On Tuesday, Stokes County residents registered as a Republican or Independent will have a chance to choose the two candidates they would like to see run for two open Stokes County Board of Commissioners seats in November.
Six Republican candidates, incumbent Jimmy Walker and challengers Becky Boles, Allen Brown, Randy Cook, Ronnie Mendenhall and Dennis Robinson, are fighting for the chance to advance to the November election where they will face Democrats Michael Hylton and Rev. Gregory Hairston.
The Stokes News asked the Repubilcan candidates 20 questions about how they hope to help Stokes County. Their unedited responses follow.
1. Please provide a history of your public service including any boards or councils you have served on and any subcommittees you have served on.
Boles — I have served on the Stokes County Board of Education for nine years. I am precinct Chairman for Germanton Republican, a member of the Republican Executive Board.
Cook — Since I got saved over 10 years ago, I have had a desire to serve people. I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer in juvenile prisons all along the East Coast from Ohio to Florida. We continue to work in different areas with high risk youth. Recently we were placed on the JCPC Program here in Stokes County.
Mendenhall — I worked for the Stokes County School System for 36 years as a teacher, coach, counselor, assistant principal, principal and superintendent. I served on the Stokes Partnership for Children Board of Directors, Piedmont Triad Education Consortium Board of Directors, the Stokes County Early College/Forsyth Tech Advisory Committee, and the N. C. High School Athletic Association Board of Directors. I served on the fundraising committee for the Stokes Partnership for Children Board of Directors during my last year and I served on the officiating subcommittee on the NCHSAA Board of Directors.
Robinson — Eight years as chairman, secretary, and director of board for Christian Village Holmes, Carolina Apartments, and Village Care. Served 12 years as superintendent of Sunday schools, Sunday school teacher, deacon, and member of finance committee at First Christian Church.
Walker —Stokes County Economic Development Planning Committee, United Way of Stokes, Heart Association, Cancer Services , Chamber of Commerce, Regional YMCA, Stokes YMCA, YVEDDI , Community Child Protection and Fatality Prevention, Stokes County Social Services, Stokes Recreation Advisory Committee, King City Council, Stokes County Board of Commissioners
2. Are you involved any any civic organizations or church groups? If so which ones?
Boles — Not at this time, my church home will always be Parkview Primitive Baptist Church.
Brown —Home Builders Association
Cook — I have been pastor of Shining Light Baptist Church located in Stokes County on Flat Shoals Road for the past 5 years.
Mendenhall — I am a member of the Walnut Cove Rotary Club and I am a member of Willow Oak Baptist Church.
Robinson — On campus Life Group and Dream Team at Center Grove Baptist Church.
Walker —Lions Club. Kiwanis Club, Rotary Club, Contact Crisis Line. Masonic Lodge, Mount Pleasant UMC (Winston-Salem), First Baptist Church of King, Attending First Christian Church of King.
3. What do you consider to the best assets/skills/experience you will bring to the table if elected as county commissioner?
Boles — The best assets that I bring to the board of county commissioners is the years of dealing with the Commissioners over the school budget. During the time I have been involved with the Republican Party, I have worked hard to see that the right people were elected to be a voice for the people of Stokes County. I believe in the quote ” Evil prevails when good men do nothing” so I have been busy working toward good for my county.
Brown —Small business owner
Cook — I am a commonsense conservative and will offer a listening ear to the citizens of Stokes County.
Mendenhall — The best assets/skills/experience I will bring to the table if elected as county commissioner are: I was born and raised in Stokes County so I am extremely familiar with the needs of our county, I managed and implemented a budget of $63 million for the Stokes County School System therefore I am very familiar with the budget process, I am very passionate about Stokes County, I have a strong work ethic where I grew up on a farm, I am a good decision-maker, a good listener, a good communicator, I will treat all departments fairly and consistently, I will work with others to gather consensus to find out what is in the best interest of everyone involved, I will work for every citizen in the county, I have strong Christian values and beliefs, I am a Conservative Republican and I am committed to building a better Stokes County.
