Finances likely to dominate Haywood commissioner raceWritten by Bibeka Shrestha
The Haywood County board has five commissioner seats. Three seats are up for election this year. A party primary in May will narrow down the field to three Democrats and three Republicans for the three vacant seats.
Haywood Commissioner Skeeter Curtis will not be running for re-election this year, meaning at least one new face will join the board come fall.
Curtis said he will not run for a second term in order to focus on family issues. Curtis, a former deputy commissioner of insurance, has been working as a consultant in the past few years, but will return to a full-time position.
“I just really feel right now I need to put all my efforts on that side, on the family,” said Curtis. “I just wouldn’t have enough time to devote to the job [of commissioner].”
Curtis said he’d like to see a lot of people run, especially those from the younger generation.
“I think it’d be good for them to get involved in their county government,” said Curtis.
Fellow commissioners Bill Upton and Kirk Kirkpatrick said they will both seek another four years on the board.
“I would like to help assist the county in continuing to get through this difficult economic time,” said Kirkpatrick, who has been on the board eight years and serves as chairman.
Kirkpatrick initially thought he would step down after this year, but in recent months committed to running for another term.
Upton said he’s had a positive experience serving on the board during his first term.
“I see some good things going on, and I want to see that continue,” said Upton, who commended the board for moving forward on the Wal-Mart purchase and for operating openly.
“There are very few things we don’t televise,” Upton said. “And our chairman has allowed people to speak at work sessions. I feel like we as a group are good listeners.”
Mary Ann Enloe, a former commissioner, is undecided whether she attempt to regain the seat she lost two years ago.
“I still have to give it some more thought,” said Enloe, who was a commissioner for eight years and mayor of Hazelwood for 12. Enloe said many in the community are encouraging her to run
Michael Sorrells, a 53-year-old native of Haywood County and Democrat, said he plans to run for the board, a decision spurred by Curtis stepping down.
Rhonda Schandevel, a 45-year-old dental hygienist and Haywood County native, hopes to land a spot on the Democratic ticket as well.
Three Republican candidates who are considering a run include David Bradley, Tom Freeman and Elizabeth Norris.
“I think there are a lot of changes that need to be made,” said Norris. “We need to become fiscally responsible.”
Freeman and Bradley, who serves as the treasurer and executive officer of the Haywood County GOP, could not be reached for comment.
Sorrells owns and operates a service station, convenience store and café in Jonathan Creek, a family business that’s served the rural community since 1968. Sorrells has served on the Haywood County school board for about six years.
Schandevel, who resides in Canton, is an advocate for those with special needs. She has had leadership roles in several boards, including The Arc of Haywood County, The Waynesville Recreation Board, the Tuscola High School PTO, and the United Methodist Women group.
Schandevel said it was important to have a balance on the board, which currently has only males.
“Women and men see things differently,” said Schandevel. “I think that’s very important.”
All eyes on the budget
With the economy still in a recession, the county’s budget will sit at center stage in the upcoming election.
“One of the major issues will be the budget,” said Curtis. “There’s no question about it.”
The current board came under fire last year for raising property taxes by 1.7 cents during a recession. Commissioners said it was necessary to make ends meet and avoid painful cuts to core county services.
“To me, the big issue is still the budget and making the best of not having the monies we had in the past,” said Upton.
Kirkpatrick said this would be another year of slashing every non-necessity from the budget, all the while keeping property taxes as low as possible.
“It will be difficult as it was last year in cutting down some of the needs to determine what has to be spent to continue to keep the county going,” said Kirkpatrick.
Sorrells said he would try to lighten to load on the taxpayers “if at all possible” by reevaluating every department to see where cuts could be made.
Kirkpatrick agreed but said candidates should detail exactly how they plan to lower taxes during hard times.
“Everybody wants to cut the tax rate, but nobody can ever point to what it is that they’re going to cut,” said Kirkpatrick.