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VOTER GUIDE: Mills River Town Council

Mills River has contested elections for the District 1 and District 2 Town Council seats. The District 3 seat will be filled by former council member Shanon Gonce, who chose not to seek re-election four years ago after serving three terms.

It’s noteworthy that Mills River will have a new mayor come December. The Town Council, not voters, elects a mayor from among the five council members. Chae Davis, who represented District 2, did not file for re-election.

Running for the District 1 seat are Mayor pro tem Brian Caskey, 50, who owns a tutoring business with his wife, Stacey; and Sandra Goode, 58, a surgery desk tech, certified medical assistant and certified nursing assistant at Advent Health.
Running in District 2 are James Cantrell, 32, range manager at Van Wingerden International; Dennis Grass, who is on the ballot but had tried to drop out; and incumbent Brian S. Kimball, 44, operations manager at Kimball Communications Inc.
“After a great deal of prayerful consideration, I had decided to withdraw my name from the ballot for the Mills River Town Council election,” Grass, a business consultant who has had a career in commercial development and health care technology, said in an email. “I spoke with the Board of Elections and found that it is too late to remove my name from the ballot, so we will see where things land. Since I haven’t done a measurable amount of campaigning…if I win then I guess it will be an indication that I’m supposed to serve and would not refuse.”




Why are you running for election to the Mills River Town Council?


Caskey: I have served on the Town Council for the past four years, including the last two as mayor pro tem. During that time, I have pushed hard for forward-thinking policies that will allow Mills River to protect its green spaces and rural lifestyle. In May, we passed a Comprehensive Land Use Plan, which is a big first step in allowing us to do that. We’ve lowered the tax rate on our residents while attracting hundreds of high-paying jobs in skilled industries, and we are now the economic powerhouse of Henderson County. We need to keep that momentum going.

Goode: I am running for Mills River Town Council to help the people of Mills River have a voice in our future and how the town grows. I would like to be able to reach out to the citizens and let them know what is being proposed that may affect them and get their input.



Cantrell: I am running for Mills River Town Council because I have true respect and heart for the community I was raised in. There are aspects of this town that set us apart from neighboring communities, and I would be disappointed if we as a community lost sight of those. That is why agriculture representation is a priority of mine in this election. It is what this town was founded on and why many of the residents are able enjoy a sense of small town life. If I’m not elected, it will be the first term that ag is not represented on both the town Council and the planning board when the Mayor’s term is up. There is no perfect solution to farmland preservation in Mills River, but just having someone like myself who is actively involved in agriculture to vocalize its importance and all that it brings to our community is needed.
Kimball: I was born and raised in Mills River and have seen many changes over the years. I want everyone to have the experience of living in a strong and rewarding community. It is time for Mills River to start facing our issues head on. We need a pro-active, transparent local government that values and represents all members of our community. This election is arguably the most important in the history of our Town and will define our future. I am devoted to ensuring Mills River does not become another small town that is a casualty to unplanned growth.

The Mills River Planning Board, Mills River Fire & Rescue chief, manufacturers and economic development recruiters have expressed the need for more affordable (workforce) housing in Mills River. What if anything could the Town Council do to encourage builders to offer affordable housing, such as higher density zoning?


Goode: With the cost of land being what it is and the cost of constructing a home with water and sewer I don’t see that there is affordable housing. If you try to buy a home it is already constructed you have to contend with bidding wars. I have spoken with many people and they all have the same answer. They do not want high density development as in apartment buildings and trailer parks. They do, however, support neighborhoods that are appropriately placed.

Caskey: Workforce housing is defined that which is affordable to households in Henderson County where combined earnings are at least $55,945. Teachers and firefighters fit that basic demographic. The citizens of Mills River indicated a strong desire for workforce housing during our many Comprehensive Plan input sessions – and we absolutely want the people who work here to be able to live here. We’ve created zones of opportunity for higher-density housing, but the developers who have come before Council with plans to develop ‘workforce housing’ have instead presented us with ‘luxury housing.’ We are waiting for the right projects to come along.