Robinson — 38 years of experience as department manager, being a team member, using zero-based budgeting, and utilizing leadership skills at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. Five years of quality control experience in a production environment at AMP, Inc.
Walker —My Christian Faith which guides my decisions in life, my experience in leadership positions, a fair and balanced approach in making decisions that seek the most positive outcome for all involved, my willingness to listen to people and appreciate their input.
4. Why have you decided to run for county commissioner? What is your vision for Stokes County for the next four years? What key issues would you like to see improvements in, and how would you achieve those goals?
Boles — As a member of the Stokes County Board of Education I have worked on the school budget and sit while it was reviewed by the county commissioners Listen to the different comments about the County budget, listen to the county manager go over different problems that they were dealing with concerning funding. I feel at this time I can be an asset as a county commissioner.
Brown —To help create more jobs for the county by working with the community to lower unemployment and more funding for our aging school repairs.
Cook — I decided to run for commissioner after being approached by concerned citizens. After much prayer I had peace about running. I think the peoples rights have been overrun by government and the citizens are tired of it. They are wanting someone who will represent them, the majority. I feel that I can do this because I am just like them.
Mendenhall — When you love your home county, Stokes, as much as I do, you want to get involved in serving others. You want the opportunity to be a part of building a better place to live and work. That is why my slogan is “Committed to Building a Better Stokes County.” My vision is to see economic growth, jobs becoming more readily available, infrastructure improvements, up to date technology, continued outstanding schools, maintain a low tax rate, and tourism attractions drawing more people in on the weekends. My key issues are listed in the last sentence and we must set strategic goals in all of the above areas to develop a plan which will help us reach this vision.
Robinson — n 1975, Dennis and his wife Rachel looked for and found the best county in North Carolina to live, raise, and educate their four daughters – Stokes County. Now they have two granddaughters looking for the good life and attending school in Stokes County. Today things are not the same as they were in 1975, some are better and many others are not. Look at the schools, road conditions, lost jobs, crime rate, court system, taxes and fees, emergency care, and water and sewer systems. Are we the citizens paying less taxes and fees? No. Dennis wants to know where are the funds going and how used? The state and the federal government are responsible for most of our problems by siphoning off and redirecting dollars from our local and county economy and tax base. What can you do as one citizen/voter? Vote for Dennis Robinson to represent you. If elected, Dennis will work with the other county commissioners, school board, sheriff’s office, justice system, DOT, DHS, state, federal, and other services as needed to represent you and Stokes County.
Walker —To continue to do my part in helping our county move forward in some key ways, for example, county wide affordable high-speed broadband access, more jobs through increased economic development, maintaining a good educational system and seeking to keep as low of tax rate as possible by controlling spending.
5. What do you feel the Board of Commissioners can do to improve the quality of life in Stokes County?
Boles — The most important thing is to know what is going on with the people of Stokes County. The people need to be able to voice their concerns and get information back not be talk down to or ignored. People in this county are struggling and need to know there may be help for them. Lost of homes and jobs have left many in dare straights.
Brown —Bring more business into the county. Lower unemployment.
Cook — Listen to the people. Find solutions to the problems.
Mendenhall — The board of County Commissioners must work with all departments and schools so that our county is the best county possible. The County has just completed a Land Use Plan, which suggests maintaining the Rural Heritage in our agricultural zones, takes advantage of economic growth in our commercial zones, and retain our natural aesthetic beauty which is as good as it gets. Think just a minute about what we have in Stokes County; Hanging Rock State Park(ranked the number 1 state park a couple of years ago), Camp Sertoma/Vade Mecum, Dan River, Camp Hanes YMCA, Sauratown Mountain (one of a kind), the YMCA, the new Art Market tourist center coming soon, and the list goes on. We must utilize all of our tourist and recreation attractions to the maximum.
