Like a game of musical chairs, three Republican candidates for county commissioners are circling Haywood County and hoping they can secure one of the two places on the November election ballot.
Only two of the Haywood County Board of Commissioners seats are up for re-election this year. Two candidates from each party will advance to the general election in November.
Since three Republicans declared their candidacy, voters will have to narrow that number to two during the primary.
Among local, state and federal elections, jobs and the economy still seem to be voters’ main concern. And, the Haywood commissioners election is no different.
“We are borrowing a lot of money,” said Denny King, one of the Republican commissioner candidates. “I will not vote to raise taxes; I will not vote to go deeper into debt.”
The county has not been conservative enough with its money. For example, it should not be paying for the maintenance and upkeep on the MARC building, which is rented by elderly-focused nonprofits for $1 a year, King said. That same perk isn’t being offered to any of the other institutions that do good work in the county, he said.
“I wouldn’t expect us as a county to rent a church for $1 a year,” King said.
King also stated that he believes property owners are paying too much in taxes.
“I will support reducing the size of the burden that property owners pay,” King said.
Candidate Tracy Coward said residents are not getting enough bang for their buck when it comes to county spending. The county’s overall budget is about $65 million.
“I just don’t see where we are getting our money’s worth,” Coward said.
“In a lot of cases, they have done a good job in saving money and cutting down on expenditures, but I think there is a lot more that could be done,” Coward continued.
The current Board of Commissioners has expressed support for state legislation that would allow counties to consolidate redundant services within DSS and the health department.
Incumbent Kevin Ensley touted achievements that the board has accomplished during his current term. In particular, he noted that the board has saved money by privatizing the county landfill and maintained the tax rate despite having to make difficult job cuts.
“We have been able to make the cuts that we needed to without raising taxes,” Ensley said.
Ensley is currently the only Republican member of the five-person board.
Constituents have talked to candidates about their concerns going into this year’s election — and a main anxiety is jobs.
Coward said he can provide a “fresh set of eyes” to such concerns and will vote for what he thinks is best for the county and its people.
Young people continue to leave Haywood County because there are not enough available jobs, Coward said, and the county should work harder to help create more employment opportunities.
One way to create jobs, Ensley said, is through water and sewer projects — something he is a big proponent of. Up-to-date water and sewer systems are a must-have amenity for many businesses if they are looking at moving to a particular area. By building new and updating old systems, the county can create construction jobs and hopefully attract new businesses that will hire county residents, Ensley said.
Haywood Commissioner Republican primary: choose two
Tracy Coward, 55, Waynesville
Background: Coward is a maintenance technician at Continental and a former adjunct professor at Haywood Community College. Coward has never run for political office before.
Why are you running: “We need business experience on the board, but it seems like sometimes these folks have their own interests in mind. I was wanting to give the little man some representation.”
L. Kevin Ensley, 50, Waynesville
Background: Ensley has served on the Board of County Commissioners for eight years. He is surveyor by profession.
Why are you running: “I feel like I have provided some leadership in making sure we practice some budget austerity, which we have. I wanted to continue providing that leadership.”
Denny King, 52, Canton
Background: King is currently an engineer at BorgWarner in Asheville. He ran for county commissioner unsuccessfully one time before. This election season, King filed to run but later had second thoughts and tried to get his name taken off the ballot. “I really don’t want to comment on that. I am running to win.”
Why are you running: “I had a lot of encouragement to run, and many people in our county want a voice. They believe I will listen to their thoughts and concern.”