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VOTER GUIDE: Hendersonville City Council Q&A

In the Hendersonville election the only thing we know for sure is that voters will put a woman on the City Council, joining Mayor Barbara Volk.

Incumbent Steve Caraker, seeking a fourth term on the City Council, is joined on the ballot by challengers Jennifer Hensley, Debbie Roundtree and Lyndsey Simpson. Mayor pro tem Ron Stephens is not seeking re-election. City Council members are elected in at-large voting. Caraker and Hensley live in the Westside Historic District. Roundtree lives on Cedar Bluff Drive. Simpson lives off Spartanburg Highway.
Caraker, 65, just retired as project manager for T.P. Howard, a large Fairview-based plumbing contractor. Hensley, 40, is a chiropractor who owns her own practice. Roundtree, 49, works in environmental services and as a private duty care-giver. Simpson, 32, owns a graphic design business, LS Creative.

Why are you running for election to the Hendersonville City Council?
CARAKER: I have been working on several things over the years that are coming to completion and I would like to make sure they are finished. I also would like to help the work in coming to terms with utility rate equalization and infrastructure growth. Several larger projects that will enhance our City are coming, and I have the experience and expertise to be helpful with those.
HENSLEY: I moved here upon graduation as a doctor with very little. I worked nights and weekends waiting tables to build my business. With hard work and determination, I have grown a successful business over 16 years and have been able to give back to this community I love so much. I LOVE raising a family here. I also have aging family members in this community that I am committed to protecting as well. I will represent this community with compassion and understanding. I will lead with a great business sense, and thoughtful approach.
ROUNDTREE: Hendersonville is a diverse city, and to mirror our city, we need diversity among the members of council. This will assist the members to see, recognize and accommodate the needs of all people regardless of race, creed and background whom live here in the city together. Being 4th generation native, I have experienced, lived, worked and walked alongside others that I am striving to represent in the City. I bring history and knowledge of the past and present to Council and will to make sure that the history is represented and incorporated in planning for the future of our city.
SIMPSON: In a word: balance. In order to have a healthy foundation for Hendersonville to grow properly, the composition of the council should reflect the whole community, regardless of their stage of life — the council needs to serve the entire population. The perspective and skill set I bring uniquely qualifies me to do that: to see things with a broader horizon, to develop creative solutions, to build on our history and capitalize on the future, so that we can build a community where every resident can thrive.

What is your position on greenways? Specifically, what kind of action and/or investment would you favor (if any) to boost the Ecusta Trail?
SIMPSON: Greenways are important for two main reasons. They offer a higher quality of life for residents and they are a great driver of tourism and economic development. Because of the natural beauty of our area, we have a unique opportunity to maximize the benefits of the rails to trails concept through the Ecusta Trail. I understand that there is still a lot of work to do, but I applaud the tireless efforts of everyone involved thus far. I am looking forward to bringing ideas and working with the team to help make this dream a reality.
ROUNDTREE: Greenways help to improve health and quality of life for our citizens. We are blessed with a variety of such with easy access. These areas enable families to have safe areas to ride bikes and spend time together outside. With current awards of $6.4 Million, as a collective we should continue to seek funds for construction and maintenance in its initial stages. Since the project will bring in additional tax revenue and creation of jobs within both counties, I feel there should be a match of investment and resources in regard to funding from both counties, without major tax increases.
HENSLEY: I am an active supporter for the expansion and creation of Greenways. I Vice Chair our County’s Parks and Recreation Board and served on the Greenway Expansion Committee. Approval by county commissioners for the Greenway Masterplan in April, has enabled us to apply for the State PARTF grant. This is an excellent way to pay for greenways. We also are seeing Ecusta Trail come to fruition! Our residents want safe trails, healthy lifestyle activities, and alternative forms of transportation. Watching The Swamp Rabbit Trail create a thriving economy for Travelers Rest, gives encouragement for Hendersonville’s own economic success.

