Lake Norman & Mooresville

Tillis talks lake-area issues

Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis spoke with the media last week about local issues ranging from the lake police patrol to school funding.

The meeting was a precursor to a public forum later that evening at Cornelius Town Hall. About 200 people attended.

Tillis, who is known for having a fiscally conservative agenda, lives in Cornelius when the General Assembly is not in session in Raleigh.

Below are excerpts from his hour-long meeting with local media.

Q. Carolinas HealthCare System announced in April its plans to build a 44-bed psychiatric hospital in Huntersville, near the intersection of Old Statesville Road and Verhoeff Drive in Huntersville. Do you think this would be a good fit for the Lake Norman area?

Tillis said he supported the proposed hospital, adding, "There's no one that believes we have an overcapacity of mental health facilities."

Q. Currently, Mecklenburg County pays Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police to patrol Lake Norman. Cornelius Police Chief Bence Hoyle has said he would like to have jurisdiction over lake patrol in his town. But state statute dictates that in counties of 500,000 residents or more, only county-wide law enforcement agencies can patrol unincorporated areas. Is there any legislation in the works to change that?

"You have to be very careful with jurisdiction. Folks that have jurisdiction generally think they're best prepared to save lives in that jurisdiction," said Tillis.

Tillis added that legislative approval wouldn't be necessary to allow Cornelius to begin patrolling the lakes.

"Only an interlocal agreement would be required," he said.

Q. Visit Lake Norman is a tourism development organization funded through the hotel/motel tax and prepared food taxes. Can an interlocal agreement between Visit Lake Norman and the three North Mecklenburg towns work? What should it look like in your opinion?

Tillis said he supported House Bill 508, which requires the three North Mecklenburg towns to give 28 percent of revenue from the hotel/motel tax and 25 percent of revenue from the prepared food tax to Visit Lake Norman. The bill was ratified in June.

Tillis noted Visit Lake Norman often has to plan two or three years in advance to bring events to the area. Without the certainty of funding, it makes it difficult for the organization to operate.

He also said he would like to see a Visit Lake Norman board of directors that includes both town and Visit Lake Norman representatives.

Q. What direction would you like to see public education take in the coming years?

Tillis said he would like to cut back on the state's oversight on public education. He noted there are 500 pages of statutes governing public education in North Carolina.

He said he would prefer to give the school's more flexibility to operate more like charter schools.

Charter schools receive public funding but are not required to follow certain statutes governing public education. The tradeoff is that these schools are held accountable for reaching results promised in their charters.

Tillis also said he would like to allow local superintendents to appoint principals to schools. Currently, state statute requires local boards of education to vote on the appointments.

In terms of budget cuts to public education, Tillis said the negative impacts on the schools were "grossly overestimated."

Still, he added, "If we go in and see that in some cases counties didn't have the resources to make do, we might go back in," to make changes.

Q. What is your opinion on transportation improvements and needs in the Lake Norman area?

"Is there data to suggest that we have a more serious congestion problem than the funding would suggest is fair?" said Tillis of the I-77 corridor. "If I look at projects across the state, if I look at wait time and accident rates, this corridor up here is one of the least funded."

Tillis said he planned to look further into the state's funding formulas to figure out why road improvement projects in the Lake Norman area aren't getting more money from the state.

Regarding the proposed Lynx rail Red Line in the Lake Norman area, Tillis said he had concerns about whether the cost of the project was underestimated.

"They were making some fairly optimistic estimates," he said, adding he thinks long-term rail projects are best dealt with at the local level.

Q. What will be your role in preparations for the Democratic National Convention in Lake Norman?

Tillis said he was thrilled about the economic activity that the convention is expected to bring to the area.

"We'll deal with the politics next year," he said. "The only object I had...I would not support any measures to unionize Mecklenburg County for the week. Absent that, I think they've done a good job and I applaud them for landing the big fish."