With state and national politics dominating the headlines for most of 2016, it was sometimes easy to forget that local governments were making decisions that hit closest to home.
From voting on re-zoning requests to constructing and maintaining local roads and parks, from setting town tax rates to creating land use plans, local governments controlled what happened in your own backyard.
New town boards were elected in November 2015 and have had a year to create and implement their agendas. Most mayoral and council/commissioner seats will be up for election in November of 2017, but the current boards will have all of 2017 to continue work in their towns.
We asked the mayors of the local municipalities to reflect on 2016 and tell us what was accomplished in their towns and what they would like to see happen in the coming year.
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What was the biggest accomplishment your town board made in 2016?
Matthews Mayor Jim Taylor: The biggest accomplishment for 2016 has to be the completion of Phase I of South Trade Street and Fullwood Lane. This project has turned out to be wonderful for the area and I look forward to the state’s Department of Transportation starting and completing their section, Phase II, shortly. In addition, balancing the needs and desires of the community while maintaining a low and reasonable tax rate is always an accomplishment. This board has accepted that challenge and done well to achieve this goal.
Mint Hill Mayor Ted Biggers: I am once again very proud that the board came together this spring to pass a balanced budget without increasing taxes. It is an accomplishment that we are able to maintain our tax rate despite the continued increase in the costs associated with providing critical services to our residents. The town was also fortunate enough to receive two grants from the State of North Carolina. One grant is for downtown revitalization and is being used to install several more decorative streetlights, decorative wayfinding signage and other infrastructure that will enhance the aesthetics of our downtown. The other grant will be used to continue our ongoing sidewalk construction efforts. Currently those sidewalks are in the construction document phase with bidding to occur in late January. Additionally, the board has agreed to the design and to move forward with the new park on Brief Road. This new park will provide much needed athletic amenities for our residents, filling a need we have had for several years.
Pineville Mayor John “Jack” Edwards: We have purchased the old Cone Mills site and are working with DFI, a part of the North Carolina School of Government, to create a plan for the property and then to market that plan. We should be ready to market the property and plan to private developers by the summer of 2017. The council has also approved plans for construction of 148 townhomes to be build on 14 acres behind our historic district. The project will be developed by GVEST and built by David Weekly. We are also excited that, for the first time in 10 years, our downtown is fully occupied with a good mix of businesses and restaurants. The downtown is truly coming to life.
What is the biggest challenge facing your town in 2017?
Matthews Mayor Taylor: Growth will continue to be a challenge for not only Matthews but also for the surrounding areas. We need to continue to balance the desire of property owners to develop their property with maintaining the look, feel and charm of Matthews. We need to make sure that we are planning for 20, 30 or even 50 years out and not making decisions that will only be beneficial for the newer term but rather the long term viability of our town. We can’t prevent growth but rather need to be aware that we need to be smart about what we allow by working to make sure we have the best possible projects presented by developers and land owners.
Mint Hill Mayor Biggers: With residential growth continuing at a tremendous pace, it is as important now as ever to continue our efforts of providing a high level of service at as low a cost as possible. I am extremely proud that we have never raised taxes during my tenure as mayor yet we have seen our population nearly double in that same time frame. Additionally, it is crucial that we further develop our regional partnerships with Mecklenburg County, NCDOT and other state agencies to ensure our residents’ needs are being met for services not directly provided by the Town of Mint Hill.
Pineville Mayor Edwards: The budgeting process will be a big challenge for our council this year. We are not planning on a tax increase, but we must figure out how to provide more funding for our Fire Department as well as our town infrastructure as whole.
What is the most frustrating part of your job as mayor?
Matthews Mayor Taylor: The most frustrating part is balancing ideas of so many people and trying to find solutions to issues that impact our community. We can’t just say no to things we don’t like but rather we need to find solutions and offer suggestions to problems such as traffic and development. Just saying we don’t want something will never allow is to get the best possible solution to any issue. We have to realize that in order for Matthews to remain as desirable as it has been, we need to continue to provide services and amenities that our citizens want. We need to think long term and keep reaching for what’s in our best interest.
Mint Hill Mayor Biggers: The most frustrating part of my job as mayor is and always has been the lack of hours in a day to follow through with my responsibilities in a manner to which I want. While I make every effort to return every call, attend every meeting requested of me and generally see to all my mayoral responsibilities, there simply is not enough time for me to accomplish all that to my personal satisfaction. I take my job as mayor very seriously and feel I owe it to the residents to live up to the honor they have bestowed upon me.
Pineville Mayor Edwards: There is really nothing about this job that frustrates me. I enjoy every part of it immensely.
What is the best part of your job as mayor?
Matthews Mayor Taylor: The best part of being the mayor of Matthews is getting to engage the citizens of our town and help develop the framework for the next 30 years. Good things take planning and patients to achieve. Many of the wonderful accomplishments we have achieved in Matthews, such as the Four Mile Creek Greenway, Matthews SportsPlex, our vibrant downtown, Matthews Alive, Novant – Matthews Medical Center, all took many years to achieve and had a fair amount of opposition. The ability to look back over the past 20 -25 years and know that I had a part in shaping the Matthews we all love is the best part of the job. I truly feel we have the best community in all of North Carolina.
Mint Hill Mayor Biggers: The best part about being mayor is the ability to see, on a day-to-day basis, the effect you are having on people’s lives. The work done at the state and federal level is no doubt important, but to see the look on a young child’s face as they play at one of the town parks or to see a family enjoying one of our new sidewalks. … There simply is nothing in this world that compares. It is truly an honor and a blessing to have been given this opportunity and it is my solemn promise to the residents of Mint Hill that I will continue to serve as their mayor in a fashion that will make them proud.
Pineville Mayor Edwards: I love this job. I am a people person and I enjoy all the things that are a part of being mayor: cutting ribbons, opening new businesses, talking to people. I very much enjoy what I do.
Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.