CARAKER: I have always voted to move the Oklawaha Greenway forward, and any expansion. I’m also a big supporter of the Ecusta Trail, besides the obvious health benefits, the Ecusta Trail would provide another great economic engine of small business for the County as a whole.

There has been a lot of public discussion of proposed road improvements. What is your position on (as currently designed) the (1) Kanuga Road widening, (2) the White Street and White Street Extension improvement and (3) the King/Church/Main roundabout?
HENSLEY: Growth and change are not easy. We must grow responsibly and respectfully. Some of these needs may not be immediate, but we must look to the long term for what we WILL need. Our city’s roads and stormwater issues are a prime example of what happens with deferred maintenance. We must have these conversations, work together for solutions so we are not in dire need when problems do arise. I understand private property issues and hope to be voice as a local business and homeowner. I value protection of our assets and hope by working together there can be compromise.

ROUNDTREE: Road improvements are a very important service that we need but not at the cost of our citizens. Currently the Kanuga project will cause home owners to lose a portion of their properties. We are facing the same with the White Street project. Round-a-bouts have proven to work in major cities but without full community education of why, we will never be able to have mass understanding of the need and importance. These projects have already been approved, so going forth I feel we need to be supportive of the residents in these neighborhoods and areas (business and residential).

SIMPSON: I believe that through thoughtful and proactive planning, we can ensure that we preserve our small town charm while being able to expand to accommodate new growth. The proposed road improvements would decrease thru traffic on neighboring roads and increase safety for drivers and pedestrians. The increase in safety for our community will ensure a healthier commute through our city. However, it is important that we achieve solutions that are both sustainable not just now, but for many years into the future - solutions that are keenly sensitivity to those that are most impacted by the changes.

CARAKER:I am, and have been for 12 years the City’s representative for traffic issues. We have managed to develop a really good relationship with DOT over that time. Traffic issues are always emotional, but given our relationship with DOT, we have been able to lessen a lot of the impacts of these projects. The three projects mentioned have all been reviewed several times by us and the State. Before they are actually built I expect them to change a bit again we have to keep the conversation going with DOT to keep the impacts of these projects as minimal as possible.

The City Council directed City Manager John Connet to meet with county officials on a plan to achieve rate equity (equal rates) for in-city and outside-city water customers. This could mean that water rates go up for city users and down for out-of-city users. Do you favor equal rates?
ROUNDTREE: The residents of the city already hold an additional tax burden over the residents of the county. I am against adding additional fees and rates to those living inside of the city limits. As residents of the city limits have a higher property tax that should be used to offset any increase in these fees. We are extending services to others at the expense of our city residents. I would fight for a happy medium that would not add additional monetary responsibility to city residents. I am not for or against but willing to work for a great solution for those residing in the city limits.
SIMPSON:One of the benefits of paying city taxes is a lower water rate; that should not change. Plus, the city built the water system and continues to handle system maintenance and expansion. While I am in favor of at least exploring rate equity, I believe we need to make sure that whatever decision is reached is beneficial for everyone. While it might be easier to have every water customer at the same rate, it just doesn’t make sense to try and achieve rate equity for the mere purpose of giving out-of-city users lower rates.
CARAKER: The City formed the Hendersonville Water and Sewer Advisory Committee in 2018 to address this and define what kind of growth in infrastructure we need to be prepared for in the future, I chair this committee presently. We have proposed a 10-year plan to take us too much better water rate parity. The enterprise fund that keeps these systems running needs time to adjust the funding stream, and we need to know just what the county and the municipalities are expecting in their areas for growth. With that we can set up the new rate structure going forward to take care of expansion and treatment capacity.
HENSLEY: Our leaders had no idea this area would see the growth we’ve experienced. Seventy-five of the water customers live in the county, and they are paying a much higher rate for water than those in the city. Maintaining a massive system that requires extensive and expensive maintenance currently falls solely on the city. With my long-term commitment to Hendersonville, I understand having a financial investment and having to maintain it. I look forward to working with our county commissioners to achieve a fair and equitable service to all our residents, while protecting what the city of Hendersonville has built.

