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Candidates field questions on water, greenways, 7th Avenue

Candidates for the Hendersonville City Council are unanimous in their opposition to efforts by the Henderson County Board of Commissioners to encroach on the city’s independent authority over its water system.

No one advocates strongly for a big investment in improvements at Berkeley Mills Park and all are generally supportive of expanding greenways in the city.
The election pits council members Jerry Smith, who is seeking a third term, and Jeff Miller, seeking a second term, against challengers Debbie Roundtree and Diane Caldwell, who served on the council in the 1990s.
The candidates are:
• Diane Caldwell, 65, semi-retired accountant.
• Jeff Miller, 63, owner of Miller’s Fine Dry Cleaners (incumbent).
• Debbie Roundtree, 47, environmental services worker.
• Jerry Smith, 49, Hendersonville High School schoolteacher (incumbent).

Here are the candidates’ answers to the Lightning’s questions on issues the city faces.

Why are you running for the Hendersonville City Council?

Caldwell: I am running for City Council for the opportunity to help make Hendersonville with all of its good, better. I am an advocate for affordable housing; control of our water system; caring for our environment; maintaining low taxes while keeping the highest quality of services; and among other things, increasing businesses and continuous pursuit of redevelopment of the Seventh Avenue Historic District.

Miller: I bring to council the ability to explain things from a business side as well as understanding the impact as a resident. I am running for City Council for a second term to continue serving the city residents and businesses owners as I have for the last 31/2 years. I am a problem solver, City Council is a great place for a problem solver. My decisions are based on a common sense approach and always built around civil discussion with other council members and the public.

Roundtree: I am committed to knowing as much as I can about the management of the city where I grew up. I regularly attend City Council meetings. School Board meetings and the occasional County Commission meeting. As the former Precinct Chair of Hendersonville2, I get asked for advice and help a lot by my community who see me as the go-to person when they have issues and concerns. It seems to me that I can do a better job of helping if I can bring their voices directly to the Mayor and the rest of the City Council.

Smith: I am running for City Council for the following reasons. I want the City of Hendersonville government to continue being responsive and timely in meeting the day-to-day needs of Hendersonville’s families, visitors and companies. I want the City Council to continue conducting our meetings in a dignified and respectful manner. I want the City of Hendersonville to continue affecting positive changes in the standard of living for local residents while promoting economic growth in Hendersonville and Henderson County. I am a true believer in the value of government and I want the our city to work for the taxpayers we serve.

Henderson County commissioners have tried to force the city to merge its water and sewer system with the county and state Rep. Chuck McGrady filed a bill in the Legislature that would have put the city utility system under state control. Do you favor or oppose those efforts? Why?

Smith: My campaign materials contain this phrase “Fight to Maintain City Control of the Hendersonville Water and Sewer System”. I am completely against merging our water system with the County and against turning over control of our system to the state. I am frustrated with continuing efforts by local and state officials to create problems with the City of Hendersonville water and sewer system that simply do not exist. I will not be bullied or intimidated in defending these systems the city has spent decades building and maintaining for the betterment of all residents in Henderson County.

Roundtree: The County Commission is in favor of letting the State take over Hendersonville’s water systems. In other cities and states where this sort of deal has been done, generally the quality of the water and the service provided has gone down while the cost has gone up. I believe the city needs to maintain control over its own water and sewer systems resisting the appetite the Legislature seems to have for controlling everything. Over 50 percent of the people using the Hendersonville water supply live outside the city providing water and sewer to 65,000 city residents and over 21,000 county residents.

Miller: I’ve made no secret about the fact that I did not like how the county approached the city with its effort to “merge” water and sewer with the county. It started with an ambush as opposed to a conversation.There are usually several ways to accomplish similar results and I believe we are getting there through our stakeholders/advisory board that the City of Hendersonville was already creating well before the dust up occurred. I am most willing to continue healthy discussions on ways to improve the delivery of water and sewer services to everyone in Henderson County.

Caldwell: I oppose the efforts that the commissioners and Chuck McGrady have filed with the Legislature. Hendersonville now finds itself in the same position as the City of Ashevill apporximately six years ago. Hendersonville, over years have built a water and sewer system that has been a top-of-the-line system for many years. It has invested millions of dollars to ensure the system runs well and have supplied clean quality water for all of Henderson County and beyond. There are many reasons to oppose a bill to merge, one of which would be the loss the city would suffer financially for a system of such maginitude that would bring no return, plus the financial burden it would place of its residents and businesses.

Since city voters rejected a $6 million bond issue, little work has been done to improve Berkeley Mills Park. What are your top priorities for the park and how would you pay for them?

Caldwell: While the Berkeley Mills Park was an appreciated gift to the city, it came with an unexpected financial burden of upkeep, restoration, development. Because I am not really familiar with the needs of the park or the expense, I would have to abstain from priortizing its development until I have researched it more and I have not done that yet. I have been there asked a few questions, but not enough to commit.

