WILMINGTON — New Hanover County Commissioner incumbent Rob Zapple is running for reelection. The commissioners are at-large representatives and do not have specific districts, but encompass the entire county.
There are currently two seats up for election, one being Zapple’s, the other is Skip Watkins who is also running for reelection.
Zapple is one of two Democrat candidates, the second being Julia Olson-Boseman. Watkins and Eric Lytle are running as Republicans.
Below are Zapple’s responses to Port City Daily questions.
What experience do you have that leads you to believe you will make for a good County Commissioner?
I have been serving our community as a County Commissioner since 2014. I have not wasted a single moment since being elected in fighting for those issues that I believe will make our County stronger and better. I have worked hard to increase County support for education – from Pre-K through Community College – and have fought every year to include increases in our County budget for county supplemental, per-pupil spending.
I have been a strong advocate for the protection of our unique coastal environment, opposing offshore drilling, supporting our Coastal Storm Damage Reduction programs (beach re-nourishment) and pushing our State Legislators and DEQ to quit playing politics with our water and help us install the necessary equipment to make our drinking water safe – these are all issues that I have advanced over the past 4 years. I support the efforts to expand water, sewer and broadband internet infrastructure throughout our County to allow development in a coordinated manner and I support the policies that will lead to the return of the film industry to NHC.
My roots within the non-profit sector in NHC are deep, as is my support for the important role these volunteer based organizations play in providing critical services and opportunities for all citizens.
What are your biggest concerns facing New Hanover County?
Two concerns that I have are:
- Clean Drinking Water – It is unacceptable that our citizens have to worry about the potential of ill health effects every time they turn on the faucet in their house to drink, cook, wash, or bathe in the water that runs through their pipes. The NC DEQ should force Chemours to stop all production of GenX and halt the discharge of any per-fluorinated compound into our air, ground, and waterways. For the health and safety of all of our citizens, CFPUA should install the appropriate filtration system, as soon as possible, to remove GenX and all per-fluorinated compounds from our water and hold Chemours financially responsible for all costs – not the ratepayers.
- Housing – Our community needs to address and find solutions to the immediate problem of a lack of housing in our community caused by the displacement of families and individuals in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. The FEMA Direct Housing program will provide temporary shelter assistance for up to 170 days and FEMA recreational vehicles and manufactured housing units for up to 18 months but a long-range solution to this problem is up to New Hanover County and the City of Wilmington. We will need to work together and with the development community to create new housing options for those that have been priced out of an increasingly expensive housing market. Many of our most important county and city employees – firemen, school teachers, nurses, sheriff deputies, and policemen have great difficulty finding housing that they can afford in our county. We need to fix that.
What do you hope to achieve if you are elected and how do you plan on achieving these goals?
The expansion of water, sewer, and broadband internet access throughout the County will help us manage our growth and create more predictable development. The expansion of our infrastructure and support for our educational institutions will attract more businesses to our area and build on the existing entrepreneurial climate in NHC.
I plan to continue fighting for increases in our Pre-K spending until every 3 or 4 year old in New Hanover County has the opportunity to access a Pre-K education program. I will continue to advocate for expanding and maintaining open green space in our County – to help protect and maintain our quality of life in NHC.
What is your stance on the constant development in the county that many residents feel is out of control (these are statements we get from our readers frequently)
The County spent a substantial amount of the taxpayers’ money and countless hours of staff time in developing NHC’s first Comprehensive Future Land Use Plan, adopted in 2016. This is a roadmap for future smart growth and development in NHC. The Comprehensive Plan provides the plan for growth and the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) that is currently being updated and revised, provides the enforcement tools necessary for implementation of the plan.
The County Commissioners need to follow the Comprehensive Plan and not make exceptions for individual projects that do not fit the criteria. I am confident that if we follow the Comprehensive Plan and provide support for the expansion and maintenance of our infrastructure – along with continued pressure on the NCDOT for road improvements that we can continue with a vibrant economy and support the anticipated growth in our population, without impacting our quality of life.
What is your “day job” if you have one? If you are retired or currently not working, what did you do in the past?
I am a NC licensed General Contractor and owner of a small business that specializes in designing and building custom homes, historic restorations and small commercial buildings.
I am also co-owner with my wife of another small business, Carolina Gymnastics Academy, that provides recreational and competitive gymnastics instruction and other educational programming for children and young adults.
Do you believe current leadership at the county level is doing a good job for the residents of New Hanover County? If not, what would you like to see changed?
