Richmond County Daily Journal
Rockingham voters will take to the poll stations on Nov. 3 to determine who will occupy three seats that are up for grabs on the city council.
Incumbents John Hutchinson, Steve Morris and Shirley Fuller recently made their cases for reelection in interviews with the Daily Journal.
They are defending their current positions against challengers Travis Billingsley, Teressa Beavers and Jerry Austin Jr.
Hutchinson, a Wells Fargo investment officer, is seeking his second elected term. He said the major areas where he feels the city has made progress during the last four years are recreation and city finances.
“In recreation, we’ve pushed forward on the new project on Old Aberdeen Road, and identified that property, but there’s also been a lot of progress made on our other recreation projects,” he said. “Hitchcock Creek is one, and we’ve also continued to push for more use of the Pee Dee River. That’s an unresolved issue, but I feel like we’ve made a lot of headway ... and also bringing racing back to Rockingham.”
He said another area of progress for the city has been the city’s finances.
“In difficult times, we’ve been able to maintain that A bond rating that allows us to borrow money and borrow it more inexpensively,” he said. “We’ve grown our tax base, even in tough times. We’ve gotten industries to expand here, in von Drehle and Perdue, through improvements to our infrastructure done with grant money rather than our taxpayers’ money.
“And all that, while keeping one of the lowest tax burdens for a city of similar size anywhere in North Carolina.”
Hutchinson referred to a list released by the North Carolina Center for Local Innovation earlier this year that ranked Rockingham in the lower third of comparably-sized cities in regards to the amount of city taxes citizens have to pay.
Hutchinson said if given another term, he would like to see through some of the “incomplete projects” the city is currently working on.
“We still have the use of the Pee Dee River, the Aberdeen Road project,” he said. “I would love to continue to try to keep the finances strong. I was really pleased we didn’t have to increase the tax rate at all during the crisis, and would like to see that continue.”
He said there are “no personal agendas” amongst current council members, and described their rapport as “wonderful working relationships.”
Morris owns Helm’s Jewelers in downtown Rockingham, and is seeking his third elected term on the council.
He also described the relationship amongst current members and staff as “ideal.”
“Some of the main things that have been accomplished during my time on the council would have to be the creation of the Hinson Lake complex, which provides citizens with a great place for free recreation,” he said. “We’ve maintained good police protection, and Rockingham remains a great place to live and a safe place to raise children. Also, I think building the new city hall has really given us a great facility to operate the city’s business from.”
He also pointed to Rockingham’s financial standing as a success of the past eight years he has been elected to the board.
“The city’s financial situation is outstanding,” Morris said. “We were recently re-rated, and maintained our A rating, meaning if we have to borrow money we can do so with minimal interest attached to it. We have funds in reserve, and we didn’t have a tax increase for the past eight years ... In these current economic conditions that really means something.”
He said if he wins reelection, he will work to increase tourism and recreation opportunities for the city over the next four years, calling these his “hot button issues.”
“We have fantastic natural resources here in Rockingham, that I feel we can capitalize on to make this a tourist destination for people throughout the Southeast region,” Morris said.
He said continuing projects like Hitchcock Creek can tie in with the presence of the motor sports industry in the area.
“I can envision this becoming a place where people come to take in a race, then stay a day or two to take a trip on our canoe trail or take a nature hike,” Morris said.
Fuller, principal at Rockingham Middle School, rounds out the field of incumbents. She is seeking her third term on the board, and her second four-year term.
Fuller said the job of the current council and staff handling the economic downturn warrants a nod from the voters.
“Concerns about the economy are on-going,” she said. “Rockingham is fortunate that we have the staff and leadership with the expertise needed to keep Rockingham in sound financial condition. A prime example is that we have a high bond rating (A-3).”
She also pointed to the statistics from the Center for Local Innovation citing Rockingham’s low tax burden compared to other cities of its size.
“Based on data available, the crime rate in Rockingham continues to be on the decline, and we are considered one of the safest cities in North Carolina,” Fuller continued.
Another point she made regarded city services in the current economic climate.
“With the uncertainty of the economy, Rockingham hasn’t had to downsize the quality of services that our citizens have received,” she said. “That is again reflective of our city staff and city leadership. In fact, the planning for continued efforts to maintain the quality of life for our citizens is on-going and very evident.”
In conclusion, Fuller described the current make-up of the city council and staff in much the same terms as Hutchinson and Morris did.
“We, the members of the current council, bring our own work experience backgrounds to the council, but the commonality we share is our love for our city, our respect for our citizens and our desire to be fair in decisions that we make and support,” she said. “We are honored to be a part of Rockingham City Council, and Rockingham is indeed a ‘City Looking Forward.’”
n Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 32, or by e-mail at email@example.com.