NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Tom Toby, Republican, is a candidate for the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners.
Port City Daily has sent a questionnaire to every candidate running in local elections in the tri-county region. The paywall is also dropped on profiles to help voters make informed decisions ahead of casting their ballots.
As a reminder, the early voting period runs from Apr. 28 to May 14. The voter registration deadline is Apr. 22. Voters may partake in same-day registration throughout the two-week early voting period (check if your registration is active at your current address).
Primary Election Day is May 17. Voters will choose which candidates from their registered party they want to move forward in the formal election. Those who are registered as unaffiliated can choose which party’s primary they want to vote in.
Toby’s stances on issues are discussed below. All answers are included in full and the candidate’s opinions and statements are not a reflection of Port City Daily. Responses are edited only for grammar, spelling and clarity.
Port City Daily: What is your top priority and how would you address it?
Tom Toby (TT): If I am elected, and the emergency order that the citizens of New Hanover County are still under over 750 days from inception has not been lifted, that will be my very first priority by introducing a resolution to remove it and craft a policy to where any future emergency orders must be revisited every 30 days and not left open ended like they are now.
PCD: What improvements need to be made to public transportation in New Hanover County?
TT: With the increase in services, such as Uber and Lyft, there are fewer people using the older model of public transportation. Being honest, I would have to study the current model of public transportation in New Hanover County closer to see where it is in relation to its ability to serve the citizens and be fiscally sustainable.
PCD: Should a quarter-cent sales tax increase pass for public transportation, would you support a resolution to levy the tax beginning in 2023? Should a quarter-cent sales tax increase not pass, what would be the next best course of action?
TT: I am not in favor of the quarter-cent sales tax increase so I would not support a resolution to begin levying the tax beginning 2023. I think we need to find out how to make the public transportation system pay for itself and if it will be able to continue to do so in the future.
PCD: What are your thoughts on the affordable housing crisis in New Hanover County? Is $15 million over five years adequate? How should that money be leveraged? What else needs to be done?
TT: This will be unpopular, but the truth is: Currently, there is no real answer for this question. First you must define “affordable housing.” Are you referring to low-income subsidized housing or middle-income workforce housing? There will always be some form of low-income housing, and it will be either government-run and subsidized in rents, or privately run and subsidized by incentives to builders/property owners to build and maintain these properties.
The biggest problem we have in our area is that we are the second smallest county in NC, we have a limited amount of space, and everyone wants to move here. People are selling properties up north and flocking here to get away from high taxes, crime, and bad policies. As a result, they are willing to pay just about anything in cash for property here, driving up the cost for local working families.
The county doesn’t need to be in the housing business and it’s a total catch 22 if they attempt to. You either cost taxpayers’ money in incentives, infringe on property owners’ rights, or do nothing and take heat for escalating housing costs — and you can’t put a gate up on I-40 to keep people from coming.
Further, the dwindling amount of available land in New Hanover County is driving up property costs, and with the increased costs of construction materials, there is no incentive for builders/developers to build low-cost housing and our entire region is exploding. So, now, moving to Brunswick or Pender counties is not a viable option either.
Everyone wants higher wages but that comes with increased costs; it’s a perpetual cycle that has been going on here for years and should have been thought out two decades ago but has been continually kicked down the road. The few things we can do are attract higher wage jobs to our area for citizens to earn more; fix our education system; stop teaching ideologies; and get students back to actual learning to increase their chances of being able to get higher paying jobs.
Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet for this.
A) 15 million over 5 years will not begin to touch the issue over 5 years if our local property values continue to increase.
B) I have not yet seen a viable plan on how that money should be leveraged as there are too many variables to think that throwing 15 million dollars at the problem will solve it.
C) I cannot answer what else needs to be done without further looking at current projects, zonings, and allowed densities to make an informed answer on the topic
PCD: New Hanover County is creating an anti-violence department and spending millions each year to launch it. What are your thoughts on the action plan?
TT: New Hanover County already has an anti-violence department: It is called the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Department. Rather than spending millions of dollars to re-invent the wheel, we should be bolstering our drug and gang task force and putting that money back into the agency who is already tasked with that job.
PCD: In what ways does New Hanover County need to manage population growth? Are there new ideas you would bring to the table?
TT: My idea for managing population growth lies in allowed densities. As I stated before, we are the second smallest county in the state. There is only so much room here, only so much landfill space, only so much sewer capacity, only so much water purifying capacity, only so much traffic capacity, only so much room to build new schools. We need two new high schools right now.
Almost every citizen I talk to wants the overbuilding of apartments stopped. Lowering density of construction would help to lower population growth. An example is rather than allowing four houses per acre, allow two.
PCD: How well do you think the county balances development with “livability” (i.e., moderated traffic, preserved green space, etc.)?
TT: Currently, we are way out of balance with our development versus livability. Development has been allowed to run rampant and has far outpaced our infrastructure to the point that our livability here has been diminished.
PCD: What role do commissioners need to play in protecting the local environment and coasts?
TT: A good place to start would be to stop allowing construction projects to clear cut everything like has happened in the Riverlights project — and again, the density of homes has completely destroyed the environment there.
With more density comes more people, with more people comes more pollution, with more pollution comes more environmental damage — it’s not rocket science.
PCD: What do you think of the county’s supplemental funding for the school district?
TT: I am not sure what you are actually asking with what do I think about the county’s supplemental funding of the school district? The school system gets funding from several places and the county is one of them. The county has a responsibility to fund our local school system, but with that should also come accountability by the school system to the county for how they are spending the money.
PCD: What do you think of the current tax rates? How would you balance taxes with identifying funding for top-of-mind issues?
TT: Our current tax rate could be lowered. If you remember, right after the Covid shutdowns, the county commissioners raised our taxes and gave themselves a raise on the same night. Immediately after, our community was still reeling financially from their mandated shutdowns.
Our county spends every dollar they get their hands on. They could seriously reel in their spending and lower our tax rates.
You balance taxes and needs at the county level the same way you do with your household budget. First, by being revenue neutral and not spending more than you make. Then you look at how much do we have, how much do we owe, what are we saving, what is left over.
“Top of mind” issues will vary from day to day and year to year. Emergencies will arise and unforeseen issues, like fuel prices going through the roof and upsetting budgets, will happen. That’s why it’s important for the county to not spend every dollar they get so they are prepared for the unforeseen.
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