Robinson — Work together to provide a better education for children and adult students, quality EMS and emergency room service, support sheriff’s department, monitor fracking and coal ash, mandate minimum acreage for chicken and hog farms, support new and better jobs, county water and sewage system for populated/polluted areas, and work with state and federal government for available grants and services.
Walker —Make the decisions that need to be made in the right way, at the right time for the right reasons and that are good decisions for all of the citizens of our county. Here are some examples: Find better and more recreational opportunities for all ages in various areas of our county. Continue to support the Stokes County Arts Council and it’s events. Help our county to have a low cost of living. Continue to have good law enforcement so we will have a safe environment for our families.
Tourism and economic development
6. Stokes County has a high unemployment rate, and a large percentage of of those jobs are in the lower range of salaries. What is your plan for creating more, better paying jobs in Stokes County? Please provide specifics.
Boles — The need to work with business and see what they are looking for in employees, see what training classes can be set up to get people trained for these jobs. Our students need to be job ready when they get out of school. Not every student is planning on going to college.
Brown —Tax-free zones for business start-ups.
Cook — Being a Rural County has its advantages and disadvantages. An advantage is tourism, it is one of the higher attractions for our county. We need to make sure we maintain our parks and recreations. Keep them clean and family friendly. Advertising via internet, (website, facebook, twitter) to get the word out on what we have to offer here in our county would help to bring more tourist in therefore bringing more customers to our local businesses.
Mendenhall — The good news I received concerning this question was answered by David Sudderth today. David is our Economic Development Director. He stated that our unemployment rate for the month of December, which goes through December 31 was only 4.8%. This is below the state average which is between 5 and 6%. The main thing that I see which will continue to help our un-employment rate continue to improve, and also see salaries improve is through education. I believe our school system is channeling students into taking the right course- college or career ready. The main factor getting ready to occur soon is the opening of the community college which will produce a well trained workforce and will also train and retrain workers into careers and vocations with higher paying salaries. The initiation of the STEM curriculum (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) at the middle school level will also guide students into higher paying jobs.
Robinson — That is a tough one. Dennis is willing to work with the other commissioners to speed up the process for rezoning, permits, and inspections for Walmart, Cracker-barrel, Cook-Out, Farmers Market, and other national companies. As a commissioner, Dennis would work to get the word out that Stokes County was looking and willing to work with small business owners and large world class companies to expand or relocate in Stokes County.
Walker —By making it easier to locate, start or grow a business here. For example, high speed internet throughout our county is a good step in this direction. Continue to support our schools because a good educational system contributes to economic development. Encourage folks to buy locally and use local services. Continue to have a good quality of life so business owners want to have their businesses here and want to live here. We could actively recruit businesses to locate here and tourists to visit our county. Also, we need to support our farmers. They are an asset to our county.
7. When looking at economic development in the county, there is a lot of available land but one of the largest hurdles the county faces is access to necessary infrastructure like water, sewer and internet in any area outside of the King community. How would you improve these key infrastructure needs? How would you pay for improvements? How do you see the county being able to compete with other counties in the region which are investing more in their economic development programs?
Boles — Infrastructure is a very important concern for Stokes County to help King with its development needs for growth. The county needs to budget for these improvements, realizing in the long term the financial gain it can bring to the revenue pool.
Brown —Expand water, sewer and internet to business districts, grants, creating tax-free zones for business start-ups.
Cook — Its hard to compare our county to other more urban counties. We have a unique layout with our land from mountains to the foothills so it will be difficult for our county to offer a lot of the necessities that the urban counties can. I do think that the internet being installed throughout our county will have a positive effect, such as more home offices and/or small businesses. We will need to find out what we can offer with what we already have and utilize it.
Mendenhall — Let’s talk about infrastructure needs of water, sewer and internet. Riverstreet Network is currently laying cable for high speed internet and broadband connectivity to the unserved and underserved areas. They have 11 crews currently working throughout the county. This will create a single dedicated line fully supported. The county has also just completed a sewer project for the proposed animal shelter going up at the Meadows site. Water and sewer projects need to be made available to the commercial zones through the current Land Use Plan recently completed. Stokes is competing against 79 other rural counties for jobs, business and industry. We will do whatever we can to make Stokes County as business friendly as possible. We need to write grants to help pay for these infrastructure needs.
