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Cornelius News

Five of these people will set our tax rate and make countless key decisions for the next two years

By Kate Stevens. More than 110 people came out to hear the men and women running for the Cornelius Board of Commissioners discuss local issues including quality of life, traffic and taxes during the “Old Fashioned BBQ & Candidate Forum” at Town Hall. Hosted by Business Today and Cornelius Today, the event gave the public a chance to hear directly from candidates and interact one-on-one before and after. And it was a truly special event, with teary eyes during a rousing rendition of the national anthem.

Board incumbents Jim Duke, Dave Gilroy, Mike Miltich and Thurman Ross Jr. face challengers Denis Bilodeau, Ava Callender, Michelle Ferlauto, Kurt Naas, William Rakatansky, Tricia Sisson and Richard Stilwell Jr. on the Nov. 7 ballot. The five highest vote-getters win.

The town board will be led by Mayor Pro-Tem Woody Washam who is running unopposed for mayor.

Callender could not attend the forum due to a death in her family.

Rev. David Judge, pastor of First Baptist Church in Cornelius, served as forum moderator. Questions were submitted via email and social media prior to the event. Rev. Ellison Bowman, pastor of Torrence Chapel AME Zion Church, gave the invocation. Cornelius Police Sgt. Jonathan Sarver led everyone in “The Star Spangled Banner.”

The event was also a fundraiser. Cornelius Today presented the founders of TopDeck Foundation—Bridget and Don Rainey—with a check for $1,000. TopDeck supports the Cornelius Police Department.

After opening statements, each candidate had time to touch on subjects concerning managing growth and maintaining the town’s quality of life, how they practice diversity or inclusion and if they support the proposed school bonds.

Ferlauto, a mother of two children who graduated from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools district, said she was against the bond proposal because none of the proposed projects benefit Cornelius.

Voters in Mecklenburg County will be asked Nov. 7 whether they support a $922 million bond referendum to borrow money for 10 new schools, replacement buildings for seven more and renovations at 12 more.

But there is nothing planned for schools in the Cornelius area, leading the current town Board of Commissioners to adopt a resolution opposing the bond proposal.

To better serve the area’s schools, Ferlauto agreed with an idea that has gained traction in the county’s growing suburban towns—separating from the CMS school system entirely.

“I really think that we need to look at possibly forming a Lake Norman County or branching off our schools,” said Ferlauto.

Forming a separate county was a thought echoed by Naas, founder of the anti-toll lane group Widen I-77.

“Fiscally, politically, aspirationally, we are drifting further and further apart from Charlotte,” said Naas.

Despite our different and growing needs, local taxpayers must send money each year to help fund the construction of a streetcar in Charlotte while leadership in Charlotte acted against the best interests of Lake Norman residents by entering into a 50 year-contract with developer Cintra to construct the toll roads leading from Mooresville to Charlotte, Naas said.

Naas then proposed the creation of an exploratory council to create the new Lake Norman County.

Rakatanksy, who served as a board commissioner from 1993-95, said he would manage the town’s quality of life by focusing on the most pressing issue facing Cornelius, which he said is transportation.

Town transportation needs are not being met, partly because Charlotte has overwhelming leverage on the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization, the organization that plans large-scale transportation projects for the region, including the I-77 toll-lane project, said Rakatansky.

Rakatansky said he would manage growth by insisting development take a backseat to transportation needs for a period of time which would improve quality of life since transportation affects all the services the town provides.

Candidates also discussed how they practice diversity or inclusion.

Ross encouraged the formation of small groups to come together to discuss issues—especially uncomfortable ones—facing the nation and Cornelius.

“We need to look for diversity from the board and diversity in our committees and diversity in our community so we get to know each other, because when we don’t know each other, we won’t talk to each other,” said Ross.

Sisson said she values diversity in the workforce of her small business, The Range at Lake Norman, and was awarded the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce’s Diversity Council’s “Small Business Diversity Champion” award in 2012.

She said Cornelius’ population is made up of 12 percent non-white residents and 51 percent female residents. “I believe the Cornelius town board should reflect that diversity as well,” Sisson said.

The candidates also had the chance to discuss tax increases at the forum.

Duke and Gilroy said they did not support a future tax increase to build or widen more roads in Cornelius.

Duke said there is a bond package coming forward that will support the town’s roads needs.

In 2013, Cornelius voters passed a multi-million bond package for road improvements with several projects designed to ease traffic on the congested Catawba Avenue.

“We don’t need to raise those taxes, guys,” Duke said. Gilroy agreed. “There’s no need to raise our municipal tax rate,” Gilroy said.

Stilwell, however, said he would support a tax increase and wished commissioners raised taxes 10 years ago to give the town better roads and more “niceties” today.

“I don’t see any difference if you raise it a penny or two to fix what you really need to do,” said Stilwell.

The candidates re-visited transportation issues throughout the forum.

Bilodeau said his opposition to the I-77 toll-lane project was noted in the Mercator report and said that he believes Cintra has a bad track record.

