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.
Travis Robinson, 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?
I have been a resident of New Hanover County since 1977 living in my younger years in public housing and within the areas bordering Dawson Street at Third up to Fourth street down to Greenfield and back to Front Street. I was a career law enforcement officer serving 32 years with 29 of those years with the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, retiring at the rank of Deputy Sheriff Lieutenant.
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.
I was asked to give a Yes or No response to the question on the sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center. My Response was NO* as I am opposed to the sale of NHRMC.
I know that the Partnership Advisory Group finalized the Request for Proposal (available here) and it was sent out to 25 prospective companies.
The results are due back from those who are interested by close of business on March 16, 2020. I hope that they take as much time as needed to evaluate all of the responses as they all appear to contain at least 100-page responses for each. The recommendations will be summarized and then the PAG will let their decisions be known to the Board of Trustees for NHRMC and then to the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners for their review and ultimate decision. (A link to the PAG’s minutes here.)
*If elected to the Board of Commissioners and a final decision hasn’t been made, we as a full sitting board will carefully review what has been submitted in response to the RFP’s that went out and with additional input via public hearings, then make a decision based on what is best for our region in regards to healthcare.
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 find it necessary to consider each of the developer requests one at a time and ensure that we are referencing the Comprehensive Land Use Plan and incorporating the meaning and purpose behind the Unified Development Ordinance that is in existence.
Traffic – I would ensure that our Comprehensive Land Use Plan and the current Subdivision Regulations are followed. Also make sure that the traffic impact plan allows for safe flow of traffic within the connecting neighborhoods and/or adjourning properties.
School Overcrowding – We need to continue working with the Board of Education on the need for new schools in other areas of the county, which will help allow for the number of students to be reduced in the classrooms and school as a whole. Research and issue bonds to support new construction and renovations of older campuses with safety and security in the forefront to be addressed.
Stormwater – Allow for the design of curb cuts, which allows for the flow of water into the ground or area where plants/vegetation are located on projects when available. Continue to support and monitor the Stormwater Services that are funded by the Emergency Watershed Protection Funds Grant that goes into effect July 01, 2020. In the unincorporated areas of the county, cleaning out ditches and pipes on properties. Removing debris and sedimentation from streams and waterways to allow for increased flow of water and reduction of flooding threats to properties.
4. Speaking of housing, how would you address the state of affordable housing in the region?
We need to work with maintaining available grants or incentives to allow for the developers to want to assist in building housing that meets some of the economic hardships issues of residents working in our current job market. This should hopefully assist with the variety of income ranges for those to experience home ownership. Making sure that available public transportation is available in those areas.
First responders, teachers, and employees of the medical fields shouldn’t have to live in other counties and commute as long as an hour minimum to work each and every day.
5. Let’s talk about economic 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?
Continue to support the extension of water and sewer services to the unincorporated areas of the county. Keep in contact with our state government to hopefully have them continue to issue/fund the film tax credits, JDIG, JMAC and JCF as defined below.
Job Development and Investment Grant — JDIG is a performance-based, discretionary incentive program that provides cash grants directly to new and expanding companies to help offset the cost of locating or expanding a facility in the state.
Job Maintenance and Capital Development Fund — JMAC seeks to stimulate economic activity by maintaining significant numbers of high-paying, high-quality jobs, and encouraging the addition of large-scale capital investment by providing a discretionary incentive that offers sustained annual grants directly to businesses).
Job Catalyst Fund — JCF is geared to promote projects in the state’s less-developed counties, with money to be made available for smaller projects at lower salaries and a lower local matching grant required from 40 “economically distressed” counties.
6. How would you steer the county in addressing environmental concerns?
Continue to serve and support our commissions that monitor and fund the port, waterway and river improvements to support our shipping and tourism industry in our coastal waterways.
Make sure that our beach renourishment projects are monitored and funded to continue to serve local industries i.e. commercial and charter fishing, recreational boating and specifically help in mitigating the threats of storms and flooding on our coast.
Partner with the US Army Corp of Engineers, NC Division of waterway resources and other federal, state and local resources in seeking out projects that benefit our community.
7. What other county initiatives would you like to see created, continued, or scaled back?
Increase the programs that fund and support the following types of jobs in our region that are in great demand and need. Some of these may be initially addressed in vocational programs that return to our high schools and continue on into the community colleges. Allow for some type of public and private partnerships that allow for companies to have buy in to have students/internships get real-world experience, which develops a pool of qualified applicants to be employed at a point later on upon their completion of training.
I.E. Electrician, Carpentry, Plumbing, Tree Work, Pipefitting, HVAC, Auto Mechanic and Automotive Repair. List is not all inclusive.
Continue to support the signature programs that are within the New Hanover County School system. For example: Early College, SEA-Tech to assist in preparing our students for the different challenges that they will face within their lives upon graduation. Develop a curriculum that supports the newly passed legislation to ensure that our students prior to graduation have courses in financial literacy for paying for college, home mortgages, credit scores, managing credit cards.
8. What else would you like voters to know?
I have been a lifelong resident of New Hanover County and feel that I can bring a lot to the table as a member of the Board of Commissioners. We have seen first hand the things that can be accomplished, when we tackle them without regard to the registered party of the people involved.
The national trend and conduct of the major parties is not reflective of our local values and beliefs. I want citizens to continue to put their differences aside and work together to get our government working for us.
I, along with other commissioners, will collectively make decisions which are in the best interest of those who put us in office. What I have and will say is not something that will change, if I receive enough votes to be in the top three to go on to the general election, then I will continue to work towards gaining your trust to serve on your board of commissioners.
I have experience working with the Board of Commissioners and County Staff on numerous projects over the years due to my positions within the Sheriff’s Office. I am a taxpayer and property owner of this county and I feel that those along with raising a family, will allow me the opportunity to deliberate and know that our decisions will affect a lot of other citizens. My registered party will not dictate my platform or philosophy when it comes to what I will do on your board representing you.