This column originally appeared in the June 16, 2016 edition of the Herald Weekly. It’s now officially an election year in Huntersville – let’s see how many elected representatives turn into fiscal hawks in this new year. Maybe we’ll even have a few brave candidates run on a platform of actually lowering taxes instead of seeking office just to maintain the status quo.
Huntersville residents won’t vote for mayor and town board again until next year, but the 2017 Huntersville election campaign officially began with the budget vote last Monday night. The town manager’s initial proposed fiscal year 2016-17 budget totaled $57.9 million. [View the ’16-’17 adopted budget here.]
Commissioners Mark Gibbons, Charles Guignard and Danny Phillips supported a budget amendment that would have reduced the overall budget while also lowering the property tax rate by 5/8 of a cent from 30.5 cents per $100 assessed value to 29.875 cents. Commissioners Melinda Bales, Dan Boone and Rob Kidwell, along with the tie-breaking vote from Mayor John Aneralla, voted against the amendment to lower the tax rate, instead supporting a budget that did reduce overall spending but kept the tax rate unchanged at 30.5 cents.
Some may consider a partial-cent reduction in the tax rate insignificant because, anyone who lives in a $300,000 home can afford to pay about $19 more a year in taxes, right? Try taking about $19 from a random stranger on the street by force and you’ll likely find out how significant $19 is.
Politicians rely on the short-term memory of most voters. It will be interesting to see if the voting public remembers this budget vote next year and holds accountable those politicians who made specific campaign promises to lower taxes.
Here are a few other highlights from the first six months of the new board.
They agreed to sell the Anchor Mill site to a developer, which should finally result in that property being a net positive for the town in terms of productivity and revenue.
They created a land ordinance committee to review town ordinances in an effort to make the town more business friendly.
They voted to withdraw from the Lake Norman Transportation Commission, which led Cornelius and Davidson to do the same (although Davidson is joining a new transportation partnership with areas in Iredell County).
They passed a resolution in favor of allowing alcohol sales at certain town functions.
And, most importantly, upon being sworn in they immediately moved to increase transparency by live streaming meetings. There is still room for greater transparency, however, by ensuring all meetings where a quorum is present are filmed unless a statutory exemption is applicable.
This board has can point to many accomplishments in its first six months, but could have done more by reducing the tax burden on Huntersville residents.
I asked the two newest commissioners, Gibbons and Boone, three questions so readers could learn more about them. Commissioner Boone was given an opportunity to respond but declined after initially agreeing to participate. I think candidates for local office should get asked more often about their influences and views on the office they’re running for so I took the opportunity to do so below.
What, in your opinion, is the proper role of local government?
Gibbons: I view the proper role of government is to look out for the rights and freedom of its citizenry. That includes defense, in a town setting that is a police force; infrastructure, including roads and public schools; and providing safe water and sewer access. Beyond those things, everything else done by government infringes on the private sector and taxes the citizens to do so, which restricts individual freedom.
What has surprised you since becoming an elected official?
Gibbons: What has been the biggest surprise to me is the lack of awareness by citizens of what is going on in their own town(s) which also means low participation. I am a firm believer that with rights and freedoms come responsibility. I am also surprised that many elected officials take whatever government agencies and the staff put out as final and rarely question it. That has gotten us in a big mess here in North Mecklenburg.
Who are your intellectual influences?
Gibbons: My biggest intellectual influences include, but are not limited to; from modern politicians, I have been impressed with Tip O’Neill and Newt Gingrich. Both men were able to get things done with an opposing party president in office. I also enjoy reading Charles Krauthammer and Thomas Sowell.