County commissioners say the county should have more authority over the city water and sewer system because utility extensions tend to drive growth. Would you favor a change to the current water and sewer system ownership, such as a countywide or regional water authority?
CARAKER: We have proven to the County that the City provides a very high quality product at a very low cost to the user. We have also proven our system is responsive and quickly reactive to customers. The County’s concern is that the City can control growth through control of utilities. In recent conversations with the County, we have offered to not annex land that proposed sewer lines crossed in order to serve a major project. The City is not interested in growing outside the existing ETJ boundaries’ or controlling growth there. Our tax base cannot provide the other services that come with annexation at this time.
HENSLEY: I know our community and its diverse needs. I have participated on many boards and continue to attend these important meetings to be knowledgeable and prepared. I have researched regional water authorities, as well as met with city and county leaders to understand both sides. The City of Hendersonville owns an extensive and very valuable water system. I look forward to the opportunity to come to the table together, and create a joint solution that will drive industrial and residential growth to the county, therefore creating many jobs and more affordable housing.
ROUNDTREE: For me to be able to favor more controls being given to County Commissioners, there would need to be equal responsibilities delegated to the residents of the county. These responsibilities would be responsible increases in taxes
(not city residents), to mirror water authority on annual taxes. This increase would be treated like the county tax is treated in the city but would be used for “water system/authority”. As I have previously mentioned this new tax would not be applied to city limit residents.
SIMPSON: The battle over the water system has gone on for too long - we all want our area to be prosperous and sustainable and to keep the quality of life that we enjoy. Currently, I do not think a countywide or regional authority is the answer. I am in favor of maintaining local control and am committed to working with local staff and officials to reach a decision that benefits everyone. It is imperative that the city and county find a way to work together as we are all working toward the same goal - a great lifestyle for our residents.

What other priorities would you have for the city if you are elected?
SIMPSON: If elected, my priorities are: 1) Preserve our small-town feel while preparing for growth; 2) Move Hendersonville toward sustainability; and 3) Strengthen our economy and bolster local businesses through workforce housing. All require thoughtful and proactive planning and working closely with state and county officials to ensure that we are making the best decisions for all residents. It is imperative to not just look at each project individually, but to look at how they impact each other. We must look at things from a ‘bird’s eye view’ to ensure that all projects are working together properly to achieve our long- and short-term goals.
HENSLEY: Anyone driving through town can see the need for our roads to be improved. Traffic and unsafe driving surfaces impede our ability to grow safely and be desirable for industry, which creates jobs and affordable housing. I will support our public safety. We support them by giving them adequate resources to provide the high quality of life saving services, to ensure ALL our residents are safe. Finally, I aim to explore options to diversify the city’s revenue. With expected growth, we need to cover the cost of rising expenses. I do not support putting that burden solely on the taxpayers.
ROUNDTREE: I would like to take a stance on housing/homelessness issues, community education of government business, responsible zoning, the growth of our city (but not at the expense of our current residents), and diversity and inclusion in all areas of city government. Hendersonville has been home to me and my family all my life and the people of Hendersonville matter to me. I want to make the people more of a top priority, and make sure they stay the primary focus throughout all projects for growth and business if I am elected.
CARAKER: The City is on the cusp of some fairly major steps forward in the next few years. On the horizon are, the new Police Headquarters building, Fire Station #3, a Hotel on the Dogwood parking lot, a Downtown parking structure and a rework of Fire Station #1 in our future. All that, and adding the continued turnaround of the Seventh Avenue area, shows me that Hendersonville is getting ready to turn into a better version shortly. With all that ahead, I think my experience, and background suits me to be one of the people to help this to fruition.

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