There are three district elections for the Lee County Board of Commissioners in November. Here, we have answers from the candidates from District 2 (the north half of Carolina Trace, Broadway and eastern Lee County, parts of east Sanford, the Deep River area and parts of the Northview area), Republican incumbent Kirk Smith, the Board of Commissioners’ chair, and Democratic challenger John Kirkman. These answers were published unedited and as received from the candidates in the September and October editions of The Rant Monthly.
In person early voting begins on Thursday at the Lee County Board of Elections at 1503 Elm St. or the McSwain Center at 2420 Tramway Road. Hours are 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday between Oct. 20 and Nov. 4. In person early voting will also be available from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 23, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 29 and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 5. Election Day is Nov. 8. For information about absentee ballots, click here.
Please introduce yourself and describe your qualifications for office:
KIRKMAN: I am John Kirkman. I was born and raised in Greensboro and graduated from UNC-G. My career in Human Resources and Labor Relations took me out of NC for most of my working years. I was employed by major corporations with increasing responsibilities. My last employer was BASF Corporation where I served as Corporate Director of Labor Relations and EEO. When I had the opportunity to take early retirement, my wife Pat and I quickly decided to move to Sanford. We fell in love with Lee County. We became active in our church (St. Thomas’ Episcopal) and active in our community. We both serve on boards for charitable organizations and we have been active in politics.
I am running to be our next County Commissioner for District 2 because I believe I can do a better job in representing the folks in our district. Unlike my opponent, I respect and appreciate the school teachers in our county. Both of my sisters were teachers and I know it is a demanding job. Our teachers should be fairly compensated and our students should receive a quality education. We must provide adequate resources for our schools and provide better access to higher education and technical programs. We have a wonderful Community College here in Lee County and I will strongly support it. My wife and I have endowed a scholarship for nursing students at CCCC.
SMITH: My name is Kirk D. Smith, I am currently completing my second term as the Chairman of the Lee County Board of Commissioners. I held the At-Large seat from 2012-2016 holding the seat of Vice-Chair for two years and elected for the Second District seat in 2018 that I currently hold. My military career, combat deployment, History Degrees, Board experience, and leadership positions are contributing qualities to how I govern. My additional duties, which adds to my qualifications for office include: North Carolina Associations of County Commissioners Executive Board Member,Executive Committee of the Sanford Area Growth Alliance; Sandhills Center LME/MCO Mental Health Board Member, Lee County Fire Advisory Board, Joint Planning Commission, Local Emergency Planning Commission, and the Triangle Area Rural Planning Organization. I am a Life Member of the: Veterans of Foreign Wars, 82nd Airborne Division Association, and Disabled American Veterans. I am a Patron Member of the National Rifle Association. My family attends Turner’s Chapel Church and we contribute to a number of charities. I am retired from the retail auto partsbusinesses thus allowing for time to dedicate my work and efforts to the citizens of Lee County. Since January 2019, I make it a point to attend the Sanford City Council and Broadway Town Commission meetings in order to stay abreast of issues involving our citizens.
Lee County has experienced massive tax base growth in recent years, leading to an increase in property tax revenue. How will you balance the opportunity to decrease property tax rates with other needs brought about by growth (capital projects such as the new library) and the public’s vote in 2020 to proceed with the multi-sports complex?
KIRKMAN: All the residents of Lee County have the right to live in safety. I support properly funding and training our law enforcement officers. We must also continue to protect the health of our citizens by following the advice of our medical experts. Our county government should continue to improve our planning for the inevitable weather emergencies that are occurring with greater frequency.
Working with Sanford Area Growth Alliance, our city and county leaders have been very successful in bringing new businesses to Lee County. These new employers offer good paying jobs and benefits for our citizens and broaden our property tax base. Our local real estate prices are reasonable when compared with Cary and Raleigh, so we have attracted many new residents who work elsewhere. Although many new apartments and homes have been built, home prices and rent keep going up. Facing the imminent 2023 Lee County property re-evaluation, many of us will see our property taxes go up next year. What can the commissioners do to help the home owners on fixed incomes? What can the commissioners do to help make sure there is affordable housing for our low and moderate-income residents?
