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Crowded field seeks Canton seats

By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer

Five candidates are stepping up to challenge the four incumbents on Canton’s town board, who are all running for re-election. For the past several election cycles, the board has gone unopposed. Two major issues are playing out in the campaign running up to the Nov. 6 election — taxes and how to help the town grow economically.

The challengers are voicing their opposition to a recent tax increase, which boosted property taxes to 58 cents this year, up from 53 cents per $100 of valuation. Current board members are calling the increase necessary to restore the town’s fund balance, which had been depleted with flood recovery fees and the revaluation of Blue Ridge Paper’s plant.

With the stagnation of the papermaking industry in Canton, the town’s economic growth was at the forefront of the candidates’ minds. Each expressed different ideas about the best ways to help Canton’s economy, from bringing in new businesses to revitalizing the downtown area.

Karen Hall, 58, a retired administrator for Durham Public Schools, told The Smoky Mountain News last week that she is withdrawing from the race. Her name will still appear on the ballot, but she said she will decline a seat if elected.

Here’s what the candidates had to say about those issues and more.

Bob Burress, 73, retired from Dayco

• Never served in elected office

• Involvement: Haywood Regional Board of Trustees, Chair of Property Committee

Burress is running, he says, because it’s time for a change. “Most of this board has been on 12 or 14 years. I think it’s time for some new ideas and some new thoughts on the board. I think anytime you serve that long, you get complacent and kind of go with the flow.” He feels that the community needs to be heard more than it has been in recent years, and would work toward that goal if elected. “I would be willing to listen to the people and take their suggestions into consideration. I don’t think that the board of aldermen listen to the people as they should,” Burress says. Also if elected, Burress would re-open the Rough Creek Watershed issue and look into whether people should be allowed to hike and camp in the area. He’d also like to market the Colonial Theater to where it would bring in more revenue.

On taxes: Burress says lowering taxes would be his first priority. He says he’s concerned about the effect of taxes on the younger population — like first-time homebuyers — and senior citizens with limited incomes. “I understand why you have to raise taxes, but I believe you can make adjustments in the budget to where you don’t have to raise taxes. I would be interested in managing the finances to where they could be dropped.” He also says that employees of the town need to make a living wage — something lowering taxes could make increasingly possible.

On the town’s growth: Revitalizing the downtown area and bringing in new business and industry to help the tax base are Burress’ second priorities after taxes. He says bringing new business to town will keep some of the buying power in Canton, because people won’t have to drive to Asheville or Waynesville to shop. He’d especially like to see restaurants come to Canton. “I’d like to see some nice eating establishments in town — something like Applebees or Shoney’s.”

Charlie Crawford, 72, retired police officer, owner, Country Kitchen

• Alderman for 16 years

• Involvement: North Canton PTO, Sunday school teacher, DOT representative for Canton, EDC for Canton, Commission on Aging

Among his accomplishments as alderman, Crawford lists “bringing us back from the worst natural disaster that Canton has ever suffered,” the International Sports Complex, and the Colonial Theater. If re-elected, he’ll work to light the complex, keep pursuing flood recovery efforts, alleviate traffic problems on N.C. 110 near Pisgah High School, and clean up the outlying areas of Canton. He especially wants to focus his efforts on the seniors and young people of the town. “We’ll continue our services as long as I’m on the town board to the elderly, including the senior citizen’s center and the program with the police department where they call our shut-ins every night,” Crawford says.

On taxes: “Taxes were raised because the fund balance mandated by the state of North Carolina was almost depleted. As a result, we had to raise taxes for fund balance. I raised my taxes too — I certainly wouldn’t have raised taxes if it wasn’t necessary.” Crawford would consider tax relief only when the fund balance is back to where it needs to be.

On the town’s growth: Crawford says the community lost a lot of its old businesses during the floods of 2004. “We’re just now at where we were then,” he says. On a positive note, he recognizes that Canton is “fast becoming a bedroom community for the city of Asheville.” Crawford sees lots of new housing going in inside city limits, on Champion Drive, for example, and says Asheville seems to be growing out in Canton’s direction. He says that there are some problems getting new businesses downtown, though.

“Downtown Canton is looking as good as it can look under the circumstances. Things are going to have to be done to the buildings before we can get downtown looking better and improvements are going to have to be made to the buildings to revitalize it.”

Bill Edwards, 79, Champion International retiree

• Alderman for 14 years

• Involvement: Appearance Committee, Town planning board, Historical Commission, county’s Transportation Improvement System.

Edwards says some of his biggest accomplishments on the board have been the town’s sewer system, downtown street lighting, renovation of the Colonial Theater, the Inter-national Sports Com-plex, and flood recovery. Of the floods, he says, “It’s been devastating, and we’ve not fully recovered from it. It has presented some awfully trying times, but we’re coming back. The town’s improving its looks.” If re-elected, Edwards would focus on further flood recovery. He’d also advertise the Colonial Theater to get more usage and continue to work to revitalize downtown and attract businesses.

On taxes: “It was necessary or we wouldn’t have done it. We lost a good bit of revenue when Blue Ridge Paper was re-valued. We lost some tax base from the flood. It really was necessary — we didn’t do it just on a whim.” Edwards says Canton still has low water and sewer rates.

On the town’s growth: Edwards wants to see Canton grow, but admits it’s difficult. He’s personally approached restaurants, clothing stores, and even Wal-Mart to see if they would come to Canton. The answer — no.

