A longtime member of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners got off “the fence” Friday by announcing his plans to seek another four-year term.
“I thought long and hard about it,” said South Ward Commissioner Todd Harris, who earlier had been undecided about his plans for the 2011 municipal election.
Harris, the city council’s senior member who will be running for his fourth term, made his announcement more than two weeks before the candidates’ filing period officially begins. He added that feedback from citizens helped sway his decision to run again.
“I was on the fence, and as a result people would ask me,” Harris said of questions regarding a possible re-election bid.
“And I got a lot of positive feedback that my experience on the board was something of value, and that I would bring attributes to the board and to the city that I always have — and that’s a commitment to telling it like it is and not really playing politics.”
Harris, who was first elected in 1999, is one of three city commissioners whose seats are up for grabs this year. Dean Brown announced during the winter that he will seek his second term as a representative of the North Ward, while At-Large Commissioner Teresa Lewis has said she will step down from the board at the end of the year.
The filing period for the election in Mount Airy opens at noon on July 25.
While citing his experience in outlining what he offers as a commissioner, Harris declined to name any specific projects or programs that could be considered legislative accomplishments. He explained that whatever has been done during his tenure came about through a group, rather than individual, process.
“What I would say if you’re talking about some sort of epitaph,” Harris continued, “is that I’ve always told the truth — I’ve never tried to play politics with any issue that came before the board.”
Though he was hesitant to list past achievements, the incumbent commissioner was quick to mention some goals for city government if he is re-elected, which are budgetary in nature.
“Two things come to mind,” said Harris. “Number one, I’d like to see our water-sewer enterprise fund make money.” The city utility operation is not included in its main budget, with the idea being that it should be a self-supporting system funded by revenues from water and sewer customers.
Finding ways to market more of the city’s water surplus ties in to a second goal of Harris’ of reducing property taxes. The city has an average daily water volume capacity of more than 8 million gallons and produces about 3.4 million gallons per day, according to previous reports. Increasing water-sewer profits would lessen the need for taxation, Harris said.
At a winter planning retreat for city government, the commissioners decided that their top priority would be reducing taxes by 10 cents per $100 of assessed valuation within the next five years.
“I feel like after we made that decision, I had to prod it along a little bit,” Harris said Friday of the tax-cutting pledge. At a budget workshop in early June, he suggested that the property tax rate for the next fiscal year be cut by 2 cents rather than the 1 cent which had been proposed by City Manager Barbara Jones.
Harris advocated the 2-cent reduction as a means of helping the board better achieve its five-year goal of a 10-cent tax decrease, and the 2011-2012 budget adopted later in June reflected that.
In the recent past in Mount Airy politics, incumbent commissioners have fared well when mounting re-election bids. No one ran against a sitting commissioner, the North Ward’s Jon Cawley, in the last city election in 2009, when newcomer Steve Yokeley also was the lone candidate filing for a South Ward seat vacated by David Beal.
Both Brown and Deborah Cochran were elected to commissioner seats in 2007 after incumbents had stepped down, with Cochran being chosen as mayor two years later. Also in the 2007 election, Harris staved off a challenge from Bill Clark.
This election season so far has been quiet, with no word of any potential candidates surfacing — not only for the North and South Wards, but the open at-large position that Lewis now holds.
“Nobody has any names on the tip of their tongues,” Harris said concerning the situation with would-be candidates.
The incumbent, who’ll turn 50 on July 16, operates Harris Mediation Service. He and his wife Betsy have three children, two in college and the third in high school.
Tom Joyce can be reached at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.