First mayoral forum in series features Cochran

First Posted: 9/10/2009

About two dozen people spent nearly an hour Thursday morning quizzing Mount Airy mayor-hopeful Deborah Cochran on subjects ranging from recycling and bicycling to her views on public debt and the citys aging water and sewer system.
The forum was part of a series of meetings scheduled at the Good Life Caf, with each of the four mayoral candidates scheduled to be on hand to field questions.
Cochran, who serves on the city board of commissioners, started off the series, with Teresa Lewis set for Sept. 17, Paul Eich on Sept. 24 and Gene Clark scheduled for Oct. 1. All of the forums are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.
Much of the informal discussion revolved around the citys aging water and sewer system. Mac Willis questioned why the city was spending money to extend new water and sewer service to the recently annexed Cross Creek area while other parts of the city are suffering maintenance problems.
We have a time bomb in the southern end of the city, he said, referring to warnings from the city staff that the water and sewer facilities in that area are more than a century old, with the likelihood of major repairs on the horizon.
Cochran responded by addressing two different aspects of his question. First, she said, the annexation of the Cross Creek area happened before she was a board member.
I am not for forced annexation, she said, adding that North Carolina is one of only four states which allows such action.
Second, she said she is concerned about the problem of crumbling infrastructure, but the city can only do so much with limited resources.
We only have so much money, and unfortunately those things (upgrades) have been put off. She said making necessary upgrades is important, but the city can only do what it can afford at this point, without incurring additional debt.
The financial state of the city, specifically its debt, was also among the topics discussed Thursday.
Im a conservative, she said of her fiscal philosophy. Cochran said she does not favor the city taking on more debt, or spending money outside its core mission as a municipal government.
Other topics which came up during the forum included:
Recycling. Several people in the audience asked about what recycling opportunities were available in the area, especially in light of a new state law banning the acceptance of plastic bottles in landfills.
One audience member even said several local garbage collection and recycling sites would not accept plastic bottles.
Cochran said the subject of recycling had come up at the previous board of commissioners retreat in January, and would be addressed again this coming January.
She said the city did expand the hours of the collection center, and added a satellite location to handle more recyclables.
Here again, she said she believes the city should be more proactive in the drive to spur recycling, but budget concerns limit what the city can do.
Several asked about economic development, and the role of tourism in the citys economy five or 10 years from now.
Tourism is important, she said, but added it wasnt the single answer to the communitys economic woes. It is a part of the local economy, but not necessarily the central factor.
Regina Edwards asked who in the city or county was working to make sure the local workforce is trained for likely available jobs.
Sometimes, we are training people for jobs, when the jobs arent there, she said.
Cochran said getting a workforce ready for a specific industry can be done in several ways.
First, she said more and more industries want to do on-the-job training. She said these sort of firms do their homework on the existing labor force and know what a community has to offer in terms of workforce before coming into a community to prepare the local workforce for potential new job opportunities.
Second, Cochran said that education is a key component to a vibrant workforce, with job retraining for those who have lost positions as well as traditional education both being important.
Cochran said she understands the struggles people go through she said her brother lost a job when the textile firms closed down, her mother struggled to make ends meet while Cochran was being raised, and in her own life Cochran said she has had her work hours cut from full-time to 26 hours a week.
Burke Robertson, who organized the forum series, asked Cochran about the city selling water.
Since Ive been on the board, weve brokered agreements with Dobson and the county, she said.
Cochran said she believes the city is and should be open to selling as much of its water as possible. She explained the city has the capacity to pump 8 million gallons a day, but only uses about 2 million. We do want to sell water, she said.
Several people asked about the airport and if Cochran believed the city should put up more for a planned multi-million expansion there.
If you look at city government, an airport is not part of our core services, she said, adding that operating airports are more of a state function. She said the history of the airport is that it was a joint venture of the city and county in the 1960s, with the assets jointly owned by the two governments.
Over time, city industries made less use of the facility, and the city gradually eliminated its contribution to the annual budget. She said she does not favor contributing to the airports expansion.
Contact John Peters at [email protected] or 719-1931.

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