Candidates for New Hanover County Commissioners share views in virtual forum

Candidates for New Hanover County Commissioners share views in virtual forum
Chair and Vice-chair county commissioners give State of the County Address (File photo from February 2020) (Source: WECT)

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - A virtual forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Lower Cape Fear (LWVLCF), YWCA Lower Cape Fear and the North Carolina Coastal Federation was held Wednesday evening to hear views on key issues from candidates running for the New Hanover County Commission.

Six candidates are vying for three seats on the NHC Commission to serve a term of four years. Incumbent, Jonathan Barfield (D), is up for re-election; Commissioners Woody White (R) and Patricia Kusek (R) are stepping down in November.

Of the six candidates, there are three democratic nominees: incumbent, Jonathan Barfield, Leslie Cohen and Dr. Kyle Horton. The three republican nominees are Deb Hays, Bill Rivenbark and Skip Watkins. Bill Rivenbark did not attend the forum.

Questions from members of the LWVLCF included topics like sustainability and clean energy, how county property is sold, the office of diversity and equity, large-scale developments and the impact on drainage and flooding, access to childcare for low-income families, public transportation, the permitting process for new industry, and expansion of the tree canopy in the unincorporated areas.

Candidates were unanimous in their support for sustainability and clean energy plans for 2030 and 2050.

The candidates were more divided about County property sales. Horton and Cohen supported bringing back referendum votes to allow for more public input; Watkins said he is not a fan of public-private partnerships like the proposed Project Grace; Barfield and Hays said all these meetings are open to the public but ultimately, the decisions should be made by the elected County Commissioners on behalf of the people.

All candidates agreed that more affordable childcare options should be available for low income families to help families become self-sustaining; although, there was not a consensus on how this should be funded.

Public transportation is a key issue for all the candidates to reduce traffic. Hays suggested adding a small fee to license plate registration to subsidize mass transit. Barfield believes the way to increase ridership is by reducing wait times. Watkins will advocate for smaller, shuttle buses. Horton believes public transport is important for everyone to reduce congestion and Cohen says a dedicated funding source is needed for the future of mass transit.

Other forums are being held by the LWVLCF and the public is invited to attend virtually.

The next one is being held Thursday September 17 at 7:00 p.m. for the NC State House District 18, 19 and 20 and Senate Seat 9 Virtual Candidates. Dates and links to this and other forums can be found here.

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