LELAND — Campaigning in the fastest-growing municipality in North Carolina, Bill McHugh credits his Leland Town Council victory to his commitment on issues surrounding growth. Fellow electee Richard Holloman believes his message, “I want to be your voice in the future of Leland,” resonated with voters, along with his advocacy for commercial industrial development and career experience working with localities.
Nearly 10,000 newcomers moved into the northern Brunswick County town over the past decade, according to 2019 U.S. Census estimates, released in spring 2020. Leland has an estimated 23,500 residents as of 2019, a 73% jump since 2010. The population is projected to grow to 74,344 by 2045, according to the town’s forecast, putting growth at the forefront of the municipal election debates.
“There were so many people who’d been here for a year or less, and they were concerned: ‘What are we looking like moving forward? What’s the plan?’” McHugh said, describing talks with voters. “And I think they liked the idea, both for Richard and I, that we showed a steady hand and a capability of addressing these things that they were very comfortable with.”
Upon taking their oaths of office in December, McHugh and Holloman will replace outgoing members Pat Batleman and Bob Corriston, who did not seek re-election. Holloman was the frontrunner in the race with 1,883 votes (21.4%). McHugh trailed close behind at 1,835 votes (20.9%).
McHugh stresses to keep up with the ballooning population, town leaders must weigh revenue options for developing and sustaining infrastructure.
“We need to plan ahead very carefully,” he said, “to make sure our infrastructure doesn’t fall behind, that we’re prepared to tackle stormwater, to understand the changes in our traffic patterns, to partner with neighboring communities, with the county, with the state to secure funding.”
Holloman says commercial industrial development is the key to bringing in younger families, in addition to furthering the infrastructure and sustaining the quality of life with recreational opportunities for kids.
“I love Leland. This is a great time. It has great potential,” he said. “But we’ve got to measure that potential based on what we can really handle with our infrastructure.”
A registered Republican, Holloman has experience running two financial management software companies that primarily serve local governments. He moved to Leland in 2015 and in 2018 he opened the Leland House of Pickleball next to Brunswick Forest, where he resides.
Throughout his campaign, Holloman promised to advocate for increased parks and recreation, support affordable housing, work to maintain the transportation system, promote economic development within Leland Innovation Park, and provide quarterly reviews to taxpayers on the budget process.
He said one of the main concerns he heard on the campaign trail was about the tax increases, up four cents as of July.
“Those tax dollars were going to police and fire, and I’m very supportive of our public safety in all ways, and I think the citizens are too once they understand that,” he said.
Leland’s tax rate, at 25 cents, he noted, is “reasonable” compared to other growing towns in North Carolina, such as Raleigh and Charlotte, but he wants to keep it that way. He gives kudos to the town for its strong financial status and running it “as if it were a business.”
A registered Democrat, McHugh has lived in Leland since 2018. For work, he negotiates contracts with clinical trial sites, trial work and litigation. McHugh took an interest in politics as early as junior high school, protesting a bill in D.C. that was poised to lower the standards of fishing for “dolphin-safe tuna,” which would have led to more dolphins being snared in nets.
Since then, McHugh has worked on several political campaigns and advocated for increased voter registration, turnout and access to absentee ballots.
Besides growth, McHugh’s platform also included a need for more workforce housing and attracting businesses that will create high-paying jobs, as well as developing a tree ordinance as part of a priority to environmental stability.
“While we might not have a beach in Leland, we are a coastal community, and it’s very important that we be good stewards of that environment,” McHugh said, “and that includes everything, from figuring out what we are going to do about all the trees that have been removed. How are we going to handle our stormwater maintenance and our drainage? How are we going to prepare for floods? How are we going to reduce our pollution? How are we going to maintain clean water in the long term? How can we stop polluters from destroying the environment around us?”
He believes many of those issues can be addressed at the local level. For example, he said continuing support for new multi-use paths in town will lead to reduced vehicular traffic. Just last month, the Town of Leland cut the ribbon on a new one-mile, multi-use path on Old Fayetteville Road, from Leland’s Founders Park to North Brunswick High School.
“Taking some cars off the road isn’t going to save the world,” he said. “But it’s a great way for a municipal government to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.”
At the end of four years, McHugh hopes for a more engaged community with a greater understanding of the town government’s inner workings.
“I hope to see that we continue to make plans like Leland 2045 that are dynamic, and that as we grow, we avoid the pitfalls of rapid growth,” he said. “I hope that the things we build between now and then will be assets to the community and people won’t view them as obstacles or say, ‘I wish the town hadn’t done this. I wish they had done that instead.’ I hope that they’ll see the way we are managing that growth is healthy and it’s creating a vibrant community.”
The other candidate results for Leland Town Council included Allison Dunlap with 1,720 votes (19.6%); Jason Gaver raked in 1,717 supporters (19.5%); Nicholas Newell with 1,061 votes (12.1%); and Louis Harmati with 538 (6.1%).
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