Robinson — Again, like more and better jobs, this is a tough one. As commissioners we would have to work to get the word out that we want and are willing to work with small and large businesses that are willing to locate in Stokes County. Funds available for attracting, providing new roads, sewage and water, storm drains, adult training, and perhaps incentives depend on current tax structure and fee rates, surplus funds, budget variances, and examples of what other counties and states are doing to attract new jobs.
Walker —The high-speed internet project that is currently underway will help a lot. Just running water or sewer to an area doesn’t necessarily guarantee business growth, it could lead to more residential growth instead of business growth.. As a small county, we need to use care in how we use our resources. My goal would be to create a more business friendly county.
8. The current Board of Commissioners will soon be considering recommendations for how to restructure and revamp the county economic development initiatives. What do you think are the key things that need to be changed to help move the county forward?
Boles — Do a study on businesses and what they are looking for in trained employees, job ready people. The commissioners need to talk to business and see what needs to be in place for them to consider moving to our county.
Brown —Creating tax-free zones for business start ups.
Cook — I think we need to take care of what we have, such as the Dan River. Every summer the river draws thousands to either canoeing, tubing, picnicking and just hanging out with friends and family, however the activities are not always family friendly. The trash and some of the activity that goes on there needs to be better monitored. No one wants to bring there family to a place that is filled with filth, profanity, drunks and even illegal activity. If we take care of what we have, we will draw more tourist in and make our county more approachable for economic growth.
Mendenhall — We need to become more business friendly which needs to be endorsed by all parties involved, promote the community college opportunities, utilize suggestions from our recently completed Land Use Plan, continue to write grants whenever possible for economic initiatives and continue to support our small businesses. This will assist in our retaining and recruiting new business and industry along with our entrepreneurship.
Robinson — To compete and grow, Stokes County will have to play the game. Commissioners would have to be open to new and old ideas such as windmills, solar, tree (Christmas tree) farms, deep wells, county sewage, service incentives for new companies, and open to complete review of current tax and fee structure.
Walker —Increase our focus on economic development with staffing and funding while working to become a more business friendly county. Involve our citizens more in the process.
9. The commissioners have recently considered using left over grant funding to further expand sewer service in the Meadows community. What are your thoughts on improving infrastructure like sewer and water capacity both in this area and in other parts of the county?
Boles — I am for improving infrastructure. I know it would be a draw card for business and development. If grant money is available for the purpose expanding sewer and water capacity it should be considered.
Brown —I think it would be necessary to attract business to the county.
Cook — Improving infrastructure has never been a bad thing but when you are talking about going into small communities and making big changes I think the community itself should have a say so.
Mendenhall — I support using leftover grant funding to improve infrastructure like sewer and water in other parts of the county such as Meadows. Many times if you do not use all of the grant funding you will lose it and have to send it back to the foundation.
Robinson — Dennis supports this action along with a reasonable monthly or bimonthly bill from county for sewer/water service.
Walker —We should consider all viable options for all areas of the county and deal with them on a fair and equitable priority basis. However, 1100 feet of sewer extension for about $400,000 for the project you referenced does’t seem to be a very good deal.
10. Tourism is a growing industry in Stokes County. Please provide specific actions that the Board of Commissioners can help the county tourism industry grow.
Boles — To realize that tourist travel for pleasure and culture. That the culture sites in our county are in need of repairs. The old jail in Danbury is losing it roof, the brick is falling in on itself. Other sites are not being maintained in a excellent condition. To have a good tourist presents, we need to have sites to visit were tourist can see the best care, not to see the worst care of our Historical sites.
Brown —Create ads showing the natural beauty of the county and what it has to offer.
Cook — Like I said in question 8, we need to take care of what we have and keep it family friendly so everyone can enjoy what we have to offer.
