NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Joe Irrera, a Republican and retired marine, is running 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 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.
Irrera’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 (PCD): What is your top priority and how would you address it?
Joe Irrera (JI): Fiscal responsibility. Many factors contribute to the overall makeup of fiscal responsibility, but I plan to closely monitor spending. In concert with this, growth within the county will continue for the foreseeable future, so we must align infrastructure to meet the needs.
Growth will be one of the primary economic drivers for New Hanover County and that should be viewed as a positive factor. I will also continue to encourage the various creative types of development we are experiencing, such as Project Grace, the Soda Pop District, Castle Street and The Cargo District.
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?
JI: I do not currently support the quarter-cent sales tax increase. It will punish those it purports to serve. Public transportation is a need within the county, and I am researching current courses of action to improve efficiency, such as route changes and Ride Micro. These are two examples of how to improve efficiency at Wave Transit. With a relatively new executive director at Wave Transit, I am encouraged by her vision and strategy. I expect this to translate to greater productivities.
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?
JI: $15 million is what was slated so that is what we will work with. Housing across the board will continue to be a subject which requires monitoring and refining. The desirability to live in New Hanover County, along with supply and demand, will necessitate continual adjustments. Public and private collaboration is the best way to address and find resolution. Working with builders to ensure homes can be constructed at an affordable price.
Part of the solution is to align infrastructure with growth. We must continue to be vigilant in bringing well-paying jobs to our area as well so people can afford to live here. The median cost for housing continues to increase and we need to.
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?
JI: I am comfortable with many of the community violence initiatives. I would like to see more emphasis on law enforcement officers and less on administrative staff and councilors. My focus would be a proactive strategy versus what appears to be a reactive strategy.
PCD: In what ways does New Hanover County need to manage population growth? Are there new ideas you would bring to the table?
JI: People want to come to New Hanover for the very reason each one of us choose to move here. It is a wonderful place to live, work, play and raise a family. With that comes a concerted effort to ensure housing is available and affordable, schools are above average in curriculum and teaching quality, as well as not overcrowded, jobs across the pay spectrum are available.
PCD: How well do you think the county balances development with “livability” (i.e. moderated traffic, preserved green space, etc.)?
JI: We cannot be complacent. Options such as roundabouts can help alleviate traffic congestion, but the responsibility of roads lies with the state or the City of Wilmington. This is an example of the importance of working in collaboration with our state and local municipality. With growth comes challenges and we are addressing each of those daily. I am a member of the New Hanover County Park and Garden Advisory Board. We strive to preserve green space via new programs like Hanover Pines Nature Park, Echo Farms Park, Long Leaf Pines improvements, and multi-use trails. We will continue to foster these types of areas.
PCD: What role do commissioners need to play in protecting the local environment and coasts?
JI: Commissioners are stewards of the county and need to act as such. I am a lifelong surfer and know the importance of a clean ocean and the impacts it has not only locally but globally.
I am the president of a veteran’s nonprofit called “Veterans Memorial Reef.” We inter the cremated remains of veterans into an aquatic urn which is then placed into a 1600-pound concrete structure. After a military memorial ceremony, we place the memorial markers on the ocean floor at the artificial reef site. We are working in collaboration with UNCW to address the positive impact on near shore fish habitats.
The State of North Carolina granted VMR the use of 160 acres approximately 5 miles offshore of the southern North Carolina coastline at AR-372 to develop artificial reefs using these memorial markers. The University of North Carolina Wilmington Center for Marine Science, working with VMR, will gather data and map this significant area. This will provide a baseline of the region and a detailed and accurate site assessment of this aquatic environment. This assessment is necessary to allow for the implementation of memorial markers that will enhance fish habitats, as well as environmental resiliency. It is the goal of these memorial markers to increase fish biomass in this area.
PCD: What do you think of the county’s supplemental funding for the school district?
JI: Teachers and first responders are under paid for the services they provide. We need to prioritize needs over wants and determine how to make this sustainable without raising taxes. We cannot afford to and should not lose qualified personnel due to a slightly higher pay scale at an adjacent county.
PCD: What do you think of the current tax rates? How would you balance taxes with identifying funding for top-of-mind issues?
JI: Tax rates could have been lowered to revenue neutral. Though the tax rate was lowered, with the increase in property values, many people incurred an increase in paying property taxes. This was at a time when many individuals were suffering economically in various ways. I would look at a prioritization of funding. This translates to the fact that not every initiative needs to or should be funded.
PCD: Is there an additional issue or issues you think need(s) to be addressed during your term, should you win?
JI: You alluded to safety with the question addressing the anti-violence department. We must also address the opioid crisis and the associated health issues and crime. We need to dismantle the networks and not just punish the end user.
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