The first and only candidates forum for the Apex elections went smoothly Tuesday night, with no squabbles among the seven candidates in the occasionally contentious election.
About 250 people attended the forum hosted by the Apex Chamber of Commerce at Apex Friendship High School. The event was divided into two separate forums.
There are five people running for two seats on the Town Council. Incumbents Bill Jensen and Scott Lassiter are seeking re-election. They’re joined by Carl Helton, Wesley Moyer and Stephen Xavier.
The council candidates took the floor first and answered questions on specific policies, particularly for incentives and residential growth.
The two mayoral candidates were asked more open-ended questions. Town Council member Denise Wilkie is running against former council member Lance Olive in the open mayor seat. Mayor Bill Sutton isn’t running for the office he was appointed to.
In Apex, the mayor doesn’t vote on town affairs but guides policy making and is in charge of managing the council. The mayor also acts as the spokesperson and face of the town for everything from business recruitment to lobbying, parades and social functions.
Olive and Wilkie both cited business growth as a key goal.
Olive suggested creating a three-dimensional map of what planning experts and town leaders want Apex to look like in 20 years. He said it would cut down on piecemeal growth and make development more thought out.
“When a proposal comes to us, we can say, ‘That’s not the right location, but this is,’ ” Olive said. “And then it becomes less of an issue, less of a fight.”
The statement earned one of the night’s few applause breaks.
Wilkie also earned applause after her opening statement. She said her high school students always want to move out of town, but when she sees them a few years later, they tell her they hope to move back.
Wilkie, a civics and economics teacher at Apex High School, focused many of her answers around schools.
When it comes to ideas for economic development, she said the town should highlight the engineering and information technology academies at Apex’s two high schools to let potential employers know there’s a pipeline of young talent.
She said she could use the mayor’s position to improve the town by lobbying the state for more roads and lobby county leaders for more schools.
“I feel like I can be the person to help them understand we’re not just some little people out in the corner of the county,” Wilkie said. “We’re growing.”
Olive said if he’s elected, he would try to form election districts in Apex. That would be a major change from the current at-large system and would likely face opposition, he said, but he thinks it would create more equal representation for residents.
Town council and incentives
The Town Council candidates weren’t as uniformly prepared in their answers as the mayoral candidates but distinguished themselves on certain issues.
Everyone agreed on two major topics: Roads are the top priority for the town and economic incentives should be considered to encourage business growth.
Moyer went a step further on roads than his opponents, suggesting that Apex should take control of more state roads along with the responsibility for funding improvements to those roads.
Candidates’ support for incentives fell on a spectrum. Lassiter was the most reluctant, pointing to Apex’s low unemployment rate and his belief that government shouldn’t create jobs.
“Obviously, we’d like to see more residents with the opportunity to work in Apex,” Lassiter said. “But we have to ask, at what cost?”
“I think the most important thing we need to do is bring businesses in here and incorporate them near where our folks live,” he said.
Moyer suggested buying land for a business park like Holly Springs did. Helton, Jensen and Xavier said the town should extend water and sewer lines to undeveloped areas to spur growth.
Helton said the town voted not to send water and sewer to an undeveloped area in the 1980s, only to reverse course a decade later when it was still empty. Thanks to that incentive, he said, that area is now home to the Beaver Creek shopping centers, Apex’s largest retail hub.
Helton, Jensen and Xavier also enthusiastically backed incentives for existing companies that want to expand.
“It would be the right thing to do,” Helton said.
The council candidates’ opinions differ on how to develop the 92 acres designated for Pleasant Park, which is in the southwest part of town. Residents have been asked for their ideas at public meetings but have yet to find consensus for the $3.4 million piece of land.
Xavier got the first applause from the audience when he was the only candidate to say he wouldn’t support a bond referendum to fund construction of Pleasant Park but would instead support a referendum to fund a new senior center.
Officials have said a future bond would almost certainly lead to a property tax increase if the town’s $15 million bond for roadwork also passes this November.
“As a fiscal conservative, I’m generally opposed to bonds,” Xavier said. “I believe in spending what you have. I think if we were to go to another bond, a park would be last on my list. I would support building a senior center instead.”
Lassiter and Helton both said they would support a bond for Pleasant Park, but only if there is a specific plan. Moyer and Jensen said they would support a bond referendum, with or without a plan, because they believe park spending should be up to residents, not the Town Council.
Helton put himself forth as a pro-growth candidate, noting that many in the audience probably live in homes his company built.
He said Apex needs to be selective, but not overly picky when it comes to approving new developments.
“Saying ‘no’ to everything that comes across our desk is not the right answer,” he said.
Moyer flipped his words.
“We don’t have to say ‘yes’ to everything that comes across the council’s desk,” he said.
Moyer suggested rezoning land along major highways in town limits exclusively for business uses. He said he doesn’t like that Apex is on track to grow to 85,000 people by 2030.
Lassiter said he’s comfortable with the current level of growth because it’s less than what a consultant told the town would be unmanageable. Lassiter even introduced an acronym for his position: “OMG” for Only Manageable Growth.
Doran: 919-460-2604; @will_doran
Watch the forum
The forum was recorded and be found at www.apexchamber.com.