Mendenhall — The county is developing a new Art Market/Tourist Center which will be a tremendous asset to the county. Most of the money for this project has come from grants written by Eddy McGee totaling approximately 1 million dollars. Mr. McGee is our Arts Council director. We must continue to support current businesses and our tourist attractions.
Robinson — Dennis supports better signage and access roads. To do more he would have to review current budget, variances, surplus, tax and fee structure and how it compares with other counties.
Walker —We need a very good web site on an ongoing basis. Media advertising could help. A strong tourism committee would also be a plus.
11. A reality of today’s world is that many tourists like to drink, and last November the citizens of Walnut Cove approved a measure allowing the sale of liquor by the drink in that town. Would you consider changing the county’s regulation on the sale of beer, wine and mixed drinks (on or off-premise) to open up more opportunities for local businesses to capitalize on this potential market? Why or why not?
Boles — Just as the citizens of Walnut Cove took the vote to the people, this is something that the people of Stokes County need to decide. Why, because as an elected official I would represent the people, not me Becky Boles.
Brown —Would leave this up to the voters to decide.
Cook — I have personally observed people consuming large amounts of alcohol in restaurants and leave driving. I think my family and your family’s safety is more important than a potential market. I don’t think we should try to bring in a particular group but keep our county so anyone can come and enjoy what we have to offer. The county wide internet that is currently being installed should help to attract more local business. Everything in this day and time seems to require the internet so I think that will have a positive effect on our county.
Mendenhall — Many people like to drink and we have certain restaurants that currently serve alcoholic beverages. It is an individual right to drink. However, I do not drink due to my beliefs, therefore my strong Christian values would not allow me to consider changing the county’s regulation on the sale of beer, wine and mixed drinks.
Robinson — Dennis does not drink; so, this is another one of those issues that must be decided by the people and for the people – like they did in Walnut Cove.
Walker —Let’s leave things the way they are in the county. The towns have the authority to approve or not approve alcohol in their town limits.
12. Stokes County is filled with aging schools which require more and more maintenance costs each year. A recent facilities study by the school system identified $31 million in needed repairs over the next five years. That study did not include technology costs like updating smart boards and computer systems or providing devices to individual students. How would you propose dealing with these costs? Should taxes be raised? Should some repairs not be made, and if so what criteria should the school system consider for making those determinations? Should some schools be considered for consolidation instead of repair? How important do you consider funding for technology in the schools compared to paying for repairs to aging buildings?
Boles — The school attendance number are down consolidation is something that may have to be looked at in the future. When you talk about the budget the real problem with our budget is that it keeps getting adjusted each year. The budget right now shows 81 % goes to teacher salaries and benefits leaving only 19 % toward technology, supplies and maintenance. When Raleigh decides that they want to give the teachers an increase they look at our budget and decide what they will cut, they do not put more money in to the budget. Then they decide what items we need to cut to make up for the salary increase. They do not even leave it up to us to decide, they pick and we have to make do. Renovation and new construction was supposed to come from the lottery. No Raleigh decided they would decide how the money was spent. Child nutrition Washington got involved in that mandating certain food be served that our children would not buy did not want. Very little additional monies came to cover these add on costs. The county needs leaders who will stand up and say, no more mandates that come without funding!
Brown —Apply for grants to help with the costs, taxes should not be raised. All necessary repairs should be made that the school board deems necessary. Schools should not be considered for consolidation. That would increase classroom size and affect learning. I feel like funding for technology and necessary repairs of our aging buildings are equal. We need to do both.
Cook — I think we have a lot of catching up to do on our schools. No matter how we look at it we have to maintain our schools. First we need to prioritize the needs of the schools and make sure that we are tapping in to every available resource that we have. From my understanding there is already a plan of action in place to help with some of the cost. This day and time technology is a must; however there are grants that can be applied for to help cover the cost of some items.
