PENDER COUNTY — Joseph Cina, a Republican, is running for the District 1 seat on the Pender County Board of Commissioners. Cina recently resigned as a N.C. probation parole officer and served in law enforcement since the late 1990s.
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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.
Cina’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.
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PCD: What are the greatest issues the county is facing? How would you work to address it?
Joseph Cina (JC): There are so many different challenges we are facing in Pender County today and more to come in the future. It is important to note that not one challenge is more important than the next. The issues that are important to one citizen may be different than the issues that are important to another citizen. For example, traffic may be a more important issue for someone living on the eastside of Pender County than for someone living on the westside of Pender County.
For discussion purposes I will address three of the concerns knowing that there are many more that need to be addressed in our community currently. I would like to address traffic, schools, and parks in Pender County currently.
Traffic is completely out of control. Growing up in a large city, Charlotte, N.C., and driving semi-trucks across the country I am aware and have experienced many different driving conditions. The east side has one main artery to its traffic flow and that is Hwy 17. Unfortunately, there are not too many branches off this artery that allow a reconnect to the main artery. If any type of traffic hold-up occurs and it is in the wrong position on Hwy 17 there is no option to get around it. This has been an ongoing issue for the east side for many years and has only been addressed by the response, “We have to wait for the bypass.”
The bypass project Draft Environmental Impact Statement was approved in July 2011, and we just broke ground in March 2022. For over 11 years the response, “We have to wait for the bypass,” has been given to our community members instead of action to improve the traffic conditions.
Of the 18 schools in Pender County, nine are overcrowded and all of them are on the east side. As a community we knew we were growing and so did our current and past elected officials. This was proved in 2015 on the Pender County website under Economic Development. “Pender County is a fast-growing county with a 2015 population over 56,250. The county is well positioned for growth and development with strategic priorities related to economic development, expansion of public infrastructure, growth management, quality of life and education.”
This statement leaves many of our citizens feeling like no preparations were made to prepare for our current situation and we are paying for it. As a county we do not own land or have any plans ready to go to build any new schools to address the issue of school overcrowding, yet our local government keeps approving more construction projects that only increase our population adding to an already stressed school system. It will be at a minimum of two years and an increase of 25% or more in tax dollars to address this issue because we failed to address it ahead of time.
On the east side we have Kiwanis Park, which is a fantastic park. It is important to note that this park is primarily funded and paid for by the Kiwanis Club, not Pender County. Also, it is important to note that Kiwanis Park does not have a line item in the budget for maintenance and improvements yearly although it services the largest portion of Pender County. It is a battle to get time for any organization to use the fields, which in return hurts the community. Team sports are so important to the development of our youth and the health of a family.
There is progress being made currently to construct a new park on the west side of our community, which is far past due. Although, the strategic placement of this park north of Burgaw will service Duplin County residents far more than residents of Rocky Point, St Helena, and Currie area. This park should have been more centralized as to service our citizens more easily than our neighbors to the north.
It is important to mention that we currently have a park in Burgaw that is in urgent need for upgrades and maintenance. This park is in great location to service the Burgaw residents and could use some upgrades, for instance opening up the over-grown fields to service the community among many other needed concerns. Upgrades to his community park could possibly have serviced this area far more rapidly and allowed for park exploration in the central part of the west side of our county.
PCD: In what ways does Pender County need to manage population growth?
JC: It is no secret that it is not lawful to stop all construction and growth in our community, although it is very important for our local elected officials to oversee this growth and make sure that is controlled and balanced to protect the health of our growing community. We elect local officials to protect our families and businesses from concerns such as overpopulation, which can strain our infrastructure.
We are seeing this currently with our water system, our roads, our schools, our water drainage system, and our internet service to name a few. As a community we are feeling the strain placed on all of us by decisions that we are not in a position to control except every four years at the election polls. We chose elected officials to represent all of us when these decisions are made at the table.
