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Cornelius News

Let’s talk: Candidates outline positions on top issues

The candidates running for the Cornelius Board of Commissioners discussed local issues including quality of life, traffic and tax increases during the “Old Fashioned BBQ & Candidate Forum” at Town Hall on Friday.

The forum, hosted by Business Today and Cornelius Today, allows the public to hear directly from candidates and interact one-on-one before and after.

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-seat Board of Commissioners will be led by Mayor Pro-Tem Woody Washam who is running unopposed for mayor.

Callender was the only candidate who did 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 is also a fundraiser. Cornelius Today presented the founders of TopDeck Foundation—Bridget and Don Rainey—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 recent 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.

Don Rainey, Jim Engel, Nathan Ziegler served BBQ

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

Despite the two locale’s different and growing needs, local taxpayers still must send money each year to help fund the construction of a streetcar in Charlotte while leadership in Charlotte acted against the interest 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 is transportation.

Town transportation needs are not being met, partly because Charlotte has such a large vote 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.

Dixie Dean served, too

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.

Other candidates promoted how they practice diversity or inclusion.

Ross encouraged the formation of small groups to come together to discuss issues, even uncomfortable problems, affecting 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.

Stilwelll, however, said he would support a tax increase and wished commissioners raised it 10 years ago to give the towns 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, Raymer-Kepner Funeral Home and KS Audio Video.