Watch video of WFJA’s interview with Republican Sandra Jones, who is seeking one of three at large seats on the Lee County Board of Commissioners. Voters can choose up to three candidates. Incumbent Democrat Amy Dalrymple and challenger Mark Lovick and Republican challengers Bill Carver and Paula Fine-Mbunagi are also seeking seats. Below, read answers submitted to The Rant monthly in August, September and October.
Briefly introduce yourself and describe why you’re seeking election to the Board of Commissioners.
JONES: A native North Carolinian, I have lived in Lee County since 1981. I am a graduate of Appalachian State University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I was ordained as a minister at Emmanuel Congregational-Christian Church in 1995. I served the citizens of Lee County as a State Magistrate for nearly 30 years.
I want to continue serving and giving back to this community. I bring a unique perspective of life in this county gathered from the insights during my service as a magistrate. That perspective gives me a fresh and unique outlook on the needs of this county.
I plan to focus my attention and my efforts on issues of public safety, education, and fiscal responsibility. Collectively, we can do a much better job in managing the public’s trust in government, of stewarding the people’s money, and of improving the welfare of all of the citizens of our community.
What is your view as to the state of things in Lee County with regards to local government, and what measures will you take as a commissioner to see that economic growth continues to occur locally?
JONES: Lee County has lots of room for growth. The county desperately needs treatment capacity for drug and alcohol addiction and mental health. Numerous individuals in our court system and the Lee County Jail are there as the result of not being able to get necessary treatment. Families desperately need the interventions and support beyond what the Sandhills Center (LME) currently provides.
Lee County can do much more to make our area attractive for economic growth and development. Strategic land use and planning would make our county more predictable. We need to increase and improve our infrastructure including better roads, water and sewer systems. We should extend accessibility of high speed internet service to all areas of the county. Lee County needs to lower its property tax rate to be more competitive with our neighboring counties. But, most importantly, Lee County must do more to produce a well trained and skilled work force from our K-12 schools and our Community College. Lee County can expand its apprentice and internship programs and help more students with career and technical education. The cumulative effects of these initiatives would make Lee County more attractive to businesses and sustain better long-term business grow in our community.
It’s been a big couple of years for Lee County in terms of economic development. Four new projects have been announced since 2019 that will bring more than 1100 new jobs and upwards of $680 million in tax base investments. Some, but not all, of these projects included an economic incentive from the county in the form of a performance-based grant which is tied to capital investment and job creation for a limited number of years. What is your view of this incentive program, and will you support its continuation if you win election?
JONES: I agree that incentives are important in bringing economic development to Lee County, but I also feel there should not be a limit on the types of incentives explored. We should be providing economic incentives that would provide the greater benefit in bringing jobs to Lee County citizens. We need economic incentives that would improve the quality and training of our workforce and improve our infrastructure to benefit all companies and local businesses. While these recent performance-based economic incentives have reportedly produced “1100 new jobs” I question how many of these jobs are being filled by the citizens of Lee County rather than individuals commuting in from other counties.
I believe Lee County should limit economic incentives to those projects that benefit the county as a whole.
We need economic incentives that would improve the quality of education and training of our workforce. including education and training at the community college. Perhaps by better educating our workforce the citizens of Lee County will be better equipped to handle these new jobs coming to our county. We need incentives to improve our infrastructure to make Lee County more attractive to businesses to consider coming to Lee County without numerous incentives.
Do you support the passage of the $25 million parks and recreation bond to pay for the construction of a multi-field sports complex in Lee County? Why or why not?
JONES: While I am for building multi-sports fields and facilities that I hope would expand the recreational possibilities for the citizens of Lee County, I am very concerned about the “wording” of the referendum on the ballot. It states to provide 25 million plus interest for “constructing, expanding and improving various parks and recreational facilities for said County, including without limitation, a multi-sport complex”. The wording for the bond is very broad. I understand from talking with parents who have children on travel teams that they would like to have a decent facility for their teams to compete with teams from other counties. I also understand the desire to attract tournaments to our county. But I question what percentage of our children and perhaps adults would have access to the facility and ability to use the multi-sport fields because of the location. Could not the facility be moved to a location to allow better access? Would it be more advantageous to build sports fields in multiple areas around the county to allow better access?
I also question whether it would be better to open the sports complex to outside bidders and allow for economic incentives to assist in building the sports complex rather than placing the burden on the taxpayers in the county by raising our taxes.
Residential growth continues, with multiple new housing developments and apartment complexes springing up. What are your thoughts about how to provide a high quality level of services to both existing and new residents without having to consider an increase to the county’s property tax rate?
JONES: From what I have observed, the majority of these new housing developments and apartment complexes are being annexed by the City of Sanford. This includes the newest development of Cumnock Village at the corner of Cotten Road and Cumnock Road. The reason for this being so water and sewer services can be supplied to these developments. This also obligates the City of Sanford to provide most other services including law enforcement protection, fire services, trash and yard waste disposal.
The main obligation for Lee County would be to provide K-12 educational services. Hopefully the value of these new homes and apartment complexes will provide the necessary property tax revenue and the new residents’ sales tax revenue, to cover the educational services needed without having to increase any taxes.
The country’s opioid crisis continues, and overdoses have spiked since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lee County government in 2018 joined counties and cities across the nation in a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers seeking damages in order to fund programs for prevention, treatment and education. What is your view of this effort to combat the crisis, particularly since in the two years since, a long list of manufacturers have agreed to pay out billions of dollars in settlements in this type of lawsuit?
JONES: Having served the citizens of Lee County as a state magistrate for over 29 years, I have seen first hand how opioids as well as the abuse of other controlled substances have devastated individuals and families. Another one of our main problems is methamphetamine.
ANY programs that can help our citizens would be helpful and improve the quality of life for all of our citizens. One of the main areas lacking in Lee County is treatment for any kind of substance abuse and mental health in general. These problems are costing all of us. An example being that approximately 20 to 25 percent of individuals we are housing and feeding in the Lee County Jail at this moment are there because they could not get the type of mental health treatment they need. We are paying because of individuals committing property crimes to support their needs and extra expenses needed by our law enforcement.
I think the money from this lawsuit in helping to prevent, treat and educate about controlled substances is a start. Hopefully it will bring awareness of how big the problem is in our county and bring about a greater effort to assist these citizens of Lee County.