Incumbent Brian Caskey faces challenger Sandra Goode in the race for the Mills River Town Council District 1 seat in the Nov. 2 municipal general election.
James Cantrell is running against incumbent Brian Kimball in the race for the District 2 seat. Dennis Grass, who also filed for the District 2 seat and is on the ballot, has since withdrawn from the race.
Shannon Gonce is running unopposed for the District 3 seat after Mayor Chae Davis decide not to seek re-election.
Other races on the ballot are Hendersonville mayor and Fletcher mayor, along with council seats in Hendersonville, Fletcher, Flat Rock and Laurel Park.
Caskey, Kimball, Goode and Cantrell were sent questions from the Times-News. Caskey’s answers are below.
Why did you decide to run for a seat on council?
I have served on the Town Council for the past four years, including the last two as mayor pro tem. During that time, I have been a ferocious advocate for forward-thinking policies that will allow Mills River to protect its green spaces and rural lifestyle.
In May, we passed a comprehensive land use plan, which is a big first step in allowing us to do that. That plan – three years in the making – balances the rural quality of our town; preserving our green spaces while bringing in high-paying jobs and creating opportunities for small business investment.
We’ve lowered the tax rate on our residents while attracting hundreds of high-paying jobs in skilled industries. We are now the economic powerhouse of Henderson County, and annual revenues last year were up 9% over the previous year. We need to keep that momentum going.
If elected, what will your top priorities be?
A top priority, for me, and one that I will bring up at our annual budget retreat in January, is revisiting the Sheriff’s Office contract. We have absolutely no issue with the level of service that we receive from the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office, but we do have issues with the cost. The people of Mills River are essentially being double-taxed for law enforcement services.
Going forward, I will stress ways for us to be looking at sustainability, especially through grant opportunities that benefit the town. We’ve installed solar panels, which defray our energy costs by 77%. We’ve installed electric car chargers. We’ve taken advantage of a streambank restoration grant. Those are creative ways to improve our community while getting someone else to pay for it.
We must also look at putting existing farmland into conservation/recreation status, using a portion of our healthy town revenues, starting right now. Things are moving in the right direction in Mills River, but we need our best and brightest to step up in order to meet these challenges.
What do you believe are the main issues impacting Mills River residents? What do you want to do to address those issues?
Growth is an obvious problem, and one that is mentioned frequently. The comprehensive land use plan that I pushed for the last three years and which was adopted in May will provide our Town Council, and councils in years to come, with an excellent new weapon that can be used to encourage good projects and to eliminate bad ones.
During my time on the council, we have attracted good business partners like Gaia Herbs, Burning Blush Brewery and Mills River Brewing. We’ve also been fortunate enough to entice a $28 million, 110,000-square-foot Amazon distribution center to come to Mills River along with a $10 million, 90,000-square-foot Lowe’s distribution center and a new $60 million, 250,000-square-foot distribution center that is, as yet, unnamed.
We’ve added hundreds and hundreds of jobs during a time when the economy, both nationwide and statewide, has been either frozen in place or contracting. We’ve added all of the industry that we can; now it’s time to invest in our community and to do everything possible to encourage small business, which is of course the backbone of any community.
Why should voters choose you?
Abraham Lincoln famously said, “Don’t change horses in the middle of a stream,” and this is a critical time for Mills River. I represent Mills River on the Henderson County Transportation Advisory Committee, the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Land of Sky Regional Council, and the LGCCA’s American Rescue Plan Steering Committee.
I also serve on the advisory committee for Conserving Carolina. I’m a board member for the Carolina Veterans’ Coalition and I’m a member of the NAACP and the League of Women Voters.
So, you have an experienced leader on the Town Council. Many projects that are going to be of tremendous benefit to Mills River must be carried through to completion. Among the ongoing projects that need a steady hand are American Rescue Plan funds – that’s $2.17 million dollars that has been specifically earmarked for infrastructure in Mills River.
I’m on an LGCCA subcommittee in Henderson County that’s looking to leverage the power of shared partnerships regionwide to get the most for our money. Those funds will directly benefit the citizens of Mills River and we can use it to push high-speed internet, cell phone service, or any number of high-priority items in our community.
If elected, what are your plans to handle growth and development as well as the housing crisis?
Mills River’s population is growing in excess of 1% per year – that’s not unworkable, but we must be constantly looking to do two things: We have to invest in the future to encourage the right kind of growth and we have to control development.
In the past, we’ve just seen total domination by the free market. Many of the residents of Mills River have paid for that misguided philosophy by having green spaces stripped of trees and brand new, cookie-cutter neighborhoods springing up in places where they don’t belong.
Workforce housing is a concern – that, by the way, is defined as housing which is affordable to households in Henderson County with combined earnings of around $55,945.
The residents of Mills River indicated a strong desire for workforce housing during our many comprehensive plan input sessions. We’ve created zones of opportunity for higher-density housing, but the developers who have come before council with plans to develop “workforce housing” have instead presented us with “luxury housing.”
We’ve got enough luxury housing in Mills River. We are waiting for the right projects to come along because we absolutely want the people who work here to be able to live here.
Any additional comments?
One of the services that we’ve implemented this year is road and street maintenance under the Powell Bill.
Joining this program will allow us to fund the construction of the Mills River Valley Trail and other urban greenways, using state money to create an amenity that industrial employers already want to offer to their employees, but which will also serve as a small-business incubator and attractor for bakeries, restaurants, adventure outfitters, bike shops, coffee shops, and other small businesses.
Industry can attract the skilled workers that they need when part of the pitch to potential employees is “you can ride your bike to work – or take a walk in the Blue Ridge Mountains on your lunch break.”
Growth at the current rate is sustainable, but only with intelligent, engaged leadership and a constant eye on expanding the tax base. The absolute best way for us to predict the future in Mills River is to create it ourselves.
Lurah Lowery is the education and city government watchdog reporter for the Hendersonville Times-News, part of the USA Today Network. Email her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @lurahlowery and Facebook.com/lurahjournalist.
Read More:Mills River Town Council election: Brian Caskey