Q & A of candidates for Pasquotank Commission reveals differences

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On Oct 5, The County Compass co-sponsored a well-attended Candidate Forum in Elizabeth City.

Candidates for the At-Large seat on the Pasquotank County Commission did not have sufficient time to answer questions in depth. For this reason, we submitted follow up questions to the incumbent commissioner, Jeff Dixon, and to the challenger, Sean Lavin.

In so doing, we trust that this will provide our readers with a side by side comparison – helpful in deciding just who to vote for. The questions were submitted two weeks ago but due to the death of Commissioner Dixon’s mother in law, his answers were delayed. We present them to you now.


Question 1: How do you view the future of County Tax Revenue?

Jeff Dixon

Jeff Dixon

Mr. Dixon: The future of County Tax Revenue is starting to look very bright. It took Pasquotank County eight years to dig itself out of a financial hole when the housing market crashed. Before the crash, Pasquotank County was issuing anywhere from one to two permits a day. On average, today we are lucky to issue five in any given month. Our County Board was able to hold down expenses and the county debt during these past eight years. Now, the effort should start paying for itself with no tax increases.

We received a new favorable credit rating of an AAA up from a –AAA. We did short-term borrowing at favorable interest rates while paying down our long term debt. We have many new building projects in our county that will help our property tax grow, especially the $300 million dollar Amazon Wind Farm, which will be contributing over $300,000 to our General Fund, the $15 million Tanglewood Shopping Center and along with several large apartment complexes. We also have the $10 million escrow money that was set aside from the lease of the county- owned hospital until all liabilities are satisfied and after that, the money belongs to the county to do what it wants to with it.

Sean Lavin

Sean Lavin

Mr.Lavin: I want to keep property tax rates that are appropriate, reasonable and comparable to similar communities in North Carolina. I feel that the current property tax rates and fees, like our solid waste, are too high. Especially when compared to neighboring counties. Nobody wants to pay more taxes. When determining property tax rates, other sources of revenue must be considered, including additional sales tax revenues through economic growth and a broadening tax base through the recruitment of businesses and citizens to locate in Pasquotank County. I would encourage the seeking of grant funds, where appropriate, to help invest in economic development projects. The key here is growth and development.

I am confident that we can invest in our community in a fiscally responsible way, figuring out how to balance the budget and keep the tax burden reasonable, while providing the county with the governance and the services it needs to move forward and make Pasquotank County more attractive for businesses and families to move here. That is my definition of fiscal responsibility.

Question 2: Are there any cost reductions that might be utilized to reduce costs?

Mr. Dixon: 80 percent of our budget is made up of services that we are required to provide or the state can take us over. Services that aren’t required are: Senior Centers, Libraries, Planning, Animal Control, and Central Communications but are all still vital services. As commissioner, I pushed to have the City and County merge our Park and Recreation Departments and let the city run it. There are other departments like our planning and inspections that I have pushed to be merged with Elizabeth City as well, but have met with resistance on both of these ideas.

Mr. Lavin: The most valuable asset of any organization is its workforce, and a motivated and engaged workforce is the most efficient and effective way to carry out important work. Contributing factors to a strong workforce are having a fair market competitive wage and benefits program along with recognition programs. Likewise, having visible support, appreciation, and respect from the county’s elected leaders will go a long way in creating the environment for a motivated and engaged staff.

Creating a program that financially rewards and recognizes employees that have ideas for making the county more efficient with its resources will go a long way toward that end. Workers at all levels can have ideas on how to save the county money. Whether it is equipment that is underutilized or processes that are inefficient, rank and file employees know best how to improve their departments.

In addition, retaining good employees at all levels helps to reduce costs associated with on-boarding and training. Employees with seniority are often more efficient at their job duties. Recent decisions by the Commissioners regarding compensation and other matters of County employees have eroded their job satisfaction and morale. I will help ensure that the County is employing the best management practices in order to have the most engaged, satisfied, effective, and efficient staff possible.

While not necessarily an operational cost component, I am a firm believer in competitive bidding on County purchases over $10,000. If elected, I will push to implement a policy that makes this a mandatory process for County procurement. 

Question 3: Would you favor the use of Electronic Time Cards to verify employee comings and goings?

Mr. Dixon: Yes, I would, but the expense has to be justified with what savings it would produce.

Mr Lavin: The structure of this question nearly implies that there are issues with employees committing fraud with regard to their time-keeping. If that is the case, Supervisors should be dealing with those issues on a case-by-case basis.

In this day and age, keeping current employees safe is probably just as important, if not more. Electronic cards would only be somewhat effective when you consider the travel throughout the county that certain employees do in the performance of their duties. Badge in, badge out access cards can be dual purpose, but the primary responsibility of keeping up with employees belongs to the supervisors.

Supervisors and even higher-level managers must make it out to “inspect what they expect” with regard to employee engagement and performance. When combining the benefits of controlling access to county buildings and facilities with the benefits of upgrading to more modern timekeeping for county employees, I would support incrementally implementing electronic badge cards for county employees. 

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