Troy Mann, 70, former employee of Champion Paper

• Never served in elected office

• Involvement: Chairman of Haywood County Planning Board, Pigeon River Watershed ordinance, Board of Equalization and Review for countywide appraisal process

Mann, a Canton resident for 35 years, says Canton is a great place to raise a family. “I feel somewhat blessed to be able to live in a small-town environment,” he says. Mann, though, worries that the well being of the town’s senior citizens needs closer attention. “Most of the seniors are on fixed income and can’t keep up with the cost of living and inflation. What can we do as a community to help these folks maintain a decent lifestyle?” he asks.

On taxes: Feels like the increase is too much for senior citizens on a fixed income. “What we should do is spend our tax dollars very carefully. If I’m elected, I’ll be mindful of whose money it is I’m voting to spend.”

On the town’s growth: Sees Canton as a great town to be a bedroom community. “I think the greatest potential for Canton’s growth economically is through marketing it as a community for families,” says Mann. Mann says a family could easily come out to Canton to raise their children and drive 20 minutes to Buncombe County for work. Attracting more families and increasing the population is what needs to happen before new businesses will come to town. “Our population base is not large enough to sustain many different types of business, and you’ve got to have people that are demanding products and services for an area to grow.”

Mike Ray, 56, owner, Crawford and Ray Funeral Home

• Alderman for eight years, mayor pro tem

• Involvement: HRMC Board of commissioners, former school board member

Ray is the newest member on the board. He lists some of the accomplishments he’s most proud of as the renovation of the town’s Colonial Theater, new sidewalks, streetlights and underground utilities, flood recovery, and putting the Rough Creek Watershed in a conservancy.

He’s also proud of the International Sports Complex, and will keep working to secure funding for the facility. “We are continually looking toward grants and more sources of revenue to complete other phases and improve what we have there, such as lighting the fields,” he says. If re-elected, Ray will work for increased vigilance of drivers going too fast. “We need to be more pro-active in stopping speeders and aggressive drivers,” he says. Ray would also like the town to work on some land-use planning. He’s already contacted the U.S. Forest Service to see how the town might get grants to preserve green space.

On taxes: Ray says the county had to do something after losing property taxes from Blue Ridge Paper and garbage and waste collection services to the county. Flood recovery also hurt the town’s fund balance. “I didn’t want to raise taxes more than the community wanted them raised,” he says. However, Ray didn’t want to cut out services the town currently provides, like recreation or activities for senior citizens. “I don’t want to see seniors having to pay at the armory, or charging kids five bucks to go swim. Hopefully, this is a temporary situation.”

On the town’s growth: Ray suggested something none of the other candidates did — he’ll consider hiring an economic developer or business recruiter to scout out businesses that would be a good fit. Possible businesses he thinks could come to Canton are antique shops, furniture stores, and craft shops. Ray also says Canton could be touted as a bedroom community. “That’s a very good drawing card. We still have the small town feel, the small town atmosphere, good schools, health care, education ... we are close to Asheville, Atlanta and Charlotte.”

Ernest Stines, 76, retired doctor

• Never served in elected office

• Involvement: Former chief of staff at Haywood Regional Medical Center, Haywood County school board, Board of Trustees at Mars Hill College

Stines, who’s lived in Canton for nearly half a century, thinks it’s time for a change. “I feel like there is no group that should run unopposed year in and year out, and the current group of alderman have been unopposed in the last two or three elections,” he says. “It think when you’re unopposed in office, you get complacent, and you take too many things for granted.”

Additionally, Stines thinks there needs to be better communication between the town board and the people of Canton. “I think there needs to be more communication between the town board of alderman and the electorate with a little bit more consideration given to their wishes and desires,” he says.

On taxes: “I feel like certainly that our tax base and increase in taxes should be looked at. Compared with other communities in Haywood County, we’re 10 cents higher than all the rest of them. I feel like that increase was too high.”

On the town’s growth: Stines says he wants to see more young people involved in the community, but admits that the only way to do that is to keep them here. “In order to get young people involved, there’s got to be more economic opportunities in the town of Canton to keep young people in town. We don’t have that right now.” Stines suggests revitalizing business in downtown and improving the appearance of the area would lead more businesses to come to Canton and help the economy.

Ted Woodruff, 80, retired fire marshall at Champion Paper

• Alderman since 1967, with exception of four years

Woodruff, the longest-serving alderman, is proud of the way the board handled the floods of 2004 and lists that as one of its biggest accomplishments. He’s also proud of the plans for the International Sports Complex and will work to get more money for lighting and other improvements needed to finish it. “You’ve got to have something for children to do,” says Woodruff.

On taxes: Woodruff defends the increase, saying that the floods used up much of the town’s fund balance and the revaluation of Blue Ridge Paper — which lowered the mill’s assessed value — made raising taxes necessary. “Blue Ridge was paying 75 percent of the fund balance — now they’re paying 35 percent,” he says. Woodruff says Canton does a lot for its taxpayers, like hauling off brush and providing inexpensive water and garbage pickup rates.

On the town’s growth: Attracting more businesses will take time, especially since the floods wreaked havoc on the town’s economy. “We’re getting new businesses, just not right downtown. We’re coming along. It’s going to take a while,” he says. Woodruff says annexing might be one way to help the town grow in population, but hastens to add it’s not simple — the town will have to start providing the newly annexed areas with water, sewer, garbage, police and fire services.

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