Saturday, March 2, 2024

Election 2022: Travis Robinson vies for NHC Board of Commissioners seat

Travis Robinson is hoping to secure a seat on the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners. (Courtesy photo)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. ⁠— Democrat Travis Robinson is hoping to secure one of two seats available on the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners this coming election. He will be up against incumbent Rob Zapple (D), as well as candidates LeAnn Pierce (R) and Tom Toby (R).

Port City Daily has sent a questionnaire to every candidate appearing on ballots in the tri-county region, even those unopposed, ahead of the Nov. 8, 2022, election.

PCD asked candidates to address issues pertinent to the county, from affordable housing to school safety, taxes to population growth.

Robinson’s stances on issues are discussed below. All answers are included in full; the candidate’s opinions and statements are not a reflection of Port City Daily. Responses are edited only for grammar, spelling and clarity.

The paywall is dropped on candidate questionnaires to help voters make informed decisions ahead of Election Day.

To prepare, here are a few dates for readers to keep in mind:

  • Absentee ballots will be available Sept. 9 and have a Nov. 1 deadline.
  • Registration to vote will open until Oct. 14; afterward, according to the state board of elections, same-day registration only will be available during one-stop early voting. 
  • Early voting begins Oct. 20 and remains open through Nov. 5 (3:30 p.m.).
  • Election Day polls open Nov. 8, 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Locations to vote early in New Hanover County include CFCC Health Sciences and Learning Center (415 2nd. St.), Carolina Beach Municipal Building (1121 Lake Park Blvd.), CFCC North Campus (4500 Blue Clay Rd.), Northeast Library/Board of Elections (1241-A Military Cutoff Rd.), and the Senior Center (2222 S. College Rd.).

Once early voting closes, voters will need to go to the location listed on their voter registration card.

To see a sample ballot for the upcoming election, fill in voter registration info here.

Port City Daily (PCD): Name three top priorities facing the county currently and how you propose to address them.

Travis Robinson: Affordable Housing — Working with the four other commissioners ensure that the projects that come before us are designed and allow for the right use of their lands working within our Comprehensive Lane Use Plan and Plan NHC models (single family, multi-family, apartments or townhouses two-three story, etc.).

Continue the public-private partnerships with community organizations, which will work to ensure we develop workforce housing for those who are paying 30% or higher of their income for housing.

Meet and discuss with developers, builders and other community stakeholders the making of single-family homes that are of equal or greater size than the Eden Village type residences that can be affordable for our workforce housing. Other options could be converting hotels to apartments and make them contingent on a guaranteed percentage of total apartments available for years to come or at a time certain for tax or other purposes.

Accessible and affordable healthcare — Continue to work with our city partners on getting land donations for clinics that are privately funded. Communicate with state and federal officials for getting expansion of Medicaid for our state

Safer and Funded Schools — Ensure adequate funding is provided for our children to attend school from pre-K to community college. Ensure that certified, trained and armed law enforcement officers are in every school of this county, that they have the equipment in hand that allows them to respond to a variety of emergencies and incidents on campus (i.e., rifles, breaching tools etc.).

PCD: What is the current board of commissioners getting right? Wrong?
TR: Right — Keeping up with the courts and rulings as it relates to water safety in our area. Continuing to strive to hold those responsible to eventually pay their fair share for the damages that have been caused.

Getting our property tax rate back to a reasonable level — one of the lowest in the state, but could be a little lower.

Wrong — Not seeking locally or at the state level any legislation or policies that would hold all of them responsible to the Code of Ethics that they all signed on April 2022 with regards to the removal of another commissioner from at least their leadership role or from the board all together.

County officials and the public have emailed and communicated their opinion of the board as a whole and it doesn’t fair well with everyone being painted with that narrow brush. But a response is better than no response. 

It appears that they aren’t taking a public position on it. The other information is coming out sporadic and only upon news outlets inquiring under the law is it verified or validated. 

PCD: Are there any county departments you consider underfunded or overlooked that would receive more attention if you were elected? Explain.
TV: I would again look at the prior budgets and speak individually to our department heads as to what funding they have received and their need for increases or decrease. We have the mandated funding as directed by law and there isn’t a whole lot of wiggle room in some instances. But it is well worth our effort to have that dialogue and see if there any chances to redirect when we can. 

PCD: Tell us how you would address areas below that remain of high interest to constituents: affordable/workforce housing, population growth, taxes, and school funding and safety.
TV: Affordable/workforce housing: Support the $15 million dollar effort already adopted by the current board. Continue to support Wave Transit in identifying routes that provide transportation to our service industry workers who have hours that require bus service when now they aren’t running the late service in some areas as needed. ¼ cent sale tax may additionally offer assistance in this as time goes on.

Population growth: Work within our Combined Land Use Plan for smart reasonable development. Work to attract decent wage jobs and development communities that are reasonable in cost to a majority of those coming here to live.

Taxes: Work within the budget that is a result of our tax base. Basically monies coming in and what is being spent should in theory be comparable to what we do in our home. Utilize monies from public-private partnerships when able and seek grants and other funding sources when we are able to do that also. 

School funding and safety: Same response as three priorities above. Make sure we communicate with our state representatives to ensure that our state budget process complies with the laws on the books, i.e. Leandro Case.

