Five of six candidates for three open seats on the Havelock Board of Commissioners found little on which to disagree during a candidates forum last week.

Incumbents Danny Walsh, Peter Van Vliet and Karen Lewis were joined by challengers Nick Patel and Michelle Leo in a forum sponsored by the Havelock Chamber of Commerce and the Havelock News. Candidate Clint Jones was not present.

The randomly selected questions focused on business and Cherry Point.

“Without Cherry Point we would not survive very long,” Lewis said. “We would be thrown back 100 years. It’s quite scary,”

All the candidates agreed that Cherry Point was crucial for the city.

“We should do 100 percent whatever Cherry Point needs,” Patel said. “Havelock should be allied with them.”

One of the biggest questions concerned candidates’ vision of Havelock in five to 10 years.

“I’d like to see economic development,” Lewis said. “I very much like to see Havelock grow. It’s a tough thing. Havelock‘s a very small community. We don’t have the land or resources to do it on our own. So we will end up taking some independent resources to achieve that. Develop a policy that would make it possible to go there.”

Commissioner Danny Walsh painted a dim view considering expected cuts at Cherry Point.

“You have 11 squadrons of Marines at Cherry Point today. In 4 1/2 years you are going to have five. This is a guarantee,” he said. “We’re not going to save Pedro. We’re not going to save the EA-6Bs. It’s gone. You will be down to four or five squadrons in just 2019 to 2020.

“The first F-35s don’t really get here until 2023 and that squadron will replace the squadron that is Harriers today. In 2024 you replace another Harrier squadron with F-35s. In 2027 will be the first new squadron to bring you back to six, when you’re at 11 today. Do the math. What we as commissioners, and that mayor and that city manager do today is what’s going to keep us open through the hard times that are coming. In 2020, you might have a bypass. That will hurt the small businessman again. There are a lot of things that are going to hurt us. What we have to do is do the right things to survive through until the F-35s get here and Cherry Point has some growth.”

Patel said support of small businesses is the answer the sustainability.

“Small business, small business, small business,” he said. “If we are thinking that Google or Microsoft or Apple are going to come into Havelock, we are just dreaming. Let’s get the little people that come into Havelock, and give them all the facilities. If a somebody comes into Havelock and wants to open up a business and have the American dream, if I was a commissioner I would sit down with them, get the police commissioner, get the fire inspector, get everybody together in one space, hear what he wants to do, give him the one shot and let him run the business. The businesses in Havelock now have to run through loops and loops and loops.”

Van Vliet said growth is a long-term goal.

“That’s a small period of time and a long vision goal. I want to see a vibrant, prosperous economy. I want to see a city that’s not on its heels getting knocked over,” he said. “I want to see a city that’s on its toes leaning forward and trying to move ahead. We have to be receptive to progress. We have to move along with the future if we are going to better ourselves. We need to address the appearance of the city. We need to make sure that we maintain what we already have improved and improve what we still need to work on. We need to continue to grow the existing businesses in Havelock but we also need to make ourselves attractive to the new businesses.”

Leo called Havelock “a shining faceted gem.”

“In five to 10 years, I am hoping that the bypass will have been finished and that our downtown, that we would like to incorporate, is in place with the beautification of the city, as well as getting the community involved in that progress,” she said. “We have great ordinances. I just believe that if they are used to their potential that Havelock could be a much, much better place.”

The candidates were asked if they would support investment in infrastructure in the city, like roads and sewer to a proposed industrial development west of the city, and all agreed that they would, though none offered specifics on how to pay for such measures.

The candidates disagreed about whether it was a good idea to spend $40,000 for an electronic sign for the city hall. Lewis, Van Vliet and Walsh supported the idea. Patel and Leo rejected it.

“The electronic sign at city hall is not important to me. I would cut it,” Patel said. “What are we going to say on an electronic sign? Welcome to City Hall? Welcome to Havelock? Welcome to Cherry Point? What are we going to display on it?”

Walsh complained that residents didn’t come to the meetings to voice their opinions about matters before the board.

“We can’t get you to come down to city hall for city meetings,” he said. “You say: ‘We don’t need that sign. I know everything there is to know about Havelock.’ No you don’t. You need to come down and pay attention. If you don’t want the sign, you need to come down and tell us. Only George Corbin and Clint came to our budget meetings. There’s 18,000 more of you out there someplace. It’s your money, but if you don’t come. We don’t know what you want.”

The candidates were also asked about potential services to cut.

“We’re always looking for the so called fat to trim,” Van Vliet said. “We want to be a lean, mean fighting machine, but you get to the point that there’s nothing left to cut. You become the leanest piece of meat that you can and then you’re no longer sustainable.”

Patel said the city needed to look for ways to earn money instead of just spending it.

“The only thing we have is the Chili Festival. Why don’t we have a food truck festival? We should have an event every month,” Patel said.

Election Day is Nov. 3. Though voter registration has closed, registration can be done during the early-voting period that runs from Oct. 22 to Oct. 31 at the Craven County Board of Elections Office in New Bern.

For more information on the election, call the Craven County Board of Elections at 636-6610 or go online to www.cravencountync.gov/departments/elc.cfm.