at or near 12 percent. Corn told The Tribune, “I’d like us to keep it somewhere along 12 percent, for peaks and valleys driven by the economy. Let’s not impose too much on the taxpayers.”Corn suggested to “take some of that extra out, and give teachers cost-of-living raises” annually ahead of any tax cut. “I’d love us to be able to give the taxpayers a break. But we’ve got some big projects coming along.”Edney is among commissioners who have suggested a tax rate reduction of 1.36 cents. He said the fund balance level is “pretty close to where we need to be right now.” But he forecast dipping into over the next few years if needbe, for priority expenses. The county has paid debt for 10 years in a row, for school construction, with renovating Hendersonville High next up.Edney said when 12 percent was urged, “the economy was very ugly. The decision was to keep as much reserve in the bank that we could, to live on” and handle pressing projects when more affordable. Interest rates and construction costs have been extra low, during the Great Recession.This is the first run for public office by both challengers. Andrew Bryant Riddle, 37, served as Henderson County Republican Party chairman for nearly a year, until formally running for commissioner. The Hendersonville-based contractor is vice-president of Riddle Construction Co. His degree is in construction management, from East Carolina. He was vice-chair of N.C. College Republicans. He has worked overseas.He noted construction lost one of three jobs during the recession, he laid off two-thirds of his workers but revived his business. He said such adaptiveness would serve him as a commissioner, help the county do more with less money.While in Hendersonville High, in 1995 Riddle and four friends started the Float for Freedom (Community Foundation) Scholarship. It is for a high school grad and Boys and Girls Club member. They launched the fund by raffling off a boat they built, and sailed for two weeks along the Mississippi River. Andrew’s wife, Denise Riddle, is a jailer. Their four young daughters are Ella, Lillian, Abbie Kate, and Alicia. They live in Flat Rock.Albert Hogan Corn, 65, is retired in 2002 from General Electric after 35 years in the local GE Lighting facility’s maintenance. As supervisor for 10 years, he handled accounts of suppliers and sub-contractors which he said can help as a commissioner. “I managed a lot of money and people for G.E.,” he said at the chamber forum.He told The Tribune he is running for office out of frustration over not enough good-paying jobs here. He knows friends and family who “had to relocate, because they cannot afford to live here.” Others get in a rut of long-term assistance. “Jobs will take care of a multitude of burdens on the county budget,” he said. “So people can better take care of themselves, such as in housing and medical needs.”The fifth-generation county native grew up in Tuxedo. He graduated from East Henderson High in 1968. Corn was in Blue Ridge Community College’s inaugural class, and an early G.E. apprentice. His associate degree is in electrical installation and maintenance, and industrial electronics. He is a licensed electrical contractor, and caretaker for the Many Pines estate in Flat Rock. Hogan and Joyce Anders Corn live in East Flat Rock. They have a son Jeremy, daughter Cortney Bradley and granddaughter Sydney Bradley.Corn said critical is further “acquiring the jobs we need, for high-tech, skilled labor.” He said a key is to “discern between need and greed,” among project and budget requests. Riddle calls for updating the 2010 strategic plan to spur economic development, with clearer measures of goals.
All three vying for District One favor further raising local supplemental pay for teachers. Riddle suggests two percent, for classroom teachers. He wants an advisory board of teachers and parents, as county-school liaison. He said, “it’s time for vision, and new ideas.”
Corn supports teacher cost-of-living pay increases. Edney has learned from past friction, saying the county should give school officials “latitude” on funding details and within reason “fully fund” their proposed budget.
All three are for considering further county aid to the Flat Rock Playhouse, which is reviving finances and draws tourists. “They now have a long-term plan; they now are in the black,” Riddle noted. Corn suggested helping FRP get a lower-rate loan.
Edney wants to “tie whatever we give them to the sales tax, not property tax.” State legislators last summer empowered the county to levy a motel tax of six percent — a penny increase — with the money going to the playhouse. But Edney noted to The Tribune commissioners so far decided to avoid six percent, higher than many neighboring counties. There is debate how much that might steer tourists away.On affordable housing, Riddle said the key is to “provide jobs. So people can afford the housing.” Edney advised to “get out of the way, and let private enterprise do it.” He said the county might waive some fees, for “low-cost or working-class housing” projects.All three praised the proposed Ecusta Trail rails-to-trails concept. It hinges on Norfolk Southern yielding future use of its Hendersonville-Brevard line.Riddle is a crisp orator, methodically unleashing catchy phrases. His caustic zinger hinting of being a decade and a half younger than Edney, 53, was “I’m one of the few up here who’ll be here, 30 years from now.”Riddle has apologized for singling out Edney, for the water deal with Asheville that Henderson commissioners approved by 4-1 in 1995. “We need our water back,” Riddle said. Edney noted only surplus water can go to Asheville.Edney defended the deal for boosting N.C. 280 industrial development. He retorted the full board decided. “It was not Mr. Edney — being the ‘all-powerful dictator’ of Henderson County. It’s amazing how much power he gives me.” On Riddle’s reference to Jimmy Edney’s real estate business selling the Mills River site to Asheville, Edney explained to The Tribune his father waived the commission to avoid sense of conflict of interest.Riddle’s website is elect-andrew-riddle.com. Corn can be reached via HoganCorn@gmail.com.