It’s a rematch for Deitz and Cody in Jackson commissioner race
Jackson County Commissioner Boyce Deitz took office in 2014 after wresting the seat from incumbent Doug Cody, but this time around Cody is looking to reverse that result in a repeat face-off to represent District 2.
Cody, a Republican, said that if elected he’d want to pay particular attention to economic development, encouraging business growth and expanding the necessary 21st-century infrastructure that businesses will require if they are to locate in Jackson County. Cody said that the past four years have been “pretty boring from a moving forward standpoint,” while the Republican commission he served on from 2010 to 2014 got many things accomplished.
Deitz, a Democrat, said that getting a new animal shelter built would be a priority for his next term, as would improving facilities and security in the schools. Deitz also emphasizes environmental initiatives and cleaning up roadside litter, as he views the county’s natural resources as its main tool for economic development.
Deitz and Cody are contending to represent District 2 on the Board of Commissioners, an area that includes the more urban part of the county — the Dillsboro/Sylva North, Sylva South and Scotts Creek voting districts. Two other seats on the five-member board are up for election as well. Commissioner Ron Mau is running against incumbent Democrat Brian McMahan for the chairman’s seat, and Gayle Woody is running against incumbent Republican Charles Elders to represent District 1. While candidates must reside in the district they are running to represent, all county voters can vote for all commission seats.
When the term starts in December, the winners will have a long list of issues and decisions to navigate over the next four years.
How should the county’s health and social services functions be organized?
The issue: Following the November 2016 elections, Republican commissioners became interested in combining the county’s health and social services departments. A public hearing Jan. 29 drew 11 speakers — all vehemently opposed — but commissioners voted 3-2 to proceed with consolidation. Once seated, members of the consolidated board made it clear they didn’t agree with the reorganization and in August voted to delay hiring a director of the consolidated department until after the November elections. Commissioners responded by voting 3-2 to abolish the consolidation and instate themselves as the board overseeing the two departments. They upheld this vote Oct. 1 following a public hearing in which 16 of the 19 speakers opposed the decision.
Deitz: Deitz has opposed consolidation since the beginning, saying the move made no logical sense — “I think it’s senile” were his exact words — and would serve only to inject confusion into a system that had by all accounts been working well. Deitz said that if given the chance he would vote to restore the departments to the way they were before the January vote.
“This was an excellent solution to a problem that we didn’t have,” he said. “It’s been something that the people have been against completely. We’ve been accused of this becoming political. It has become political because we have a commission now that’s really actively against the best interest of the citizens.”
Cody: While Cody said he would “be willing to take another look at it,” his impression is that opposition to consolidation is a political tool.
“It was to divert attention away from the fact that current commissioners, my opponent included, have accomplished very little in the four years they’ve been in office,” he said, adding that he didn’t think it was appropriate for the consolidated board to “rebel” by voting to delay hire of a director until after the elections.
Do you see the current budget as fiscally responsible and protective of taxpayer money?
The issue: Along with multiple political shifts, the county has seen significant economic changes over the past decade. Most county revenue comes from property taxes, which are based on a property’s assessed value. Homes were assessed — and taxed — on height-of-the-housing-boom, pre-recession values until 2016, when the county was required to reassess property at the lower, post-recession values. As a result, taxes were raised to just above the revenue-neutral rate. Over the past four years, the tax rate has increased 1.7 cents per $100 in value above the revenue-neutral rate of 2016 and a quarter-penny sales tax has been added to improve educational facilities.
Cody: Cody believes the current board has been too swift to increase taxes.
“I was looking at the budget just a little while ago, and we’re bringing in $10 million in revenue more than we’re spending,” Cody said. “Give the taxpayers a break. If we’re bringing in that much more money than we’re spending, why raise taxes?”
Jackson County’s fund balance — akin to a county’s saving account — currently holds about 44 percent of the funds needed to fuel the county’s budget for an entire year, roughly $30 million. The state requires a fund balance of 8 percent and county policy is to keep it at or above 25 percent.
“If you’re going to have that money sitting there, pay for something,” said Cody, pointing out that the county has various debts it could stand to stop paying interest on.
Deitz: Deitz sees himself as “the most conservative person that is on the board” and says that he’s the first to question the need for various appropriations. However, he defends all the tax increases of the last term, pointing out that the 1-cent increase this year was to keep schools safer in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, shootings and that voters approved the sales tax increase. The increase in 2016, he said, was simply necessary.
“Before we came on they (previous commissioners) kept kicking the bucket down the road as everybody always says, and so all at once we were trying to provide the same amount of services with less money,” he said.
As of July, only four of the state’s 100 counties had lower property tax rates than Jackson, even with the rate hikes in recent years. Deitz said that while he expected to get “a lot of flack” over the increases, he’s received none at all.
“We’ve been real responsible with how we use county money,” he said.
How would you help spur economic development in Jackson County?
The issue: For a rural county with little buildable land and a high poverty rate, economic development is always an issue. Attracting businesses — and cultivating the right mix of services, infrastructural amenities and economic opportunities to lure those businesses — is a constant goal for local government.
Deitz: In Deitz’s view, the best way to spur economic development is to have as good a school system as possible and protect the county’s natural resources. Economic growth grounded in an expanding collection of small businesses is the way of the future, he believes — not landing the elusive 500-employee factory.
