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Business leaders question candidates for county commissioner

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Richard Allsbrook, left, and Christopher Nunnally give opening statements as Pitt County Board of Commissioners candidates during a luncheon at the Hilton on Oct. 16, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)


By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Greenville’s business community wants to know what the Board of Commissioners will do to strengthen Pitt County’s economy.

The Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce Power Luncheon featured a question-and-answer session with candidates for two contested seats on the Pitt County Board of Commissioners. Submitted by chamber members, the questions focused on bringing new business to the county and improving public schools.

About 60 people attended Tuesday’s event.

“We’ve really had a lot going on in Pitt County this year as it relates to economic development conversations, so county commissioners is one we focused on for a forum because it’s not one we’ve heard about this year,” said Kate Teel, chamber vice president. The Board of Commissioners also is the elected body whose work touches the lives of all Pitt County residents, she said.

While six of the nine board seats are on November’s ballot, only two seats are contested.

At Tuesday’s event were Richard Allsbrook and Christopher Nunnally, the Republican and Democratic candidates, respectively, for District 3, and Alex Albright, Democratic candidate for District 4. Benji Holloman, Republican candidate for District 4 was unable to attend because of work commitments. Chamber board chairman Peter von Stein read a statement from Holloman.

Holloman said he wants to ensure Pitt County deputies and detention center officers are the best equipped and paid in the region and state. He also wants to focus on teacher retention by increasing their salaries, and improving school safety.

Below are some of the questions asked and candidate responses.

Do you support the creation of a unified public-private economic development partnership?

Nunnally: “A regional approach to economic development is ground zero for making Pitt a regional leader.”

Nunnally supports the idea of a public-private partnership advocating for business growth. He also believes improving public education and the community’s quality of life have important roles in recruiting new business.

Albright: “I love the idea of a group of 100 and got really excited when I heard about what they were doing in that collaborative effort.”

He likes the example established by The Farmville Group, a collection of local business people who have recruited art-based businesses to the community.

“When citizens get involved, businesses get involved and they bring these public entities together … that is synergy,” Albright said, and more can be accomplished when groups work together.

Allsbrook: The question of why Pitt County was not a contender for an automotive manufacturing site partially inspired his run for the board.

“I live in Greenville and with all the great things that are happening here, what’s going on?” Allsbrook asked. He wants to learn more about the workings of the public-private partnership being proposed.

“Private, and certainly government, partnerships are something I would because I think we have win-wins. The business wins and the community certainly wins with public-private partnerships,” Allsbrook said.

What would you do to prioritize designating U.S. 264 Bypass as Interstate 587?

Albright: He said it’s his understanding that certain interchanges need improvements before the designation is granted.

“We have to think about what happens once (U.S.) 264 is designated an interstate because I’m not sure we are ready for it yet,” he said. Albright said he is concerned that N.C. 222 could become a trucking corridor, resulting in tractor trailers rumbling through the town of Fountain, where he is a town commissioner.

Allsbrook: He wants to know the state’s strategy for securing the interstate designation and build relationships with the elected officials who can advocate for the work.

“We do know the interstate system, the Southwest Bypass can bring business to our community, which is just ideal for us,” Allsbrook said. Elected leaders also need to protect the rural areas of Pitt County while encouraging business growth, he said.

Nunnally: “We need to get to a place where we have entities here that can effectively advocate in Raleigh, saying, ‘hey we need businesses here, we need to have this corridor in place,’”

 A strong regional body can more effectively advocate for the project, he said.

Will poverty reduction be one of your priorities and how will contribute to the effort?

Allsbrook: Hurricane Florence revealed how many families struggle with putting food on the table, he said.

“I would like to know what we are currently doing,” Allsbrook said. “I know there are a lot of private resources in the community that have reached out, particularly with Hurricane Florence.”

If it’s not on the Board of Commissioners’ priority list, a discussion needs to occur on how the board can help organizations already addressing the issues, he said.

Nunnally: “The long-term fix for poverty is a strong education system and strong community buy in.”

Government cannot solve issues of poverty but a good education system can start the process that gives families a way out, he said. Also work with private organizations that are addressing poverty.

Albright: A countywide public transportation system will help people in Pitt County’s smaller communities get closer to jobs, he said.

With 25 percent of the county’s budget going to education, are the citizens getting their money’s worth?

Nunnally: “For what we’ve got we’re doing a heck of a job, but we need to do better.”

“If we are not competing for the best educators to stay in our schools we are eventually going to have a problem of not having good people in front of our kids,” Nunnally said.

“More has to be done to keep good teachers because without a good education system, businesses will bypass Pitt County,” he said.

Albright: “I was really surprised when talking to a current Board of Education member to learn that Wilson County, Edgecombe County pays higher supplements than Pitt County does.

“We’ve to get that supplement up,” Albright said.

However, he does not believe believe taxes should be increased to raise supplements, calling property owners “taxed out.” The county needs to explore other potential revenue sources, he said.

Allsbrook: Teachers need resources but 13 cents of the county’s property tax is spent on services that either the state or federal government should be funding, he said.

That includes helping Pitt County Schools pay for 19 principals, 54 teachers and 119 clerical positions.

“When you hear that, it ought to infuriate you because our commitment to teachers, we here locally have a limit on what we can do,” Allsbrook said.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.