I believe that our expanding tax base will allow a property tax reduction, a new library and permit our educators an increase in their supplement. With the increase in population there will soon be the need for another school. We should be deciding where and buy the land now.
It was shocking how quickly the estimated cost of building the multi-sports complex more than doubled in two years! As did the majority of Lee County voters, I voted for the sports complex. I believe our current County Commissioners did the right thing in scaling down the multi-sports complex which will still have a destination playground.
SMITH: We currently enjoy the benefits of the Central Carolina Enterprise Park, as well as the work of the Sanford Area Growth Alliance who brought into Lee County a variety of new employers. Due to our increased tax revenues and our economic incentives policy the Lee County Board of Commissioners lowered the tax rate per hundred by 4.5 cents now at .73 per hundred. Unfortunately, due to the out-of-control spending in Washington our inflation rate now sets at a 40 year high. We will endeavor to minimize the financial impact on the county by cautiously proceeding with our proposed new library and multi-sports complex. The economic climate of these next few years will set the tone for the future library and sports complex. With the anticipated property re-evaluations, the pressure from the growth in Wake, Chatham, and Lee Counties, we will focus on lessoning the burden on our taxpayers. I cannot stress enough the fact that the out-of-control spending and dictates emanating from Washington by the current Democrat Administration as well as the Democrat controlled Congress, all contribute to the financial hardships our families now experience. I will not raise taxes and work to lower them to .70 cents per hundred.
Have you signed any pledges or promises to outside groups or individuals in exchange for an endorsement? If so, please describe them.
KIRKMAN: Shortly after I filed to run for County Commissioner for District 2, I was contacted by a national organization and asked to take the Pro-Truth Pledge. I was asked to share truth, to honor truth and encourage truth. There was no endorsement offered. I signed the pledge.
SMITH: My campaign is self-funded. I am not seeking any political donations. I will not be bought.
Years ago, I signed the Americans for Prosperity No New Tax Pledge and I have recently received an endorsement by the North Carolina Grassroots Government PAC, thus committing to upholding the U.S. and NorthCarolina Constitutions, being true to the founding Biblical Principles of our Republic, and to faithfully execute the clearly defined duties of this office.
Soaring building costs have changed plans for the county’s multi-sports complex, for which nearly 59 percent of Lee County voters approved a $25 million bond in 2020. Now that the project is slated for completion in multiple stages, what will you do to ensure it becomes a reality in as close alignment as possible with the voters’ wishes while also keeping additional spending minimal?
KIRKMAN: My wife and I voted to approve the 2020 multi-sports complex because it will provide a playground for our younger children and excellent sports fields for our teens. When we voted to approve the $25 million bond in 2020 no one could have forecast the rapid increase in cost. I applaud the pragmatic approach of our current county commissioners to build the complex in stages. I was happy to hear Commissioner Reives insist on including the destination playground in the first stage and hear the other county commissioners agree. Building the sports complex in stages will not minimize the total cost, but it will help spread it out over an affordable period of time. Lee County is growing rapidly, with a larger tax base. The additional revenue could allow the commissioners a “pay as you go” approach for the additional stages. The utilization of the first stage of the multi-sports complex would help us determine whether or not to support the other stages.
SMITH: Elections have consequences, on day one of the Biden administration, by Executive diktat, he shut down our domestic petroleum production along with the ceasing of pipeline construction. Petroleum is the life’s blood of our “pseudo” free market economy and the higher costs along with out-of-control federal spending created the highest inflation rate in forty years! All of the “free money” flooding the markets under the guise of the “American Rescue Plan Act of 2021,” “The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act 2021,” and the misnomer “Inflation Reduction Act 2022” will drive-up the inflation rate impacting construction materials and other costs associated with new building projects. Add to the fact our region is booming with the Toyota and Vinfast projects adding more pressure on our local construction assets. We will do our best to build a sports complex, meet the time constraints, and keep it within our budget.
Kirk Smith is an embarrassment for all the citizens of Lee County. Time for a change!