We obviously have five county commissioners that we elect to protect our family and businesses ventures every four years, but we also allow them to appoint a planning board made up of community members who apply for the position. This planning board is supposed to be another layer of protection in our community to promote and help healthy growth. They must have the support of the county commissioners in order to be successful.
Lately, we are seeing projects that appear to be rubber stamped and approved with no regards to our already stressed infrastructure. We must pay particular attention to traffic impact studies as one level of defense in defending our community and keeping our growth healthy.
Impact fees were ruled unlawful in 2013, but we can still hold builders responsible for traffic studies, environmental concerns, green space areas, and other concerns that may be a factor for the area being requested to build. This should be approached with a teamwork model to address all factors positive and negative for our community.
Growth is welcomed in Pender County, but it must be healthy growth that serves our community. It is important for all Pender County citizens during election time to research all candidates for office particularly the candidates’ donor list on the state board elections website.
Builders, contractors, real estate agents, and particularly anyone who does not live in the jurisdiction of the seat available should be considered red flags when donating to candidates for office. Our communities’ growth must be controlled and healthy with no exceptions or outside influence involved.
PCD: How well do you think the county balances development with “livability” (i.e. moderated traffic, preserved green space, etc.)?
JC: As I stated in the previous two questions, we have some concerns to consider here in Pender County that are extremely important to each of us raising families and/or operating businesses. Our current infrastructure is strained on all sides of our county in many different ways and our own local government was aware of the growth headed this way.
Let us be honest, running for local office is not highly desired. The pay is extremely low, the hours are not guaranteed, and the stress on a family can be extreme at times. A person pursues these types of positions for one of two reasons: to make a difference and be a public servant or to personal gains. It is up to the voter in 2022 to educate themselves on all candidates for each position available and decide what the candidates’ intentions are running for each position.
In Pender County we are extremely proud of our preserved green space, and it is what brings so many tourists and new community members to our county. As a proud lifetime NRA Member raising three children in Pender County all of which possess their NC Life Time Hunting and Fishing Licenses it is extremely important that we maintain our counties reputation as a highly desired area to hunt, fish, and enjoy nature.
New developments are necessary to promote healthy growth, but as a community we must hold our elected officials responsible for maintaining our way of life. We cannot allow our community to be overcome with special interest projects that in no way benefit or add to the health of Pender County.
All factors must be considered when approving or attracting new projects to our community not just the increase in taxes collected. Can our schools service the new community members? Can our roads handle the increase in traffic on our roadways? Can our water and sewer system service the new projects? And many other questions that must be asked before approval can be granted.
The citizens of Pender County have a very serious responsibility in making the decision of which elected officials will be representing our families and futures in Pender County. Questions need to be asked of all candidates to determine what their vested interest in our community is currently and in the future. For instance, children, business ventures, volunteer work, property owned, employment, and many other topics to determine a candidates desire to serve our community.
PCD: How concerned are you about Pender County’s environmental quality?
JC: Anyone living in Pender County should be concerned with our environmental quality especially if you are raising a family here locally. It is obvious that safe land, air, and water are fundamental to a healthy environment. We all seek and expect an environment free of hazards, diseases, and any other type of health concerns.
It is important to note that the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is the lead agency for the protection of NC environmental resources in our community. They oversee regulatory programs that are designed to protect our air and water quality, the public’s health issues, and even oversee different energy strategies throughout NC to include our community. They can be researched online at deq.nc.gov.
As a local county commissioner I will be very concerned about our county’s environmental quality especially since I am raising a family with three small children in our community. However, the state oversees a large portion of this concern for our community. A strong partnership should be developed with our local representatives located in the Wilmington Regional Office. Of course, any decisions that affect the level of environmental quality we all receive will need to addressed and considered at that time prior to approval.
PCD: How appropriate is the county’s supplemental funding to the school district?
JC: Currently Pender County gives 51% of their tax base to the operation of the local school system. After several inquires, I am unable to determine what the definition of supplemental funding is by term locally. Even a current Board of Education elected official was not aware of supplemental funding.
