Sunday, August 7, 2022

Primary 2020: New Hanover Board of Commissioners, Republican candidate Deb Hays [Free read]

Debra Hulse Hays, Republican 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.

Deb Hays, Republican 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?

I was born and raised in Kentucky, my Dad was a Methodist Minister and my Mom a Teacher. My IBM career moved me all over the US until moving to Wilmington in 1995…and never wanted to leave.  I was told I couldn’t consider myself a local until I had been here 20 years…I am a proud LOCAL!  I have a beautiful, intelligent daughter who has given me the greatest gift of all, a grand-daughter (Yes, I am the youngest Grandmother ever). My daughter is an honors graduate from Laney High School, NCSU both undergrad and grad school with honors (Go PACK!).  I am a professional member of the real estate community and have served the region in many leadership capacities. As a committed civic leader, I have served over 8 years as Chair of the city’s Planning Commission, 3 years creating the Comprehensive Plan, currently serve on the Board of Directors for Wilmington Downtown, Inc., WARM (Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry) Board of Directors, Airlie Gardens Foundation Board, long time committee chair for the Azalea Festival, and served over 12 years as the Chair and Commissioner for the Wilmington Housing Authority. Have also served on the Chamber of Commerce Board of Advisors and a graduate of their year-long Leadership Wilmington program. Additional detailed information is on my website .

I am a passionate public servant with proven leadership and dedication.  My depth of experience with critical issues in our community gives me great insight into being a Commissioner. The actions I have taken in my leadership roles provides me with a uniquely qualified perspective on the issues we, as citizens, face.

I am positive, knowledgeable, experienced, and will do the right thing for all citizens. 

I am all about Listening to the citizens and responding to them! It is about the PEOPLE…not the politics.

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.

Do I think that a straight-up sale to a for-profit entity is the right thing for our community and our hospital’s future?  Absolutely not!  It doesn’t fit our culture or the needs of all our citizens. The critical components that must be addressed are ongoing outstanding health care for all people, cost affordability, local access and presence.

Does our hospital have issues?  Yes, and these must be addressed in order to continue to provide high-quality health care and access for everyone, regardless of their insurance coverage or ability to pay.  If the profits of our hospital continue to decline or cease, then the sole financial responsibility for the hospital will fall on the citizens of New Hanover County. We need to understand all the issues that are currently involved (over-crowding, growing non- or under-insured, high sickness return rates, overworked staff, etc…) as well as those that could affect us in the future (reimbursement changes, insurance challenges, legislative changes, etc…).  This is the prudent and responsible action to take in order to make the best plan for the future of our hospital and the needs of our citizens.

What I have done…attended the Partnership Advisory Group (PAG) meetings, attended the Save Our Hospital meeting, met with and interviewed both PAG members and Save Our Hospital group members; continue to research, read, and review materials from all facets that relate to our hospital.  And, I have met with and listened to many citizens concerned about this issue…it is complicated and complex.  In order to responsibly move forward, we must first understand all the issues and make a well informed, valid decision based in fact, not speculation or sensationalism.  We must protect the quality of our health care and its future viability for all our citizens.

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?

With the increase in population, demands continue to be placed on our infrastructure – traffic congestion, storm-water, water and sewer capacity.  New Hanover County’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) is the basis for changing and re-designing our land development code, how we use our land. Critical to this is using up to date information.  For example, the current soil surveys date back to the 1970’s, and these are used for all stormwater plans.  Current, updated soil surveys need to be conducted in order to implement a properly working stormwater plan to insure correct drainage and water flow to prevent flooding issues. Existing culverts and drainage paths need to be kept clean and clear of debris for water flow.

Building anywhere and at any cost is not appropriate. Responsible planning for growth needs to be balanced with private property rights and work in conjunction with surrounding areas.  Working with the development and building communities to provide more green space, neighborhood connectivity, surrounding services and schools to reduce traffic and increase “live, work, play” opportunities to provide for higher quality of life. Proper planning with strong adherence to correct implementation is the basis for an appropriate growth strategy that is positive for all our citizens…both have been a focus for me for the past several years. 

We need to work collaboratively within our region to understand our current and future needs.  Growth doesn’t have to be a bad word…it is the result of positive things happening in our county. Well-planned and envisioned growth has benefits such as stable taxation (no tax hikes), stronger housing values, neighborhood stability with consistent home affordability for current and long term citizens that have invested in our County.

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

Strong paying jobs with upward career opportunities addresses housing affordability in more ways than any other solution.  A regional approach needs to be employed as NHC has the least amount of undeveloped land, and the strongest infrastructure and support systems in our area.  Zoning allocation for infill and redevelopment parcels that are specifically targeted towards our workforce – putting housing/homes where the jobs are located surrounded by support services.  This has the added benefit of reducing traffic congestion and provides a more “live, work, play” philosophy through greater neighborhood connectivity. 