Miller: The city doesn’t have $6 million dollars to fully build out the Berkley Mills Park and I don’t want to raise taxes significantly to pay off a huge bond. I’m not going to vote for that when we have so many other pressing needs. I have started the discussion and will continue to push doing something similar to what Flat Rock did so successfully. They secured private investors and built a park anyone would be proud of. I see great promise in using naming rights and public/private partnerships. Somebody want to kick this off with the Greenway extension?

Roundtree: When I plan my budget, I prioritize. I think the City needs to do the same. Voters rejected the bond issue leaving us without those funds, I feel we need to refocus our attention on the sink holes on the west side of town. Inspections indicate that the drains designed to manage rain water run-off are overwhelmed and collapsing. That system is old and urgently needs repair or replacement. Before we spend a single penny on Berkeley Mills Park, we need to figure out what needs to be done to address the problems of our crumbling infrastructure.

Smith: The City has put a lot of work into improving the baseball field and bathroom facilities at Berkeley. The City has extended the Oklawaha greenway to Berkeley. The City should build out part of Phase One of the Berkeley Master Plan that calls for a new playground with restroom facilities. The City should also build a continuation of the Oklawaha greenway that would circle the park and connect to our existing greenway. We should pay for these through our current capital projects appropriations process or invest in a low interest loan, like we do other capital projects.

What ideas do you have for the revitalization of the Historic Seventh Avenue District?

Smith: We now include the Seventh Avenue District as part of our overall strategic planning for Main Street. We have started a streetscape improvements program. We have provided several façade grants. We adopted tax incentives for private investors to purchase commercial buildings in the district and renovate them. We installed new hanging baskets this past summer as well as banners for the light poles. We are starting improvements on Maple Street, soon. We have made zoning changes to help businesses move onto Seventh Avenue. We hope our hotel project at the mill will help connect Seventh Avenue to Main Street.

Roundtree: You can’t talk about Seventh Avenue without considering the people of Old Brooklyn. They are inextricably joined. Doing anything with Seventh Avenue without asking the people who live there what they want and need isn’t wise. Affordable housing is the second biggest issue in Hendersonville today. If plans to level Green Meadows to make room for an upscale community go through, where will the people who live there go? No one has asked these people what works for them as if they don’t count. I feel strongly that we need to consider the needs of all.

Miller: We have some solid plans for streetscapes, just need to secure some loans and grants to help pay the projected $1.7 million price tag. Pretty streets alone won’t do it, we must continue to encourage businesses to locate there to draw more shoppers and investors into the area. Some blocks that are residential now will likely become commercial in time. This is good as long as we address housing for those that may be displaced. We are still optimistic about the new hotel on the Mill site being a catalyst for Seventh Ave revitalization.

Caldwell: To “revitalize” means to ”bring back to life.” With much hard work Seventh Avenue is beginning to show signs of ”life” again, but the total district itself still requires so much more. The District needs diversity, it needs to hear the voices of all the people of whom is expected to embrace it. The Seventh Avenue District ”is” different. It’s not Main Street. It’s an area for inclusiveness and the life of it is waiting for this to happen. Everybody is watching, everybody is waiting, everybody is wondering what they can do to make a difference. I say if it’s in your heart, if you have a desire, stand up, speak up, and make a step!!

Do you favor a countywide greenway system? If so, what in your view can the city do to move that project along?

Caldwell: I have no opposition to a countywide greenway system. I am always in favor of keeping as much of our earth green as possible. As with anything, I believe everything starts with communication. A conversation with substance. Through conversation decisions will be made to determine how this will happen (I would utilize the EPA, Tree Board and other like groups to bring forth information), how it will be paid for, who will be responsible for upkeep and how much, etc. Much talk needs to happen before decisions are made, and that’s the first thought in moving this proposed project along.

Miller: Yes, the bigger the better. There is proof that communities with lots of opportunities for biking and walking are in great demand and are experiencing increases in property value. Council needs to work at completing the trails within the city limits as well as working with the Ecusta Trail organizers to see that become a reality. The more we can preserve areas to mix it up with nature the healthier our community will be. I see a great opportunity for the city, county and municipalities working together’s very exciting!

Roundtree: Yes, I do. I recognize that greenways are good for the city on many levels, but I am also aware that we are facing some huge infrastructure issues that must come first in the City’s budget planning. Hard choices must be made if the city is to grow and thrive while meeting the needs of all her residents. Between the possibility that the city’s entire drainage system may need replacing and the proposed plans to widen Kanuga Road, I am not sure what the city can offer to “move along” greenway system beyond looking at zoning.

Smith: Yes, I do favor a countywide greenway system that connects to the Oklawaha Greenway. I was chairman of the Apple Country Greenway Commission prior to serving on City Council. The City can further this project by building a greenway at Berkeley Park. The City can also promote pedestrian and bike traffic by designating certain city streets as bikeways. The City can continue to advocate for an Ecusta Trail to Brevard. I will work with County Commissioners to create a comprehensive plan and support projects that connect to a County system. Greenways would be a great way to work for a common goal.