Now, as a County Commissioner I can assure Pender County citizens that I will be taking the school system locally very serious. We are raising three children that will attend middle school and high school in Pender County in the near future and their safety and education will be top priority, which in return will benefit our entire community. A strong partnership with the Pender County Board of Education will be very important to the citizens of Pender County.
As a recipient of the NC Advanced Law Enforcement Certification, NC Professional School Resource Officer Certification, former Supervisor over School Resource Officers in the New Hanover County School System, and a former Cape Fear Community College Law Enforcement Instructor teaching school safety, response, and tactics I am well prepared to protect our communities’ children in Pender County. I fully understand the importance of providing a safe atmosphere for all children, families, and staff while on school property during school hours or during any school event.
Also, as a parent of three children and Conservative Christian Republican I only support our children learning the major topics in our school system. Our children should learn to read, write, and add while in school as a basic principle. They should not be taught how to think in any way, shape, or form. That is for the children’s family to teach and decide outside of the school environment. Our schools should be a safe place to learn the basics and not an atmosphere to learn topics that can be questionable.
For instance, Critical Race Theory or any of its spin off names has no place in our school system locally. These teachings are opinionated and do not need to be taught to children especially when they are vulnerable at younger ages.
PCD: What do you think of the current tax rates? How will you balance taxes with identifying funding for top-of-mind issues?
JC: The current NC sales tax rate is 4.75% and Pender County collects an additional 2% so the current minimum sales tax rate in Pender County is 6.75%. This does not include any municipality taxes that may be added by state statute. The current property tax rate in Pender County is 0.645% has remained at this level the past three years. With all the new construction and development in our community and the increase in tourism we have seen an increase in funding coming into Pender County.
In 2021 alone we saw revenues of $93,600.503 and after $69,107,681 in expenditures we saw a change in our fund balance of an additional $32,026,135. Unfortunately, this information is not made easily obtainable for the citizens of our community and you have to request this type of information from the county managers’ office.
Without having a current place on the County Commissioners board and having the ability to sit in on the all the budget meetings with each department head it is near impossible to take a stance on the current rate or speak toward balancing the budget.
It is important to understand the process currently in place though. The county mangers office will meet with each department head throughout the county around budget time. The department head will submit their requested budget to the county for funding for the following year. The county managers’ office will approve or deny the request until it is satisfied with an operating budget for the following year. Then the department head will present the new budget request in a budget hearing in front of the elected county commissioners and the county manger office.
It is important to note that when the requested budget gets in front of the elected county commissioners it is already altered from the initial submission. I strongly feel that is important for the county commissioners to meet with the department heads themselves ahead of time prior to the county mangers office altering the request, so that they know the original request that was submitted. I know for a fact new positions requested by departments are cut prior to the elected officials actually seeing the budget request. This needs to end and when elected all department heads will be allowed to submit their original request without it being altered at least once before it goes for county manger review and balance that way the elected County Commissioners are kept in the loop with request in each department.
Elected County Commissioners should not be kept out of the loop on request for services needed by our county departments to provide superior service throughout our community. This does not mean that all requests will be provided and approved as we have to focus on keeping our communities needs within our operating budget as to prevent increases in tax locally. I believe in being fiscally conservative, but I also believe that our community deserves a professional level of service that the County Commissioners have a responsibility to fund in order to maintain a healthy economy and community.
PCD: How would you rate the current board’s fiscal responsibility? Were there any recent expenditures you would have voted differently on?
JC: This is another question that is hard to address unless you are actively seated to gather all the correct and current information. I did speak briefly on this during a Pender County GOP Forum on April 12, 2022. I brought it to the attention of our community that under the current administration and appointed county manager, two new assistant county mangers were hired. In the past, to my knowledge, the county manger for a county of our size has not had to have an assigned assistant much less two.
This type of funding may be necessary, but it is hard to understand why two and not one, when in the past one was not needed at all. Our county IT department is operating with only four and the department heads are being held accountable for their own website content. I can see where two new employees in this area would be more beneficial to our community and at half the cost.