With a stronger tax base, the pay scale for our first responders, teachers, health care workers, administrative staffers, and support personnel can greatly improve.

We must continue to grow our community partnerships and invest in those local services that provide the greatest assistance to our most vulnerable citizens – WARM, Habitat, Housing Authority, Good Shepherd, Elderhaus – just to name a few.  And, collaborate with state agencies such as NC Housing Trust and NC Housing Finance Agency for financial options and funding alternative sources.

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?

FOCUSED APPROACH – a united marketing and economic development effort including all our Tourism Authorities, Economic Development Entities, Chambers, Associations, and the Airport Authority to adopt and present a comprehensive and common marketing approach for our area.  This would deliver a collaborative and consistent theme about our quality of life, the enjoyment lifestyle, our history, arts, festivals, film, food, theater, beaches, riverfront, music, sports, education, etc… and showcase an impactful reoccurring message for all to use whether it be for recruiting companies, jobs, tourist, students, etc…

FOCUSED EFFORT – research, realize, and agree on what type of companies and jobs we need and want then target our efforts accordingly.  For example, our region is most competitive with small to mid-sized companies with 50 +/- employees.  These size companies have proven to thrive in our region and want to come here…Live Oak Bank, Castle Branch, nCino, Tek Mountain to name a few…they can and will grow with our community and spawn tech startups to provide a continual incubator.  Once we have them here they will stay, proven! 

A supportive education plan must continue to be enhanced to provide the skills needed for the complimentary industries targeted; whether that be welders, plumbers, electricians, or high-level tech engineers.  This is a collaborative effort with New Hanover County Schools, Cape Fear Community College, and UNCW.

All the while, we continue to support and enhance those companies, large and small, that have made our area home.

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

Clean healthy water is a basic core value. We need to employ all the resources we have on a local, regional, and state basis to address and ensure quality and quantity of water.  We must work collaboratively as a region to understand our current and future water needs, and put a plan in place now!  UNCW research has been working closely with CFPUA to address the PFAS in our water supply.  They have developed both a short term fix and a long term solution.  The long term solution is a project that has begun to add eight new granular activated carbon (GAC) filters to the Sweeney Water Treatment Plant. This project is anticipated to go online in May, 2022. Until the new filters are in place, CFPUA has implemented a program to replace media in existing filters. These steps have already resulted in reductions of contaminants. The lawsuits that have been filed against the companies that are responsible for releasing these compounds into our water supply have already proven successful and will assist in recovering the costs and damages so that our citizens are not further financially impacted. Ongoing collaboration to ensure our drinking water is clean and clear of contaminants upstream all the way down the Cape Fear River. We must hold accountable those responsible for contaminating our water and continue to work with our region and state officials for sound policy and focused oversight with tangible results.

Beach nourishment needs a reoccurring fund established to provide for continual beach nourishment along our coast.  A review in raising our room occupancy tax (ROT) to tap into all the visitor dollars coming into our area would assist in contributing viable and sustainable dollars to our beaches.  This also alleviates the burden placed on property owners to foot the bill through property taxation.  In addition, work with the NC Coastal Federation to control and prevent erosion for shoreline mitigation.

We live in a vibrant area with amenities that continue to attract new residents. We are growing and at a critical point in our vision and plan for the future. Parks, trees, green and blue ways…the works is NOW to enact and implement for the preservation and protection of the charm and essence of our County. I am passionate about our community and am committed to its quality and enjoyment of life.

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

Our Workforce is critical to our success as a community.  We are in great need of skilled trades — plumbers, electricians, HVAC, welders, tech.  The collaboration between NHC Schools, Cape Fear Community College, and UNCW to address workforce education and technical trade skills through the SEA Tech program has been an excellent start. We need to continue to build on this program with a focus on enhancing mindsets about a 4-year college degree versus a technical trade degree. Students need to understand there are viable choices.  Offering a variety of educational paths to provide the workforce needed for all levels of employment leads to career jobs and stable economy. Education is the core and keeping our youth in school, raising our graduation rates, is imperative to success.  Providing outside the box thinking for future education and teaching needs will be key to staying on the leading edge (example: brick and mortar schools versus virtual instruction).  We need to provide the best education tools in a healthy, safe environment for our students to excel.

8. What else would you like voters to know?

My cell phone number is 910-232-0505, email is, website is, I am on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  I want to get to know you and want you to get to know me.

I welcome your calls, texts, messages, emails, etc…I will respond and I will listen.

I am passionate about our community, am committed to its quality of life and the preservation and protection of the essence of our County…I welcome the opportunity to contribute back and move forward positively for all citizens.

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