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Candidates seek growth, change for East Spencer

By Hugh Fisher

hugh.fisher@salisburypost.com 

Three candidates for mayor of East Spencer say they want to grow the local tax base and fix the town’s problematic water and sewer system in order to lower the costs residents pay.

And three incumbents and a challenger are running for three seats on the East Spencer Board of Aldermen to accomplish the same.

Rhonda M. Kerns, a tax preparer, is running for mayor in her first bid for public office. She has previously chaired the independent East Spencer Beautification Committee, and was campaign manager for N.C. General Assembly candidate Constance Johnson.

Every candidate in East Spencer named water and sewer issues as a reason why he or she is running for office.

Kerns said residents have shown her “astronomical” water bills for as much as $200 to $300.

Kerns said the money residents spend on high water bills “trickles down” and affects other spending. “This means they can’t afford food, which means their kids are hungry, which means (children) aren’t performing well in school,” Kerns said.
The lack of a library and educational resources, plus the lack of resources for senior citizens, are other quality-of-life issues Kerns said she would address as mayor.

“I feel like I have overcome more than what East Spencer has actually seen,” Kerns said, saying that in her personal life, she had overcome “an impoverished mindset and self-doubt.”

Kerns said she’d like to see money stay in the community through projects such as a community grocery store, which could employ residents. “You can’t get blood from a turnip,” Kerns said. “You’ve got to give people a job.”

Kerns also said the town needs more fire and police manpower, especially first responders.

Mayor Barbara Mallett, running for a third term in office, said she’s running to fulfill the promises she and other leaders have made.

“We said that we would change the image and mindset of the town of East Spencer,” Mallett said.

Mallett said a $2.4 million grant will help the town solve its water problems, while plans are in place to begin paving city streets once water line work is done.

Mallett was one of several candidates who said a proposed development near Andrew Street and Choate Road, near exit 79 off Interstate 85, would be key to the town’s future tax base.

“We’re going to have to develop that exit. That’s our lifeline now,” Mallett said.

Mallett said that if re-elected, she would continue to push for this development and work to attract employers.

“You can’t always wait on the government to do things,” Mallett said. “Let’s go ahead and work on a project we can do to help better things for our citizens.”

Other improvements Mallett said she’ll continue supporting include use of matching grant funds to redevelop Royal Giants Park as a community gathering place, and a collaboration with the town of Spencer for a federally funded health care center.

Also, Mallett said her “lifelong dream” is to have a new public safety facility to house the East Spencer fire and police departments. However, she said funding remains an obstacle.

Brint C. Polk, former head of public works in East Spencer, is running for mayor. He is also new to public office, but said he’s worked for the street department and water department in Salisbury, and currently works for the city of Charlotte’s transportation department.

Polk said he’s running to change the mindset of East Spencer’s government. “East Spencer is still working off the idea of a 1980s town,” he said.

Polk said he believes East Spencer is trying to use utility payments to make up for a loss in tax revenue, “and it just doesn’t work. The town hasn’t grown … Maintenance is behind, streets haven’t been maintained.”

As mayor, Polk said he would use his knowledge of water and sewer projects to address those issues.

“Somehow, we’ve got to build businesses and get the tax base up, to pay for things the town needs,” Polk said.

Doing so will mean giving the businesses some sort of incentive to locate there, Polk said.

Polk said he would work to bring an Aldi store to East Spencer, if possible, citing the grocery chain’s nearby warehouse as a reason they might want to have a store in town.

Also, Polk said he would interact with residents and take a “hands-on” approach to being mayor, to combat what he said is “lack of trust” in town government.

Water tops priorities

Candidates for the East Spencer board of aldermen named fixing the city’s water system problems as a top priority.

Curtis Cowan, running for his second term, said one reason he’s running is to remain part of the board as the town receives grant funding to help bring the cost of water down.

Cowan also named several quality-of-life improvements he would work to help provide in a second term.

“I’d like to redevelop the Dunbar Center,” Cowan said, “… to see the gymnasium and cafeteria restored, and have it as a place for kids, kind of a community center for the town.”

The Dunbar Center was heavily damaged by a Dec. 30 fire, which left most of the structure gutted.

Cowan, employed as a machine operator, also spoke in support of the planned Andrew Street economic development project, and said he would like to see more community policing efforts.

“People need to be able to trust the police,” Cowan said. “We need officers getting out of the car, meeting people and talking to people, so they can get to know who we are.”

Deloris High, running for her third term on the board of aldermen, said that grant funds would help bring down the cost of water in East Spencer. She said high water bills pose a problem for residents.

If re-elected, High said she’d continue focusing attention on issues that the current board had addressed, especially tearing down dilapidated buildings and getting absentee homeowners to take responsibility for their properties.

“We’re in the best area in Rowan County, right near (Interstate) 85,” High said.

High said that development projects along the interstate will bring in tourists and commuters going to High Rock Lake and the N.C. Transportation Museum.

High also said she’d like to bring pedestrian and bicycle trails to East Spencer, which could spark interest from seniors and citizens looking for safe places to walk.

John Noble III, elected to the board of aldermen in 1985 after having served a partial term from 1981 to 1983, also named the water system as his top priority.

“Water bills are still too high, and we’re going to have to correct that, either by working with the city of Salisbury or some other way,” Noble said.

Noble also said he believes crime in East Spencer is going up, not down. “We need more officers in this day and time in any town, not just East Spencer,” Noble said.

Noble said he believes the Andrew Street project will help grow the town’s tax base, and said he’s spoken to businesses about locating in the area. If re-elected, Noble said he’d work to attract a hotel, medical offices and shops there.

“I feel that if one (business) would get in and get started, just like they did on Julian Road, it will continue to grow,” Noble said.

Noble cited his long experience in municipal government and his training as reasons he’s best qualified for the position.

The Post left multiple messages for candidate Benita Tulloch at the phone number she provided to the Board of Elections, but those calls were not returned.

 

Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.

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