Mendenhall — The school system has just recently completed a facility needs survey for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction which covers the next five years. These needs are prioritized with the most pressing needs placed in the first year and the least pressing needs placed in year five. Technology funding is becoming a more pressing need due to the Digital Plan developed by the State Department of Public Instruction which should be implemented statewide by 2020-21 school year My desire is that the facility needs can be done without raising taxes.
Robinson — Dennis agrees that we should provide a clean and safe learning environment for our school children. One that is without a leaking roof, peeling paint, broken or defective fixtures, dirty floors and walls, inadequate heat and air-conditioning, outdated equipment, shortage of operating supplies, or an unsubstantiated cutback in teachers, aids, and tutors. A tax increase is our last option. We must first compare school cost per student against every school in the county and state. Use findings to identify areas for improvement, cost reductions, and cost shifts. As a commissioner, work with Raleigh and Washington to win and direct additional funds and grants for the schools in Stokes County.
Walker —Our best option might be to continue using our counties resources as wisely as possible. For example, we have created a ‘school fund’ to help fund school construction and maintenance needs. I listen carefully to the school board and school administrative staff regarding priorities within the school system. I also listen to our citizens in the various communities in our county and work with them.
13. For the past several years the school system has maintained level operations by supplementing local and state funding with funding from its own fund balance. That fund balance is now virtually depleted and the school system budget director has warned that the system may have to consider cutting employees in coming years unless local funding is increased. Would you support increasing local funding for the school’s operating budget? Why or why not?
Boles — Yes, I would support locale funding for school operation. The only choice left if we did not would be to close the doors. The goal of the school system is to provide a safe and secure place for the children to learn. The children of Stokes County is the future, whether a person has a child or not these young people will be the future business men and women, legislators, professionals, or they could be if not properly educated the downfall of our county. I say not on my watch, they will be the best of Stokes County.
Brown —Yes I feel education is important to Stokes County’s growth.
Cook — The budget has to be looked at and examined every year, if the revenue is there I most definitely would support an increase in the schools budget. If the revenue is not there then we would have to explore other avenues.
Mendenhall — Please remember that one of the priorities the school system had over the last four years was to retain personnel and not cut their jobs. This was partially done by not replacing someone’s position who retired or transferred to another system unless the position was an absolute necessity. If the position is an absolutely necessary position then I could support an increase in funding, however this applies to all departments in the county for me because I want all departments to be treated fairly and consistently.
Robinson — Yes, if there was a proven need and the funds were available, Dennis would support increasing local funding for the school’s operating funds.
Walker —I will keep an open mind and consider any option. I don’t like for anyone to lose their job. It’s happened to me before. There are times when jobs can be eliminated through retirement and occurrences other than just eliminating a job.
14. Last year the county increased taxes to meet a growing revenue deficit, with the hopes that the increase, coupled with changes in the state sales tax, would set the county on secure footing for years to come. Do you agree with their decision? Why or why not?
Boles — Yes, I understand that they thought that the economy would improve, that things would get better. They hoped it would get better. It got worst!
Brown —Yes, it will give the county stability for years to come.
Cook — It’s my opinion that we have a couple of conservative commissioners on the current board and they have a record of not spending wastefully so the tax increase must have been a necessity for our county.
Mendenhall — I am not in a position to agree or disagree given the fact that I was not a member of the board when that decision was made. My philosophy is to hear all the facts before deciding on whether to support or not support any issue.
Robinson — Yes, if there truly was a tax deficit, as a last option Dennis would have voted for the increase.
Walker —Last years small tax increase was really needed I will continue to monitor our county’s expenses and revenues with the hope that another tax increase will not be needed any time in the near future and, at some time, it would be nice to be able to reduce taxes
15. As part of last year’s budge the county increased salaries for a variety of county personnel, but still sees some employees leaving the county to work in surrounding counties because of pay dependencies. Do you think current salaries for county employees are at an appropriate level? If not what would you propose doing to change the situation?