Each of North Carolina’s 100 counties would like to land such an industry, but there’s only so many factories to go around, he said, and much of what large businesses require — flat, buildable land, easy airport access, fast highways nearby — Jackson County would be hard-pressed to deliver.
“There’s some things we can’t offer,” he said. “What we can offer is our environment and our water and our people.”
Cody: If Jackson County wants to grow, it has to plan to grow, Cody said.
“I know what it takes to attract businesses, and we don’t have what it takes,” he said. “We don’t have infrastructure in place like water and sewer. We don’t have land set aside to do the things that we want to do to provide opportunities for our people, and all this stuff needs to be addressed.”
Cody wants to see the county partner with TWSA to extend water and sewer service to places where it needs to go if businesses are to move in. The county also needs to lose some of the red tape surrounding the location new cell towers, and it needs to work with Western Carolina University to fully take advantage of all that the school’s proximity has to offer. Cody would like to see the county partner with WCU to develop a business incubator on the Millennial Campus.
What should be the county’s role in addressing homelessness?
The issue: When the economy crashed in 2008, Jackson Neighbors in Need formed to offer emergency assistance for those hit hardest, including overnight shelter in local motel rooms. Over the years, need has grown enough to outstrip the volunteer-run organization’s ability to keep up. The Southwestern Child Development Center is now running the shelter as a stopgap measure, but commissioners are debating a permanent solution — whether the county should open a dedicated shelter building, and if so who would fund and administrate it.
Cody: Cody said he’d first need to make sure that homelessness is a legitimate issue in Jackson County — if there is a problem, he said, he’s “kind of out of the loop on that.”
“If it’s a need for our citizens here, I’d say we need to proceed, look into it a little bit more detail,” he said. “If it’s something where people are going to be coming in here from other areas to take advantage of our being good neighbors, I’m not going to be for it.”
As to who should fund a homeless shelter should one be created, Cody said he’s not convinced the government should take the lead. If the county did help with funding, he’d want to look at nonprofit funding overall to see if other donations could be cut to accommodate increases in shelter funding.
“If there are needy people out there, I want them fed. I want them clothed. I want them to have a safe, warm place to sleep at night,” he said. “I think maybe creating another layer of government service is not the best way to do that. I don’t know, but it’s something I would be willing to look at in depth.”
Deitz: Deitz agrees with Cody that it’s not ideal to have the government take over service to the homeless, saying that he’d like to see a private group or nonprofit take the lead, with Jackson County playing a supportive role.
However, he’s convinced that a homeless shelter is something the community needs.
“I think we have to work in good faith to help people that says they’re in need,” he said. “Every once in a while you have someone to take advantage of it. That’s their problem. That’s not ours.”
He’s aware that such an undertaking could prove expensive and would want the county to be as strategic as possible, working hard to look for grants. Commissioners have been consistently looking for a shelter location, he said, with an eye to move forward should a location be found.
“It’s not something we ignored,” he said.
How should the county navigate increasing education funding requests?
The issue: In North Carolina, the deal is that the state pays for school personnel and the county pays capital costs. However, counties have repeatedly found themselves asked to do more, with many hiring teachers to keep class sizes smaller and supplementing teacher salaries to better compete for employees. A 1-cent tax increase in Jackson County’s 2018-19 budget was enacted to increase security and mental health personnel in the schools following the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Deitz: Deitz acknowledges that unfunded mandates from the state put county government in a tight spot but said that funding education has always been a top priority for him. He’s especially passionate about ensuring that facilities are well-maintained and something staff and students can be proud of, citing accomplishments such as funding $9 million in deferred maintenance to school facilities and an artificial turf field at Smoky Mountain High School.
While the schools have their challenges, he said, he’s happy with the system Jackson has in place.
“I think we have a good school system,” he said. “I think our schools do well.”
Cody: When he was a county commissioner, Cody said, the board honored 100 percent of funding requests from the schools. However, seeing the most recent N.C. School Report Card results — the system ranked 75th out of 115 school districts in North Carolina, an improvement over 77 out of 115 last year — Cody said he’d like to see better results for the money. In the 2018-19 budget, 23 percent of funds went toward education.
“That’s a substantial amount of our budget right there, and I think it’s time that we get serious about seeing some results for the investment that we make in education,” he said.
Meet the candidates
Doug Cody (R)
Cody, 67, is a Jackson County native who has spent his career in the insurance field.
Cody graduated from Western Carolina University in 1972, where he earned a bachelor’s of science. He is married with two daughters.
Having served on the Jackson County Board of Commissioners from 2010 to 2014, Cody is seeking his second term on the board. He currently sits on the Southwestern Community College Board of Trustees and the Jackson County Airport Board, and he has previously served on the Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority board.
Boyce Deitz (D)
Deitz, 69, is a Jackson County native who spent his career in public schools, working 23 years as a head football coach in Swain and Jackson counties. Deitz’s teams won the state championship five times, and one of his players while at Swain High School was Heath Shuler, who would go on to play for the NFL and win election to the U.S House of Representatives.
Deitz worked for Shuler six years handling constituent relations. Deitz is working a cattle farmer and is married with six grandchildren, three of whom he is raising.
Deitz is seeking his second term.