I believe the citizens of NHC are being well served by their county government but there is significant room for improvement as the County continues to grow. The emergency response to the recent hurricane is an excellent example of the important role that the County plays in the lives of the 230,000 citizens that live in NHC. Through proper planning for the storm, providing emergency services, rescues, and shelters during the hurricane and now working to assist in the recovery and rebuilding efforts for our businesses, schools and vital infrastructure, our County government has shown how important they are to the safety and welfare of our citizens during an emergency situation. There is more that we can do as a Commission in working with the City of Wilmington on growth and development policies and partnering with our neighboring counties to advocate for common goals at the legislature in Raleigh and with the federal government.
New Hanover County is acknowledged as the economic engine of southeast NC, yet, we do little to accept that leadership position and to address the large regional issues such as transportation, expansion of commerce, housing, healthcare, combating the opioid and prescription drug crisis, and the creation of a regional hub for business innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development. New Hanover County can, and should be, a regional leader in all of these areas but we need broader vision and leadership that understands the benefits and importance of regional engagement to make that happen.
New Hanover County is lacking in space and more growth is taking place in the northern part of the county, how would you like to see the county handle this growth?
The largest areas of undeveloped land are in the northern part of NHC. Managing the development of this area of our county is critical to the success of our future. Installing adequate infrastructure – water and sewer – is important for the protection of our environment, aquifers, and will help guide development in a coordinated manner. Included in infrastructure needs is the installation of broadband internet lines and increasing the capacity of our schools in this area while advocating for NCDOT to provide adequate roads to handle increases in traffic. These are all a part of the smart growth policies that are included in NHC’s 2016 Comprehensive Future Land Use Plan – we need to follow the plan and not allow for major exceptions.
What is your fiscal policy for taxpayer money? Would you like to see taxes increase/decrease/stay the same? Do you believe the county should invest in more or less social programs with tax money?
I believe that the taxpayers of NHC should get the full value of every dollar that they pay in taxes and that property taxes should be kept as low as possible. NHC recently received a, ‘AAA Bond’ rating, the highest rating possible, for the sixth year in a row, from the national bond rating agencies. This rating allows NHC to borrow money at the lowest possible rate for major projects, saving the taxpayers millions of dollars and is a clear reflection of the good financial stewardship that our County government is providing.
NHC provides outstanding services to the citizens of our county while consistently ranking as one of the lowest in property tax cost among its ten peer counties across the State. New Hanover County has continued to grow and financially prosper while maintaining a high quality of life for its population – all of which I have worked hard over the past four years to support and will continue to do so in the future. I support County funding of non-profit agencies that add value to our lives and provide services to our community at a fraction of the cost that the County would have to pay for similar work.
The county is working on a UDO to guide development, will this policy include environmental regulations? Do you think the county is doing enough to protect its environmental resources?
The Unified Development Ordinance is currently under revision for the first time since many of our ordinances were written in the late 1960’s. The NHC Planning Board and NHC Planning staff have held multiple public sessions to keep the public informed of the process and to allow public input. There are several more sessions scheduled in the future that will allow all interested parties to see the progress of this methodical and highly detailed process and provide comments to our staff. A goal of the revised UDO is not to create additional regulations but to clearly state what types of development are allowable and compatible in different areas of NHC. The unique coastal environment of New Hanover County will be taken into consideration in the development of these ordinances so that environmentally sensitive areas, including flood hazard areas, coastal estuaries and established wetlands are protected. The development of a more robust countywide stormwater ordinance will also play an important part in the future development of northern portions of New Hanover County.
The County has partnered with the United States Geological Survey to create a network of monitoring wells throughout NHC in order to collect the data necessary for an analysis of the two main aquifers, the Castle Hayne aquifer and the Pee Dee aquifer, that supply drinking and irrigation water for NHC. The purpose of this study is to better understand the extent of the aquifers, how best to protect surface recharge areas and to help our County staff develop strategies that will ensure the future resiliency of this critical natural resource.
I am opposed to offshore seismic testing and drilling for oil and natural gas. The risk to our environment, our coastal communities, tourism economy, and fishing industry is too great for such small benefit. A potential spill or leak from oil exploration and production off our coast would devastate NHC’s economy and cause significant harm to our most valued natural resources – our beaches, waterways, marshes, and estuaries. Our nation’s production of oil and natural gas is already at an all-time high with no signs of decline in the near future. The known resources of oil and natural gas off the coast of NC are minimal and would be very expensive and dangerous to extract.