Home in Henderson recently interviewed Vance County Commissioner Tommy Hester.
Hester currently holds the District 7 seat on the commission, but faces a challenge from political newcomer Scott Hughes.
District 7 encompasses the majority of Henderson. Both candidates reside in the city.
Home in Henderson: Please tell readers your vision for Vance County.
Hester: I didn’t run for any reason other than to make it better. I want the county to be first in good things, not bad things.
The two most important things are jobs and education. I’m excited about the changes at E.M. Rollins Elementary School and the use of the Q-ZAB bonds.
We can’t get the county where it needs to be without going outside of the county. I was in Washington, D.C. yesterday talking to Senator Burr about the HUB, the library. New library cards have gone up 104% in the last two months. Everything has gone up except hours. This is what we want. That’s education.
We also talked the performing arts center and ways we might be able to get that here. We’re in a transition period in Vance County. We’ve got to get away from textiles and tobacco. They’re gone.
We also talked about grant-writing. It’s going to be the way to go in the future. The federal government is not going to have much unmandated funding to spend in the future. The only way to get any money out of the federal government in the future is through grants. We need to do more with grant-writing to get money for Vance County.
The more we put our face in front of officials, the more money we’re likely to get. We’ve had two senators in Vance County in the last two years, and one senator here twice in the last six months. That’s never happened before. That means that you’re being seen in Washington, D.C. That also means you need people in government from all parties.
I’m willing to spend my time outside of work to do that. You can’t do this job one night a month. You have to put effort into it. I’m more concerned with vision, not one department over another department so much. I’m concerned about how it can benefit everybody. I think we have an excellent county manager and some excellent commissioners, and I enjoy working with them.
The county is in better financial shape than it has been in 20 years. I think I had something to do with that. We have a lot happening that I’m excited about, with the HUB project, the Embassy project, two or three industries looking to come here, and a good rapport with the federal government.
Home in Henderson: Mr. Hughes talked in detail about what he perceived as problems with the Vance County Fire Department.
Hester: I’m not getting into one specific department. I am very confident of our fire chief and I am very confident of our county manager.
There’s committee meetings held. I’m on the Public Safety Committee, the fire chief and manager have talked about some things, there have been some conclusions, and they’ll be going to the full board of commissioners.
I think the departments we have with what resources they have, limited by the income we have, do a great job. I’d like to have more tax base. They we could give them more money.
Home in Henderson: You’ve spoken in favor of zoning many times. Can you give some specific reasons why you favor county-wide zoning?
Hester: I ran for office on zoning. I always voted for it. I’ve come to be more in favor of it than ever.
For example, I’ve been called by people looking into the HUB site and asked if the county is zoned. We are automatically excluded because of a lack of zoning.
Zoning is done to keep property values up.
Franklin and Granville Counties are 100% zoned, as is Mecklenburg. The growth is coming from the south, from Raleigh. Those counties zone out bad things, and that leaves Vance County. I don’t want the worst things in this county, because taxes still go up because I still have to provide police protection and public schools and education. If you don’t zone to bring in good stuff or say no to bad stuff, you’re going to get it. Taxes are going to go up because you don’t zone. It’s a fact.
On I-85 between the North Carolina line and the mountains, Vance is the only county not zoned at all. We’re sixth in the height of unemployment. For 25 years, we’ve talked about zoning. For 25 years, we haven’t done it, and been number one in the state in unemployment for as long as 24 months and no lower than six out of a hundred counties. Something’s not right.
I always try to study a subject thoroughly before I make a decision. I studied this thoroughly, I’ve looked at other counties. It don’t take a rocket scientist to figure out you’re doing something wrong.
Home in Henderson: There’s been a great deal of discussion in the city about the funding of the library and how that funding split should be done between the city and county. Do you have a view on that?
Hester: I do have a view. I voted for it to be increased this year. Does that say anything?
I won’t take anything away from the city council. They’re having some tough times because they’re trying to improve some of the things in our community that need to be improved. A person in the city pays double-taxation, that’s a fact. I think the county should pick up more than the city. I think it’s about 62 to 28% right now, and I wouldn’t be objectionable to picking up more of that down the road. I think a reasonable solution can be reached. I live in the city.
I’m hurt that we weren’t able to work out something so that we could open [the library] 61 instead of 48 hours. Think of where we could be.
Economic and community development go hand-in-hand.
Investors bought 138 acres by Staples for $5.5 million because they saw that people care about community development. They said we’re a “diamond in the rough”.
We’re finally getting to the point where we have one message for everyone out there. The more we fine-tune that, the better off everyone will be. We have an opportunity to continue to increase our retail sales. Retail sales are very important to county incomes. We have a chance to become one of the biggest retail sellers between Richmond and Raleigh.
We’re limited because of taxes. I don’t know of any department that doesn’t need money. It’s our job to split the money as best we can. If you give me enough money, I can give you the best sheriff’s department in the world. We have to work in the dollars that we got.
Economic development and education go hand-in-hand. It’s a big circle. We have the best hospital, rec center, YMCA, Kerr Lake, all these positive things. Sometimes we dwell too much on the negative. I blame the news media for that, sometimes. People want to talk about the negative. We need to talk about the positive.
Home in Henderson: How do you differentiate yourself from your opponent, Scott Hughes?
Hester: My vision for Vance County is a vision that I have because of running two businesses for thirty years and starting three more. It is a broader, longer time because of my age. I’ve never worked outside of Vance County. I started as a service tech for a heating/AC company and worked to the top. I sold that company and started a leasing company, and sold that as well.
Having more experience makes my vision a little different. I’m 60 this year. I’ve learned a lot being 60 and being married 40 years.
Being married 40 years is harder than living 60 years.
Having a wife involved in business helps me to have a broader view of what the county needs are.
Home in Henderson: Do you have anything to add?
Hester: The bottom line is that I care about the people of this community. If they’ll have me for another four years, I’ll serve. If they won’t, I’ll fish.
A press release from Hester may be viewed here.