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Williard said High Point
has the highest tax rate of any city in North Carolina with a population of more than 100,000. He said, "I do not believe there is any person in this room who would approve of having their taxes increased two years in a row."
The City Council has increased the property tax rate for two years running.
Williard attacked a statement of Sims' that was quoted in the June 23, 2012 High Point
Enterprise He said, "They admit that they did not take the time to review the budget and check the line items."
Sims in turn attacked Williard for misrepresenting what she had said by adding words not in her statement. Sims said her statement was actually a complaint that the City Council had not considered whether or not to cut services earlier in the budget process.
As quoted in the article, Sims said: "Very late in this process, we started talking about how the expenses needed to be decreased, we can run a tighter machine – and we probably can. There's no doubt in my mind that somewhere in that budget we can do all these things. But it's incumbent on the council to sit down and put in the time that is required to make that happen."
Whitley said he has few regrets about City Council votes, except being unexcited by raising taxes or fees. He said the City Council has gone through every budget line by line and given department heads small bonuses when they found ways to cut money out of their budgets.
"It's been a tough year," Whitley said. "It's been a tough two years. However, the City of High Point
has weathered this storm pretty well."
Williard and Whitley tangled at the end of the debate. Williard took the City Council to task for taking a long time to order the demolition of most of an apartment complex in the 500 block of Meredith Street owned by Schwarz Properties LLC of Asheboro, which it did on Oct. 1.
Williard said, "This council sat here for two years with a boarded up community that they would not pull the trigger on to tear those houses down."
Whitley hit back, saying Williard didn't understand the legal requirements to demolish private property, which include a one-year wait. He said, "You don't want to get the city involved in a lawsuit."
Much of High Point
's current political discussion has centered around where to make future investments, and that discussion has created some strange bedfellows, as the debate showed.
The biggest divide was on whether to target money to High Point
's northward expansion, or to push for investments in High Point
's Core City Plan, which would redevelop eight of High Point
's traditional neighborhoods.
Whitley said he is the only remaining councilmember who sat in on the original meetings with consultants to come up with the Core City Plan. But he is firmly associated with north High Point
– with Piedmont Centre, with the northern neighborhoods that have sprung up in recent years and with the businesses that have stretched far out Eastchester Drive. He has argued that the center of High Point
has already moved irretrievably northward.
To a question from Webb about urban sprawl, Whitley repeated a variation of the argument: that past City Councils have, through annexation agreements, already created a new High Point
. He said, "We know where the sprawl is going to be."
Whitley said that, since the High Point
City Project is a registered nonprofit group, it should be weaned off the city government, "like all outside agencies."
That created the clearest distinction of the night, between Whitley, on the one hand, and Williard and Sims on the other. Both Williard and Sims strongly supported the Core City Plan.
Williard said he would take development wherever he could get it in this economy, and that "people are going to live where they want to live" – but he also said the Core City neighborhoods should all be attacked at once. That would be a cohesive and expensive drive for redevelopment that recent City Councils haven't dared. Williard said that, as a community, High Point
has to spend money to get the job done.
Sims argued that the expansion of the High Point
city limits is going to slow. She pointed out that a local bill recently passed by the North Carolina General Assembly gives the Davidson County Board of Commissioners veto power over even voluntary annexation in Davidson County to the west, and that the airport overlay district and the noise cones from Piedmont Triad International Airport will limit the types of development to the northeast.
Sims said that eventually, concentrating on High Point
's core will be the only way to develop in some areas. She said that doing so would take an absolutely committed City Council – "It can't be a maybe" – and a strong mayor. The later was a dig at Smothers, who has been iffy about the Core City Plan.
Sims argued that High Point
should create shovel-ready opportunities for development, presumably like graded- and infrastructure-ready office and industrial parks other cities have prepared.
There is irony in Williard and Sims being on the same side in the Core City debate. Ward 1, which Sims represents, and Emerywood are as far apart politically as High Point
gets. But black and white, rich and poor, like it or not, the residents of the old High Point
center are tied together by geography and by the lifestyle limitations caused by the city center's decay.
Sims, a Democrat, would have a harder fight on her hands in an election with a primary. But in a five-candidate race with no primary, and with the near-certainty that she will sweep Wards 1 and 2, her odds have always seemed best this year.
Sims said after the debate that all but one of High Point
's mayors have come from Emerywood, the traditional neighborhood of factory and mill owners. Whitley agreed. That's a hard statistic to prove, but it's true that Emerywood has had an outsized influence on High Point
politics. But most of Emerywood's factories and mills are gone, and even its population is not as monolithic as it once was.
Williard is Emerywood's man. If Emerywood votes for him en masse, and he can draw votes from other areas of High Point
, he might have a chance – but it's hard to see where those outside votes would come from.
Whitley is both the most experienced candidate and the representative of the High Point
that has sprung up between Eastchester Drive and I-40.
The question dogging Whitley's campaign is how many people in north High Point
actually consider themselves High Pointers, how many of those will come out to vote and how many of those who vote will make it to the City Council races at the end of the ballot.
Smothers later said she was encouraged by the makeup of the audience that almost filled the City Council chamber. "It was one of the first I've seen in years that wasn't totally populated by family and friends of candidates," Smothers said. "There were actual voters there."
Smothers said she was concerned that some candidates were unfamiliar with municipal services....continued on page 3