Boles — To revisit the budget and see where the increase can come from to provide more money for salaries. The most important things will be to work to keep the employees we have as we go through this economical down fall.
Brown —No, a cost of living raise should be given every year.
Cook — We are a rural county so it is hard to compete with urban counties and larger cities. I do think that we need to take care of our employees as best we can and would support pay raises if the funds are there.
Mendenhall — Stokes County will always have some difficulty competing with surrounding counties like Forsyth and Guilford due to the salaries these larger counties are able to offer. I certainly believe the increase in salaries last year for county employees were justified. I think many of our county employees work here due to their passion and love for Stokes County.
Robinson — No, not at this time, Dennis would not support an increase in salary. Everybody, not just county employees, is feeling the pinch from low or nonexistent increase in salary – reported inflation is zero.
Walker —We probably need a salary/compensation study from a neutral source to give us some more information to work with, The fact that we are continuing to lose employees to neighboring counties makes a compelling statement in its own way. Addressing this situation is an ongoing need.
16. Please describe your philosophy about government expenditures? How would you prioritize needs for future investments over desires to keep taxes low?
Boles — Government when looking at the budget should consider what is for keeping in check the health and welfare of the citizens. To look at the items in the list of maximum benefit to the citizens by needs not wants.
Brown —I believe government expenditures should be kept to a minimum. I think there should be a balance between both.
Cook — As far as government expenditures I believe that they need to be prioritized by importance to our county such as safety including not in any particular order sheriff and fire departments, EMS, and schools. It is important that we practice wise spending so that we can keep our taxes low. Priorities should always come before desires.
Mendenhall — A county commissioner should analyze and study all expenditures. A commissioner should gather all the information at his or her disposal, thoroughly analyze the information, do his or her due diligence, and then come to a decision. The second part of the question is simple, necessities always come before wishes and wants.
Robinson — In priority order, Dennis supports a cost effective lean form of government, maintaining a safe and secure county, having a fee based rapid response EMS and a fixed emergency care service, maintaining the best-of-the-best school system, providing fee based clean water and treated sewage service to densely populated or problematic areas, protecting the environment, helping those that cannot help or provide for themselves, and constantly working with the state and federal government for grants and additional funds to maintain roads, to provide social and health services, to foster tourism, and seed money to attract jobs and growth.
Walker —We need to establish realistic spending priorities and stick with them. The best way to control taxes might be to control spending.
17. What do you see as three major budgetary issues for the county and why?
Boles — Safe and Secure Schools, Security in a strong law enforcement and emergency rescue people, a strong economic development program. Why, one will give us educated citizens for the future a strong work force and tax payers, the second will secure the safety of our citizens along with protecting their health and well being, third a strong financial future for all in the county.
Brown —School funding, $31 million in needed repair over the next five years, county personnel pay, to retain employees, and emergency services, ambulances.
Cook — One major budget issue that our county faces is the repairs needed on our schools. Our schools are aging and with any aging structure comes deterioration. Economic development would be another issue, we need to make sure that we are doing what we can to make sure our vacant land and/or buildings are being used to bring more revenue to our county. School operating cost is an issue also, every year when the funds are allotted it is never enough to cover all cost. I have been approached by teachers having to pay for supplies from their pockets so they can have what is needed to teach our kids the way they feel they need to be taught.
Mendenhall — New revenue sources, infrastructure improvement, capital school projects and personnel salaries to reduce turnover. I listed four due to the tremendous importance of these four. They are not listed in any particular order.
Robinson — Adequate funds for salaries, supplies, and upkeep of equipment, vehicles, and buildings. Dennis would support review and comparison of staffing levels, pay, contracts, and supply chain for possible areas of improvements and cost reductions.
Walker —Creating more revenues while controlling expenses. Having fair and reasonable compensation for our county employees balanced with other county needs and with school needs using the limited resources our county has. Having a reasonable fund balance so that we can maintain our good credit ratings and get favorable interest rates for any debt we acquire.