PCD: Conversations are evolving in regards to the development of the western banks of the Cape Fear River. Do you support conservation and/or small or large mixed-use development in this area of Wilmington? Explain. 
TR: I would await the results of the different technical studies that are being done by the county, recommended after the work session on Aug. 18, 2022. We must take into consideration the flooding in those areas, the historical factors related to the land and what would be the best fit.

Also a meeting and Vote of the Board of Trustees of the NC Land and Water Fund may determine part of the land’s use in a couple of weeks.

PCD: How would you grade the county, A-F, in balancing green space with development? Do you have ideas on improving?
TR: Grade C. I believe that we can review and follow in all phases of development the Comprehensive Greenway Plan. I think we need to still hold meetings and have conversations with others inside of our county to make sure decisions made reflect our best practice to keep trees and accessible greenspace for our residents.

Also to make sure that when we approve of appointments to boards and commissions that we have done our due diligence and the right qualified person are doing what is expected of them based on the actual board purpose and missions. This enables us to better follow their direction and decisions on matters brought before us.

PCD: The Cape Fear Memorial Bridge is nearing its end-of-life span without a firm plan in place to build anew. What would you like to see happen and how do you propose its funding, as it’s not listed a priority on NCDOT’s 10-year STIP? Do you support a toll?
TR: I would remind the area federal and state legislatures that we need to make sure the proper funding in the respective budgets, and in accordance with the state highway fund that southeastern North Carolina, has a major purpose in the economic development and stability, as we are a thriving development area. Film industry is booming, and with future rail realignment and transportations addition of cold storage and other facilities at the airport business park and the state ports, is vital to port and road commerce.

We definitely have to work with the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and see what the next Request for Information has contained within it that the NCDOT requested.

If after the DOT gets information from the RFI, and an option is a public-private partnership then a nominal toll may be appropriate at that time.

PCD: Are there other top-of-mind infrastructure needs you would address as commissioner?
TR: Continue to work on the storm water programs to clean and clear out the unincorporated areas

PCD: Do you support public-private partnerships, most recently Project Grace and the soon-to-open New Hanover County Government Center? Do you think it’s an appropriate use of taxpayer money? Explain.
TR: I would support them based on a case-by-case basis. Mixed-use development with tax incentives and increased county tax revenue would be some of the things to consider.

I am glad that the Local Government Commission has oversight on these type of things, and I do believe that we as commissioners have a duty to strongly consider heeding their decisions and not do things with groups because of their county connections for over 20 years, etc. If there has been established a strong work history with county projects to the good, then those should be given stronger consideration than no history or little at all.

PCD: There have been concerns with a rise in homelessness in the area. Commissioners voted down an ordinance in April that would have made it illegal for unsheltered populations to sleep on county property. Do you support that decision? 
TR: I do support their decision as if there were violations they would be of a civil penalty in nature, and the eventual end result would be incarceration and most often then not unsheltered folks have a variety of issues they are working through and often times don’t get the resources or help they need. 

PCD: How would you propose the county step in to help some of the most vulnerable populations?
TR: I think we need to add to the community outreach that WDI has in place (where they are contacted by Jack Morris, outreach street specialist). And provided with local resources. Add/create street teams with mental health workers, social workers, church and shelter organizations to supplement the available person for contacting that population. 

Repurpose buildings, such as the Salvation Army, which is having a new facility built off of MLK in the near future. Look at properties that can provide day shelter usage some of it for sleeping, some of it for storage of their personal properties whiles some unsheltered go to services or seek employments.

Have some type of document in which their efforts are noted and if no progress or efforts, adopt a nominal fee that they would pay to be in these facilities with a maximum of $20 a day, for example.

PCD: Where can the county improve to provide more equitable opportunities and outreach to historically marginalized communities? 
TR: Have public meetings with residents of those neighborhood a couple of times a year and listen to what their concerns and/or issues are. Try to appoint citizens to some of the boards that are needing a variety of experience and knowledge with some emphasis on their communities, etc.

Reach out to the faith based community and have them help to get you to meet those who make an impact and especially follow up on every single concern that is bought forward. Not to pass off to a staffer and think about when the next meeting is coming up or you get a visit or phone call from that community member, etc.

I believe that our collective offices in local government addressing the cultural diversity and inclusion are great starts, but to also realize that diversity and equity works both ways. The educational piece sometimes seems to be received as delivered and that isn’t good for some experiencing the topics for the first time. 

PCD: Is the county doing enough to hold Chemours accountable for PFAS pollution in the Cape Fear? Explain.
TR: I always think that more can be done. They have worked to hold Chemours responsible and to get them to pay for the granular activated carbon filters that CFPUA has paid for would be a tremendous start to more accountability in this effort. It is a process that needs to be continually addressed and monitored as it has been going on for a very long time. That is on the state, local and federal level all of our representatives collectively. 

PCD: Citizens have expressed concerns regarding trust with the current board; what will you do to (re)gain it?
TR: I will always be open and honest in my dealings with the citizens as I was as a 32-year career law enforcement officer. I will strive to remember every day that I serve — that YOU are the ones who put your faith and trust in me, and I will live up to my oath and commitment to public service.

Work on seeing how we can provide the transparency level that citizens expect while staying within the law as it relates to certain topics that can be revealed at first. Strive to faithfully work with the other four commissioners and county staff to get the best end result for us all regardless of our registered parties or personal beliefs.

[Ed. Note: The opening paragraphs have been updated to reflect the party affiliation of Tom Toby as Republican, not Democrat; PCD regrets the typo.] 

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Shea Carver
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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