Tuesday, August 9, 2022

2022 Primary Election: LeAnn Pierce runs for the NHC Board of Commissioners

LeAnn Pierce, Republican, is vying for one of two seats on the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners. (Courtesy photo)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY ⁠— LeAnn Pierce, Republican, is vying for one of two seats on the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners. Pierce was elected as the first female mayor of Carolina Beach and served from 2019-2021.

Port City Daily has sent a questionnaire to every candidate running in local elections in the tri-county region. The paywall is 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.

Pierce’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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Port City Daily (PCD): What is your top priority and how would you address it?

LeAnn Pierce (LP): County leadership must become more collaborative with its citizens, municipalities within the county and school board. Too often, each jurisdiction’s local government moves forward on its own path, without joining together to act in the interest of New Hanover County as a whole.

I’ve succeeded in helping all kinds of stakeholders find common ground on complicated issues and bringing a sense of co-operation to the board of commissioners is my top priority. Working as a team, we can better attack issues like increasing taxes, infrastructure needs, housing, safety and quality of life in New Hanover County.

PCD: What improvements need to be made to public transportation in New Hanover County? Should a quarter-cent sales tax increase pass, 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?

LP: I would not have supported a quarter-cent sales tax were I on the board of commissioners. I need clear details on how and where the additional tax money would be spent, as well as a plan outlining these expenses. I would be hard-pressed to support propositions like this.

In past referendums where voters were asked to fund wide-reaching and vague initiatives, progress sometimes takes decades, if it proceeded at all. A quarter-cent sales tax could generate tremendous revenues, which would need to be managed properly.  

Modernizing Wave, and making public transportation more efficient for New Hanover County residents, should be top of mind as we look to improve the transportation scene. Imposing a tax on every situation that is broken is never the best answer. A revitalization implementing smaller buses with more efficient routes is a start. I am encouraged to hear of the ride share program and believe that could work. I think looking at a trolly-style system, like used in other tourist destinations, might help with traffic flow as well.    

Again, tackling an issue like this will require getting together leaders and stakeholders throughout the county to engineer a solution that will help Wave operate at its fullest potential. 

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?

LP: After brainstorming for years on how to make housing affordable for all the residents of the county, the recent allocation of $3-million-per-year, first of all, seems more like a Band-Aid than a solid fix. It’s also unfortunate that chunks of that money, intended to help residents find places to live at affordable rates, will be whittled away through new government agencies, surveys and studies.

We have a supply-and-demand issue. We can incentivize builders with the money, but the answer at its core, I believe, is to do everything we can to increase wages in the region. This also involves recruiting cutting-edge industry to New Hanover County that pay our citizens better wages. We can also increase opportunities for diverse types of secondary education and access to it. 

We need a more long-range, comprehensive plan to this issue.

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?

LP: The flaw in this new program is its reliance on federal Covid-19 relief money from Washington, which will completely expire in a few years. After that, unless there is a dramatic intervention, the burden to pay for Port City United will be carried largely by local taxpayers. 

Most importantly, in a survey conducted, the students of New Hanover County told leadership what they themselves need to feel safe at school. That included having more adults to talk to and trust, more afterschool programs to enrich their lives after 3:30 p.m. This might be sports, arts, music, committees and special interests to help them develop an interest and love of some special talent they embody. 

Many children are lost and turn to gang activities looking for a place to belong. We must catch our children while they are young and help them develop a sense of pride and confidence in themselves. I would rather see money put towards these types of programs, which directly connect with our youth.   

These same students also referenced needing clean bathrooms and buses that did not arrive on time and some never arrived at all. This is unacceptable!

We need to give our students ideals to believe in and dreams to work toward. They want to be safe at school, and that shouldn’t be too much to ask. As a county commissioner, I will strive to achieve the best outcomes for our kids, and to work tirelessly so that county programs function as intended.  

PCD: In what ways does New Hanover County need to manage population growth? Are there new ideas you would bring to the table?

LP: The fact of life is that our county — our region — is a desirable place to live. People are moving here from all over, and as our population grows it is key we maintain a healthy balance of supply and demand. 

