Monday, August 15, 2022

Primary 2020: New Hanover Board of Commissioners, Democratic candidate Don Betz [Free read]

Donald Henry Betz, Democratic candidate for the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners. (Port City Daily photo / File)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The primary election on March 3 will narrow a crowded field of candidates running for the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners from six Democrats and nine Republicans to three from each party; winners in the primary will compete for three open seats in November.

Of three Board of Commissioners candidates with terms ending in 2020, only one — Jonathan Barfield — is running for reelection. Commissioners Woody White and Patricia Kusek have both opted not to seek additional terms.

All candidates in the 2020 primary were asked the same questions; candidates were not given word limits and were encouraged to broach any subject we didn’t ask about in the final two questions. Answers were edited only for typographical errors and for formatting.

Don Betz, Democratic candidate

1. Tell us a little about your background: how long have you lived in the area? What profession do you work in / come from?

My family and I were transferred to Wilmington from New York in 1975 with Federal Paper Board Company located on North 23rd street. Later it was purchased by International Paper Company. While employed there I was able to finish my BS in Business Administration from UNCW on the GI bill as a result of my US Army service in Vietnam. I graduated in December 1981, the same month I took office as Wilmington City Council member. I was a production manager at Federal until 1985 when I joined A.G.Edwards and Sons as an investment advisor. I was reelected in 1985 and then elected Wilmington’s Mayor in 1987, serving five terms ending in 1997. I also worked in textile manufacturing on North 23rd street. In 1998, I transition from Manufacturing to local government serving as a Town Manager for the Town of Holly Ridge as well as in 2002 for the Town of North Topsail Beach. In 2005 I joined the Lower Cape Fear Water & Sewer Authority as Executive Director and recently in December retired from a local government career.  I offer an experienced background as an elected official for sixteen years and an appointed official of twenty-one years in local government.

2. Let’s tackle the elephant in the room first: Where do you stand on the potential sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center. Weigh in on what’s already happened if you like, but please tell us where you would like to see NHRMC go in the future.

In regards to the issue of the day, I am opposed to the sale of NHRMC  The process was flawed from the beginning with individual meetings with NHC commissioners being “sold” on the concept. In October a commissioner finally went public on radio and said “they came to us last winter.” So in the early process last winter, the board of trustees hired a consulting firm familiar with mergers and acquisitions to provide the game plan going forward but knowing exactly what the preferred outcome would be. Setting up the local group and extending the process with the expectation of getting a community buy-in and wearing out the public at large with lots of meetings. It’s really a sad day that the majority of the Board of Commissioners couldn’t take ownership and provide the necessary leadership to determine if this is what the community would endorse going forward or not. 

3. The county is completing its UDO, which will shape development on thousands of acres across the county. How will you balance a potential development boom with concerns about traffic, school overcrowding, and stormwater?

I would propose that the development approval process should be contingent upon the installation of the necessary infrastructure. This should be in place to service the increase density and/or development. The developer generally installs the water and sewer lines and then provides those improvements to the CFPUA.  The NCDOT advises the developer to provide an additional turn lane and stacking lane by providing a bond that the DOT holds until 1 year after completion.  The developer is required to provide a retention pond built to handle a 25-year rainfall and that is then turned over to the community HOA.  The problem there is that the requirement is too low and should be much higher as we are experiencing 100-year and higher storms providing excessive flooding. 

With the new stormwater fee being added it would provide an opportunity to be treated as an enterprise fund in which the county could eventually issue Revenue Bonds to do more projects and use the fee income to provide the debt service payments. The NCDOT is planning long term projects to improve State Highways but the schedule keeps drifting as there is a cash flow issue regarding funding. The DOT has spent valuable funds on hurricane repairs nearing $400 million and is due reimbursement from FEMA sometime in the future. When the DOT can build the highway improvements impacted by the proposed increased density, then the application approval should be effective upon those scheduled improvements. The issue of school overcrowding should be treated in the same manner. If improvements or new construction for schools is planned than the completion of such improvements should be in place prior to volumes of new development being approved.  It is a matter of the NHC leadership being proactive in improvements rather than reactive.

4. Speaking of housing, how would you address the state of affordable housing in the region?

This is a conversation that has gone on for many years and has been adrift since the recession. We should define affordable housing regionally and plan to address it with a combination of leadership. There are successful programs, both in Greensboro and in Durham with a recent bond issue approved by the voters.

5. Let’s talk about affordable development. Years ago, the Garner report noted that the region’s economic development groups were ‘Balkanized’ — with overlapping and uncoordinated missions and a lack of unified direction. What would your approach to economic development be?

It appears that there still is a lack of direction. It would be valuable to update the data as a lot of the data, while presented in April of 2014, was taken from reports provided in 2010. Other materials provided indicated source as 2012,  Much of the data could have been affected by the recession and as such should be reviewed. Have the recommended actions been put into place? NHC allocates 1% of its $400 million budget to economic development. I would suggest that the same conditions exist in 2020 as in 2013. The leadership of the County has not provided the direction to increase a focus on economic development. Certainly the partnership with CFPUA to provide water & sewer and fire protection to Highway 421 is step in the right direction. My approach would be to focus on a regional effort and move away from the individual county, i.e. Brunswick, Pender and New Hanover turf focus and work collectively together on what is good and works for the region.

6. How would you steer the county in addressing environmental concerns?

Environmental concerns are not just New Hanover County issues. Clean Air, Clean Water and Clean soil are concerns that affect us all regionally and beyond. Leadership is failing the public in response to environmental threats from outside our communities. Sometimes from within when proposals are offered to relocate an unfavorable industry to the county. We need to recognize situations sooner and address solutions faster. Community citizens want to help by engaging in the process, there is a lot of expertise available to in the community.

7.  What other county initiatives would you like to see created, continued, or scaled back?

It would appear to some that what is being created within the county is the “City of New Hanover.”  Is it time to review the consolidation of the City of Wilmington and the County of New Hanover?  It has been thirty years or more since it was considered and put before the voters. In response to the question of what other county initiatives I would like to see scaled back; it would be the focus on being a developer: i.e. Project Grace  (how many more hotels needed in downtown Wilmington?) i.e. redevelopment of the Government Center?  The County has a mission and it needs to focus on the delivery of services to the citizens. The idea of combining the Library downtown with the Cape Fear Museum isn’t well thought out nor is transferring the Museum to the General Assembly.

8. What else would you like voters to know?

The NHC Commissioners need to be more engaged in the various boards and commissions that they make appointments to. Examples being, the board of trustees for NHRMC, CFPUA, ILM, CFCC and many others. So many of these organizations affect our daily lives. We need to help our youth get off vaping and drugs. We need to continue to invest in our schools being able to provide services to our children by keeping them safe from within and from outsiders. I will work with the members of the board of education to help improve conditions and make improvements. Our teachers need increased compensation. This should be extended to school bus drivers as well.

The County, as well as the City, need to move much faster on bond projects approved by the voters.  Costs continue to increase and lack of performance is costing taxpayers far more money.  There are solutions to this issue.
I have years of experience in local government having been elected by voters within New Hanover County as well as managing Towns and a public utility along with a career in the private sector.  I’m seeking your vote on March 3, 2020 to continue the journey.

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