Havelock candidates for mayor and city commissioner gave their opinions on business and the future of Havelock during a forum Monday at the Havelock Tourist and Event Center.
There was little disagreement among them on many of the questions asked by moderator Susan Braaten.
For example, all agreed they were relatively satisfied with the tax rate of 46.5 cents per $100 in property value based on the amount of services the city provides, and all wanted to see new businesses in Havelock.
In the mayor’s race, incumbent Jimmy Sanders is being challenged by Will Lewis, a commissioner who is giving up that seat in his bid for mayor.
Lewis said he was known for looking at both sides of an issue and being able to wisely settle differences. He said new approaches were needed to solve problems, such as the amount of funding Craven County provides the city.
Sanders pointed to his 40 years of service to the city and the progress that has been made since he has been a board member and mayor, saying he would like to continue the work that is in progress.
One of those is construction of a new city hall building, and one question dealt with whether the $1.7 million loan to build it was a good use of taxpayer money. Sanders and Lewis agreed that it was, pointing to the poor condition of the current 70-year-old structure.
Candidates for the two commissioner seats — incumbent Jim Stuart, George Corbin, Matthew “Sugarbear” Jones, Peter Van Vliet and Brenda Wilson — had different views. Van Vliet and Jones both questioned the approval of construction.
“No, it’s not an effective use, but it’s been set aside in the budget,” said Van Vliet. “I don’t want to see the city go into any further indebtedness.”
Jones agreed with Van Vliet. “I don’t, but it’s already been started,” he said. “We need to complete it. We need to finish it up.”
Wilson, Stuart and Corbin agreed that the project was needed.
“It’s needed, it’s time and we’re going forward with it,” Wilson said. “Now’s the time.”
Stuart said the current substructure of the building was “falling down,” and that the board made the right decision.
“I think that it’s something we can all be proud of,” he said. “It didn’t happen overnight. We put a lot of thought into it.”
Corbin agreed with Stuart.
“The floor joists are rotting,” he said. “Do I think it’s a good choice? Yes. It should have been done a long time ago.”
The commissioner candidates also differed on the question of the one item the city should focus on in the next year.
Stuart said he would like to see continued work to develop an economic plan with Craven County to bring light and heavy industry to Havelock.
Corbin said the city’s Brownfields community assessment to clean up derelict places in Havelock needed to be a priority.
Van Vliet said a strategic action plan to create an identity for the city was needed. “Havelock does not have an identity outside of Cherry Point,” he said.
Jones said he would like to focus on growth and bringing more outsiders into the city by putting out brochures and hiring a publicity director. “If you’re friendly to them, they’ll come,” he said.
Wilson said she supports economic diversity while supporting and protecting the military and Fleet Readiness Center East. “It is the major economic engine, but we need that diversity,” she said.
As for the mayoral candidates, Lewis and Sanders both pointed to Cherry Point and the economy.
Lewis said Cherry Point needed to always be the focus but that he supported “an aggressive, creative plan for economic growth in Havelock.”
Sanders said the city needed economic diversity. “We need to do that while doing everything we can to support Cherry Point and Fleet Readiness Center East,” he said.
Sanders and Lewis were both part of a meeting in August in which city leaders discussed Havelock’s share of funding from the county, a point of contention for years. City leaders have said the county is not providing its fair share of money for such things as the library and recreation department as compared to what other cities receive.
In response to a question about solving that issue, Sanders said he had “worn out three vehicles” riding up to New Bern to get support from the Craven County Board of Commissioners. He pointed squarely at those who represent parts of the city on the county board and encouraged residents to voice their opinions.
“We cannot do it alone,” he said. “If you’ll help us, we can make it happen.”
Lewis called the August meeting productive but stressed that the same approach to solving the issue hadn’t worked previously and that offering solutions, not complaints, was needed.
“Instead of going up there with a solution, we go up there with a spear,” Lewis said. “We all know that moving a bureaucracy is like turning a barge.”
The Havelock Chamber of Commerce and Havelock News sponsored the event, which was attended by about 100 people and offered the opportunity for the candidates to make opening and closing statements.
“It’s long been my desire to help the city of Havelock,” Stuart said. “I try to be approachable and responsible. I’m pretty straight forward. There aren’t a lot of frills.” Stuart said sometimes people don’t appreciate what he says, but what he says is “from the heart.”
Corbin explained that he had retired in the city after 30 years in the Marine Corps, first becoming involved in the fire department in 1991. He now serves on three city committees and boards. Corbin said he frequents city board meetings and “occasionally aggravates the commissioners and the mayor.”
Van Vliet called himself a native Yankee but said he fell in love in Havelock, even joking that he may love Havelock more than his wife. “My reason for running can be said in one word — community,” he said.
He said his desire to serve originated in the Marine Corps “That drive to serve is what drives me to serve now. With everybody giving a little, we can all get a lot,” Van Vleit said.
Jones said he continues to run for public office to offer a new voice in Havelock. “We need new leaders. We need to think outside the box,” Jones said. “We need to get the people together. I won’t turn anybody down. I’ll come back with an answer. I think we should grow a little more and pay more attention to the children and the senior citizens.”
Wilson has been a realtor in Havelock for 31 years and said she has been involved in the Havelock Chamber of Commerce, Military Affairs Committee, Craven Community College Board of Trustees and the Havelock-Cherry Point Rotary Club. “I feel I have the opportunity and the time to give to the city government,” she said.
Wilson said she would bring experience in budgeting, collaboration and a business mindset to the board. “This is the climate that I will be able to serve the city.”
As for the mayoral candidates, Sanders said part of his desire to serve comes from his father, who was a member of the first Board of Commissioners when the city incorporated in 1959. He pointed to a number of accomplishments during his tenure, including the start of the sewer expansion project that he said would allow for the opportunity for more growth in the city.
“Havelock is our home. Serving you as your mayor has been a great honor,” he said. “I am always your public representative of this city. I have served this community for decades.
“I have been a successful leader. I have expressed over 40 years the desire to work for the city of Havelock.”
Lewis is a native of Havelock and has served as a city commissioner and mayor pro tem.
“What happens on your street is as important as something that happens at any place in the country,” said Lewis. “My promise to you is that my loyalty will always be with the city of Havelock. The best days are still ahead of us.”
The deadline to register to vote in the city election is Friday. Early voting is scheduled for Oct. 17 through Nov. 2 in New Bern at the Craven County Board of Elections. Election Day is Nov. 5. For more information, call the Board of Elections at 636-6610.