18. Economic development, school repairs, school operating costs, infrastructure improvements, and changes in salaries could all cost the county a considerable about of money in coming years. Do you foresee a situation where you would consider raising taxes again? Why or why not?
Boles — The future is the light at the end of the tunnel, but to get there it takes everyone working together to think smart. It takes Washington realizing mandates do not come without money, Raleigh needs to know when they do increases they should add it to the budget, let the lottery be used for school improvements, then maybe we would not have to raise taxes, I would not want to raise taxes now the people in Stokes County are having a difficult time.
Brown —No, I think the county is on a good path for years to come.
Cook — We will have to take each fiscal year by year with the unique challenges that come with each year and look at all of our options before even considering raising taxes.
Mendenhall — Not at present, Stokes County has a fund balance of 25.1% which gives it a AA-rating by Standard and Poor’s at this time. The tax increase last year along with possible new revenues sources should put us on solid ground currently.
Robinson — No, Dennis would not raise taxes unless it was proven that the need exist and the county was operating in a cost effective manner and that this county was operating as efficient as any other county with same or comparable economics of scale for property value, census, and per capita income. Dennis would also suggest doing the same with “fees” and sales tax.
Walker —I would prefer that we reach a point where taxes could be lowered instead of raised. Another option could be finding a sustainable tax rate that would not need to be raised or lowered for the long term. Raising taxes is a last resort.
19. Are there any other issues facing the county that you feel the public should know about? How would you deal with these issues as a county commissioner?
Boles — The biggest issue facing the county is funds. This will take working together with the Commissioners and all agencies to find way to work smart, and wise spending. To work to educate Raleigh on when they make a decision that involves monies check with the locale government to make sure that it is a wise move. Stokes County needs to make it own decision on how its money is spent and not Raleigh or Washington.
Cook — Yes, our county and our country’s religious freedoms are being fought hard and I will do whatever I can to stand against the opposition.
Mendenhall — None.
Robinson — Dennis wants to serve all of the people of Stokes County, not just the special interest and lobbyists.
Walker —Our county has a lot of potential. We have good people with a good work ethic, a beautiful river, an interstate highway, a good quality of life and plenty of other things that Our Heavenly Father has blessed us with. I’ll be working to bring our county more up to its’ true potential; especially for the sake of our children and grandchildren. With your help, we can do it.
20. Is there anything else about you personally that you would like voters to know?
Boles — My professional history is in advertising, marketing and accounting. I presently work for Flow Corporation in Winston Salem, as a Customer Representative for all the Flow Honda dealerships. I am a mother of two sons and a daughter. I have three grandchildren. My oldest granddaughter will be attending Carolina this fall on a softball scholarship. My grandson graduated from Columbia University in South Carolina. I have been blessed with meeting and working with the some of the finest people. I hope that you will support me as County Commissioner so I can continue being your voice.
Brown —I think my business experience would give me a unique view for county commissioner.
Cook — I am no politician, I am a husband, father, pastor, business owner and concerned citizen that has been blessed to live in Stokes County my whole life. I look forward to serving Stokes County to the best of my ability.
Mendenhall — I am married to Lindy Stevens, have five wonderful children and four beautiful grandchildren. We live on Flat Shoals Road in Germanton.
Robinson — Dennis and his wife Rachel are retired from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. They have four daughters and six grandchildren. They have lived in Stokes County for the last 40 years. Their daughters attended and their school age grandchildren attend Stokes County schools. Dennis has three years of college, three diplomas, hundreds of management certificates, and 38 years of management experience as a department director/manager. He enjoys fishing, boating, electronics, photography, and tinkering with power equipment.
Walker —Thank you for the privilege of serving you, the citizens of our county for the years I’ve already served as a commissioner. I appreciate the opportunity you have given me. With your support, I would like to continue serving you as a commissioner. I will continue to do my best to be the kind of commissioner that you want and need.
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.
I am married to Lindy Stevens, have five wonderful children and four beautiful grandchildren. We live on Flat Shoals Road in Germanton.