I am also aware that we send $50,000 a year to the Duplin County airport for maintaining their weather tower and this has been occurring for some time now.
Again, this is hard question to address without actively being seated to gather all the facts and current information. I do strongly believe and pledge once elected to be very involved in all aspects of the budget process in order to assure the citizens of Pender County are represented at all times over special interests.
PCD: With the growing population, how do you think the county should maintain or upgrade its infrastructure?
JC: We need to start thinking outside the box and get away from the mentally of this is the way it has always been. We have a major traffic issue on the east side, and since 2011 we have responded with the solution of a bypass that is still not going to be completed until 2030 and in no way can any current or future commissioner speed up the process. The construction has finally begun in March of 2022 and NCDOT is in full control of the project.
Our community will continue to grow during this time and currently our roadway infrastructure is failing. In order address the situation we must be smart and seek alternatives. I would like to see the Sheriff’s Office fully funded with grant options from the NC Governors Highway Safety program as a startup cost and the County absorbing operating cost as many other counties have done statewide to address their concerns.
I do believe and have seen the benefits of a true operational traffic unit dedicated for traffic only in a community. The citizens of Pender County deserve this level of service and we are past due this level of service. I also believe that we can partner with NCDOT and explore other options to help control the traffic issues on the eastside until the bypass is completed. I believe through new signage, closing the suicide lane (turn lane) in between intersections, speed limit adjustments, added de-acceleration lanes, and other outside of the box ideas we can offer immediate relieve on the eastside.
Unfortunately, due to failed planning for the future and growth we are in a tough spot with our school overcrowding concerns. We must address these issues as fast as possible, but have an understanding that we are at least two years out on any new schools being completed as we do not own land for construction at this time. We may have to explore adding trailers and/or add on to the current schools, although they were not designed for expansion.
We must not forget the situation we are in today when it comes to school overcrowding and plan for the future. We must purchase land and build new schools with room for expansion to prevent this from ever happening again. I do believe we must bring in a consultant group to complete a full study on our entire county system.
The community needs to see where we stand nationally compared to other counties of our size and population. Our county departments are strained in an attempt to keep up with the professional service our community deserves, and I strongly feel this is due to the departments not having the resources and manpower necessary to provide that level of service. The County Commissioners have an obligation to provide all department heads with the resources necessary to provide our community the level of service they deserve.
PCD: Is there an additional issue or issues you think need(s) to be addressed during your term, should you win?
JC: There are several other concerns I would like to visit locally once I am elected. One of the first issues deals with the election process itself. Currently, to run for local office the only requirements are provided by the state. A candidate must be 21 and live in the jurisdiction they are running for. There is no time period stated and/or required.
I would like to see a local ordinance address this issue. If a candidate wants to run for local office, they are certainly welcome to do so, but they should have some vested interest in our community. Living in their jurisdiction for a minimum of 12 months is not unreasonable to ask especially as the state requires sheriff candidates to do the same. A person who chooses to move to an area to run for a position should not be allowed to move and file to run the next day as a representative for that area.
I would also like to see the county board of elections be given more authority and manpower to oversee and manage campaigns during campaign season to keep things more fair across the board. Every election season numerous signs are stolen, signs are placed illegally in positions not allowed by law, and many other concerns that should be addressed. By passing local ordinances, local law enforcement can help to keep things in line. In return, we may see more candidates step forward to represent our community knowing they will not be targeted as such now that we have local ordinances to protect them.
I would also like to see our local government address military families in our area especially spouses and children. Our local heroes who have to leave for training or to protect all of us on assignment should have the comfort of knowing we as a community are protecting their families. There are multiple things we can offer these families locally from transportation service, babysitting service, grocery service, lawn service, and any other service necessary to allow comfort to the family during this time.
Ultimately, it is time we as community take care of each other and I am more than willing as the next Pender County Commissioner to lead the charge.
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