Instead of the toll lanes, Bilodeau wants to finish the lanes without the tolls, he said.

With so many state road projects in Cornelius over the next four years, incumbent Militich said he wants to start looking at what the town will need in the next decade by forming a traffic advisory discussion group.

The forum was sponsored by Aquesta Bank, Dixie Dean with Allen Tate Realtors, KS Audio Video and Raymer-Kepner Funeral Home.

What hasn’t been discussed?

Denis Bilodeau: As a two-term PARC commissioner, I am keenly aware of the need to plan for and obtain land for future parks and greenways. As Cornelius is close to full build-out, it is time to identify greenspace to keep up with demand. PARC has identified the need for up to five additional neighborhood parks similar to Torrence Chapel and Smithville Parks. We should also add a “maintenance” line item to protect our investment in park facilities and equipment. Parks, bikeways and greenways are consistantly identified as top quality-of-life amenities by our citizens.

What are your top priorities?

Ava Callender: Protecting property values through safety, low density development and improved traffic patterns. I favor street designs and connectors that promote walking and safe cycling. I will insist on adequate Arts Center parking.

I will not vote for mega gas stations that bring crime, toxic benzene fumes and a sharp decrease to neighboring home values. “No” to tolls and “Yes” to extended express bus service! I am honored by your support, and ask for your vote.

Top 3 priorities.

Jim Duke: 1. Aggressively address congestion and traffic issues by funding road projects with a sensible 2018 bond package with no tax increase.

2. Start immediately to protect the wallets of our citizens before the massive 2019 re-valuation comes our way.  Do this by organizing a task force of our best minds and communicators to act before, not after it hits.

3. Preserve, protect and enhance our parks and greenways with a solid recurring maintenance budget.

School bonds.

Michelle Ferlauto: Our kids deserve better than being left out of a billion dollar bond referendum. To add insult to injury, CMS is stuffing our kids’ backpacks with pro-bond propaganda even though our area won’t see much from the package. Our parents deserve better than being forced to choose between relocating, paying for private school or praying their children get into a charter school. Pay or pray should not be the only choices for education.

Top 3 priorities.

Dave Gilroy: 1. Maintain the lowest tax rate in NC for towns our size. This requires slowing the growth of Cornelius’s Personnel & Operating spending

2. Constrain residential growth (especially high density, down-market multi-family projects)

3. Limit government to essential services and prudent and timely investment in transportation infrastructure, schools, and parks.

On diversity.

Mike Miltich: For over 30 years, I have seen 20-30 unique individuals each working day. I’ve seen surnames that I recognize, and descendants of slaves, and have talked with each about their family history. I see residents from every Cornelius neighborhood, of all ages, races, socioeconomic status and sexual orientation. Learning what is important to each helps me fight for every citizen at Town Hall. I care for all unconditionally, giving my best effort to each.

On managing growth.

Kurt Naas: We must make our existing infrastructure more efficient with modern traffic light technology, something I’ve worked on for three years. This Spring Cornelius is scheduled to have a start-of-the-art, integrated traffic light system on Catawba, the first of its kind the North Carolina.

We need to fix CRTPO. We’ll never get property priority as long as Charlotte’s delegate counts for 46 percent of the vote.

We need citizen input in how our transportation dollars are spent by reconstituting the Transportation Advisory Board.

On I-77.

William Rakatansky: The construction should proceed, but delete the tolling equipment. Stopping construction results in many practical issues needing to be resolved, including:  stabilizing the construction site; preparing as-built documents defining construction completion; prequalifying bidders (NOT CINTRA), receiving/analyzing bids, awarding the contract and mobilizing the new contractor’s equipment.  All of this would take an indeterminate amount of time and unknown cost. Therefore, I would not stop the construction, but I would heavily advocate for “complete and delete.”

On Regionalism.

Thurman Ross, Jr: We must continue to realize the​re is power in numbers and keep our communication open with our neighboring towns. We must realize that we all have some of the same issues that affects our region and work not only with our neighboring towns but with county, state and federal government​s. We all have different relationships with various persons or entities and by working collaboratively, we will only benefit from regionalism.

On diversity.

Tricia Sisson: I value diversity in my workforce and in the teams I manage, and as such, our business, The Range at Lake Norman, was awarded the LKN Chamber Diversity Council Small Business Diversity Champion in 2012.  I also served on the LKN Chamber Diversity Council from 2013 to 2016.  12% of the Cornelius population is non-white, and 51% of our population is female. I believe the Cornelius Town Board should reflect the diversity of our community.

On diversity.

Richard Stilwell: I love Cornelius. I love this region and I love the state of NC! Why?​ Simply put it is the people. You are my people, all of you, and I want only the best for you. You all have equal rights to live in a safe, clean, prosperous environment and I will make sure you have that. I humbly ask for your precious and powerful vote. Thank you from my heart. De Omnibus Dubitandum. La plume est plus forte que l’epee. De Oppresso Liber.