We need an abundant housing inventory to accommodate the demand for housing in our county. It’s not the place of local government to step on the toes of citizens when it comes to property rights, though I believe that as county commissioners we can strategically encourage top-quality projects in our area.

We must also work closely with NCDOT to make sure our roads and connectivity can keep up with the pace of our growth. We will have growth, but the question is how much. I would fight for our citizens so that this county grows intelligently and robustly to meet the demand for places to live.

As a small business owner, I also have a sharp sense of how to make the most out of the resources available. Making this county livable for everyone is an achievable goal, it will just require a dedicated, well thought out plan. 

PCD: How well do you think the county balances development with “livability” (i.e. moderated traffic, preserved green space, etc.)?

LP: I believe that at local and state levels, we can do a better job to ensure that our infrastructure has expanded at the same rate as our population growth. Now, we are many steps behind on crucial roadway and utility projects needed to improve quality of life for local residents.

I appreciate New Hanover County’s dedication to preserving green space — which is a necessity in a place like ours, abundant with natural resources that deserve protection across the generations. I am also encouraged to see the connectivity with multi-use trails and bike paths within the county.

Today, we need to think ahead so that future generations are not left playing catch-up. In the rural and developing northern part of our county, the next few years of infrastructure growth will be critical as the Sidbury and Blue Clay areas become more developed. We must be proactive and develop long-range plans for a balanced county.

PCD: What role do commissioners need to play in protecting the local environment and coasts?

LP: The beaches of New Hanover County are its cultural and geographical jewels, flowing with wildlife and natural landscapes unlike any other. Local government in a place like New Hanover County should be stewards of the coastal environments we inhabit.

As mayor of Carolina Beach, I was proud to help negotiate the landmark purchase of Freeman Park at the island’s north end: fully ensuring that 300 beautiful acres, the largest park in New Hanover County, will be forever protected and preserved in a natural state. 

It would be a privilege to bring my perspective as a beach town leader to the board of commissioners in New Hanover County. Many of us came to New Hanover County for its abundance of beaches, waterways, and inlets that foster the way of life we all enjoy here. I will be an educated and experienced voice on the board and a valuable asset for the county in fostering collaboration among all the stakeholders in our coastal region. 

PCD: What do you think of the county’s supplemental funding for the school district?

LP: Again, I believe that government spending works best when deliberately directed toward fixing specific issues, rather than when used as a Band-Aid. I will encourage programs designed to solve issues related to school infrastructure, to make sure there are enough bus drivers to get our students to and from school every day, and to guarantee that our schools are safe and secure environments. 

PCD: What do you think of the current tax rates? How would you balance taxes with identifying funding for top-of-mind issues?

LP: This past year should have been a revenue neutral year to give the citizens of New Hanover County time to recover from the pandemic and the financial distress that Covid-19 has inflicted on our community. Once that money is budgeted and spent, it becomes harder and harder to claw down the rate to ease the burden on taxpayers.

As I’ve said before, this money that has been taxed from the citizens with the effective property tax increase last year should be spent tackling direct issues, not contributing to the growth of government positions and departments disconnected from on-the-ground work. 

PCD: Is there an additional issue or issues you think need(s) to be addressed during your term, should you win?

LP: As mayor of Carolina Beach, we did not have access to large funding sources so we learned to budget with less. I used my experience as a business owner to be a creative, out-of-the-box thinker. One way was maximizing the value of room occupancy tax funding for our citizens. This is the money gained from tourism to our area and then injected back into the local economy.

Since New Hanover County has built a sterling reputation as a tourism destination, we must find new and creative ways to leverage the funding tourism brings to the area. The citizens of our county, city and beaches deserve to benefit for sharing our region during tourism influxes. I’m dedicated to making our tourism economy work for our own residents too.

We will also need commissioners to build consensus with hospital endowment fund leaders to hold this organization accountable to the citizens of New Hanover County.  This organization has the ability to change the future of New Hanover County in a positive way for many generations. We all deserve that, and I am confident and excited for the future possibilities.  

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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