Kimball: I served on the Planning Board for nine years and was part of several requests to previous Councils to address this issue. Due to inaction in the past by the Town, a limited inventory of land with both water and sewer connections and various watershed/floodplain regulations, we will have to look to other options besides higher density. Mills River does not have the resources to handle this issue independently, but we still must be an active part of the solution. Mills River will have to work with other local governmental bodies and third parties to create these opportunities.
Cantrell: I agree that we need to entertain affordable housing that may include high density zoning that can’t be used as ag land. I have voted in favor of this during my time on the planning board. I think it is important to note that higher density does not always mean affordable housing. I think it’s important that we respect the land owners’ rights to a free market. Meaning we can’t zone partials to lower land values without previously asking.

Mills River is seeing a tremendous amount of growth. What kinds of amenities or city services if any do you foresee the town needing to offer in the coming years?



Caskey: One of the services that we’ve implemented this year is road and street maintenance under the Powell Bill. Joining this program will allow us to fund the construction of the Mills River Valley Trail and other urban greenways, creating an amenity that industrial employers already want to offer to their employees – but which will also serve as a small business incubator and attractor for bakeries, restaurants, adventure outfitters, bike shops, coffee shops, and other small businesses. Growth at the current rate is sustainable, but only with intelligent, engaged leadership and a constant eye on expanding the tax base.

Goode: We have a very nice park with a dog park, baseball field, soccer field, tennis courts, basketball courts, covered shed and picnic tables. We have a charging stations for electric cars, river access, walking trail and a library. I do support the park and its future plans to grow.


Cantrell: The amenities the town needs to offer to the residents of Mills River is finishing the ones we currently have, like the parks, before offering or planning new ones. Many residents, including my family, enjoy time at the park; it’s a great addition to our town, but it does need to be completed. In my opinion we need to offer more amenities to our residents rather than our staff. There has been mention of building a new Town Hall. What a disservice we would be doing as elected officials if a “Taj Mahal” were built and finished before the parks.

Kimball: The Town received overwhelming response during its Parks Master Plan for the inclusion of community programs. These programs would serve our community and create opportunities for fellowship within our youth, middle and senior aged adult populations. The Town will need to add a Programming Director to facilitate these programs and I support that funding. It will not be a new service, but the Town will have to readdress its law enforcement contract. The Town will need to increase the number of officers on duty to avoid lengthy response times and ensure safety in our growing community.


What other priorities would you have for the town if you are elected?


Goode: if I am elected I would like to have an open door policy so that all residents can feel free to contact me and know that I care about their needs. I will work to keep them informed of what is going on around them and to maintain the reason why they chose to come here. I will work to help keep taxes to a minimum, minimize the government in their daily lives and support the businesses that we have. Maintain our agriculture, our family values and support our local businesses.

Caskey: Revisiting the sheriff’s contract is a big one, because the people of Mills River are essentially being double taxed for law enforcement services. Looking at sustainability, especially through grant opportunities that benefit the town (we’ve installed solar panels which defray our energy costs by 77%, we’ve installed electric car chargers, we’ve taken advantage of a streambank restoration grant) are creative ways to improve our community while someone else pays for it. And putting existing farmland into conservation or recreation status, using a portion of our healthy town revenues, is something that we must look at doing, starting right now.



Kimball: The Town was created with a goal of preserving its agriculture farmland. Yet, to date, a Town-funded program does not exist. Councilman Austin and I have started the process for creation of a voluntary program and if elected, we can ensure this is completed. Leaders are to be in the community listening to citizens and their concerns. I am committed to creating “Town Hall” style meetings that allow citizens and the Town to share dialog and explain local government operations. Open communication, a transparent government and citizen outreach will foster a stronger community and a government that serves citizens.

Cantrell: I want to see my community continue in a direction that is beneficial to the residents that love this slower, small town pace of life. It’s really a hidden treasure that if we lose sight of what we have, my three young children won’t be able to experience the Mills River we have today. If elected I will be making decisions not only for today, but also for the next generation’s future in this town. Lastly we deserve transparency from our local government, which seems to be lacking in this past year. The residents of Mills River deserve that from its elected officials.