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Forum's focus on future
Candidates told board holds the key
Debate WEB 1
Commission candidate Bill Mulrooney, center, fields a question Tuesday during a Smart Growth Forsyth County forum. From left are fellow candidates Cindy Jones Mills, Tim Hubbard and moderator Bob Slaughter. - photo by Autumn Vetter

Forsyth County commission candidates aired their plans for the future during a forum Tuesday night

Organized by Smart Growth Forsyth County, the more than two-hour event brought candidates from the three districts up for election to discuss resources, development and more.

Bob Slaughter, founder of the nonpartisan watchdog group, moderated the forum and emphasized the impact of the commissioners’ decisions.

“In our view, as the economy slowly recovers, we feel that in the next three to four years, we’re on the cusp of the next wave of development in Forsyth County,” Slaughter said. “We feel that this board in particular will have some great impact on the trajectory of where the county’s going to go.”

The commission posts are elected by districts. The July 31 primary likely will decide the outcome, as all the candidates in the running are Republicans.

All the political hopefuls in Districts 2, 4 and 5 who attended offered their visions for the county.

Incumbent District 2 Commissioner Brian Tam said he’s worked toward achieving his vision eight years ago when he first took office.

Tam noted the importance of education, recreation and public safety to enhancing the quality of life and desirability of Forsyth.

An opponent in that southern district, Dennis Brown, said the focus needs to be on quality, not quantity to shape Forsyth’s future.

“We need to remain a premiere county nationally and not make the same mistakes that many other high potential counties have made, falling victim to urban blight and overgrowth,” he said.

The third candidate from that district, Samuel Padis, did not attend the forum.

In the northern District 4, Bill Mulrooney talked about maintaining the rural character, which attracts people to that area, and seeking businesses other than retail to create jobs.

“We need to quit driving to work,” Mulrooney said. “We need to work here.”

Cindy Jones Mills, also a District 4 contender, pointed to planning, leadership and community involvement to achieve quality in growth.

Tim Hubbard emphasized the importance of balance in developing the county’s future.

“I believe we can do this in a way that we can be balanced and equal and still have a good place to raise our children,” Hubbard said.

The incumbent District 4 commissioner, Patrick Bell, and candidate Charles Meagher did not attend the forum.

For commission District 5, in eastern Forsyth, incumbent Jim Boff said the county has positioned itself “very well” for the future.

“Sticking largely to the standards we have … has caused this county to grow and still be a desirable place,” Boff said.

Challenger John Derucki pointed to some areas for improvement in the county’s process of attracting businesses by reducing the lengthy procedure to locate in Forsyth.

“We’ve got to get beyond the ‘no, and get to the ‘yes,’ Derucki said.

Several audience questions focused on attracting and maintaining quality business in the county.

Mills also pointed to what she said was too much “bureaucracy” in the planning process for business.

“We desperately need to balance our tax base,” she said. “We don’t want to be just a bedroom community.”

Mulrooney hopes to seek out nonretail business, in part by exempting the inventory tax.

Hubbard said the county is in a good spot to fill empty strip malls and other businesses once the economy rebounds.

The county’s adherence to standards works to keep quality business, which can reduce the amount of empty locations, Boff said.

Fellow incumbent Tam agreed: “If you’re going to build here, you’re going to build here right.”

Brown pointed to the importance of keeping up the county’s quality to attract large companies, which eliminates the need for tax incentives.

Derucki suggested community and business can be more involved in keeping an attractive appearance and feel in the county.

A recent Smart Growth topic of discussion — the requirements for development in the Big Creek watershed — drew some different ideas on protecting the resource from the candidates.

Currently, a 25 percent limit of impervious surface areas, like buildings or paving which prevent water cycling, exists over the regional watershed as imposed by the state.

District 4 boundaries don’t include any of the watershed, and those three candidates generally agreed the issue is a state one, but the county should be closely studying the facts.

Derucki said the data on what percentage the county and the region have obtained is the first step.

“There’s more than one solution to a problem,” he said.

Brown said overdevelopment will harm the area, and monitoring and studying it is the most important way to protect the resource.

Tam said the issue is one the county is tuned in on now, and pointed to general initiatives to protect watersheds, such as purchasing green space.

Boff wasn’t present for the question, since he stayed at a commission work session that ran over about 45 minutes into the Smart Growth forum.