Southwest Wake News

Apex incumbents face crowded field of challengers

The race for Apex Town Council has become heated in recent weeks, with public arguments as well as reports of stolen signs, slashed tires and other negativity that has gone beyond typical campaign animosity.

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, Wes Moyer and Stephen Xavier.

Jensen is the board’s longest serving member and has a strong progressive voting record. He’s a retired engineer.

Lassiter is in his first term and is building a reliably conservative voting record. He’s a former teacher and current assistant principal.

The challengers, who aside from their affiliation with the Apex Chamber of Commerce, represent many walks of life, ages and levels of political experience.

Helton is the only challenger who has previously been elected to office. Helton, a former chamber president, served part of one term on the Town Council in the late 1990s. Helton recently returned to Apex after living in South Carolina and is looking to get involved once more.

Moyer is a former UNC baseball player and star athlete at Apex High School who operates a downtown franchise of the life insurance and financial planning group, Modern Woodmen of America. Moyer has been active in downtown and with the Chamber of Commerce for several years but has no previous political experience.

Xavier has long worked behind the scenes in politics, mostly in Orange County. He was the communications director for the Orange County GOP and also serves as a media and public relations consultant for Republican politicians. Xavier, a business coach by trade, moved to Apex in 2013 to lead the Chamber of Commerce.

We asked them their views on growth, property taxes and how to capitalize on the town’s reputation. Here are their responses.

Carl R. Helton

Age: 71

Occupation: General contractor, Helton Homes; Auctioneer, American Auction Company

Political experience: Apex Town Council, 1997-99

Community involvement: Former president and ambassador, Apex Chamber of Commerce; Member, Apex Rotary Club member. 1994 Apex Citizen of the Year. Apex Parks and Recreation youth softball coach, 2013-present

Q: What is your main goal if you are elected?

I have an eight-item first-term bucket list: 1. Listen to resident concerns 2. Smart managed growth. We need to maintain our 4-percent growth by pursuing more 3. Senior Center at Town Hall campus 4. YMCA for Apex, built on private land 5. Six-field sport complex to be built at Pleasant Park 6. Preserve our greatest asset of downtown Apex 7. Provide police and first responders what they need to perform their jobs 8. Negotiate with railroad to remove the switching station from downtown.

Q: Growth and development are key issues. What role should the town play in guiding growth?

See No. 2 above. When you stop growing, you start dying. Proverbs 28 tells us, where there is no vision, the people perish. If you’re giving away free ice cream, some people won’t like the flavor. We must make smart long-term decisions that are best for the town and not be swayed by the few who are opposed to everything.

Q: Apex was recently named the best place to live in the country. How should the town’s elected officials capitalize on that reputation?

Promote it for what it says: the No. 1 place to live. It’s a great tool for our director of economic development to use to attract the types of businesses we would like to see come to Apex.

Q: Apex’s property tax rate is lower than it was in 2007. What could make you support returning the tax rate to the pre-recession level or higher?

As long as the town manager continues to do the excellent job of spending our money wisely, there is no reason to increase taxes. With smart decisions and planning, we can continue to enjoy the low rate. Being successful in attracting more business and commercial companies to locate here will also help avoid any increase. We must remember the cost to run our town, or our own homes will cost more each year than it did in the previous year.

Bill Jensen

Age: 72

Occupation: Retired aerospace engineer

Political experience: Apex Town Council, 1999 to present

Community involvement: Volunteer math tutor, Apex Elementary School; Member of the Sierra Club; Member of the Haw River Assembly, Environment North Carolina and the American Sustainable Energy Association.

Q: What is your main goal if you are elected?

If elected, I will focus on preserving the quality of life that helped elevate Apex to Money magazine’s No. 1 place to live in America. To achieve this goal, I will focus on enticing high-tech businesses to Apex as a means of achieving a live-work-play community. These businesses will be carefully integrated into our town such that many of our residents will have a short commute to their place of employment.

Businesses provide an enhanced tax base that will enable us to expand our parks and preserve open space for recreation. I will work to develop our transportation system to include roads, multi-use pathways and greenways. I will continue to work with our downtown business owners to preserve and enhance the opportunities additional cultural destinations and for festivals.

Q: Growth and development are key issues. What role should the town play in guiding growth?

One of the Town Council’s primary responsibilities is guiding the development of our town. The tools to achieve this guidance are the 2030 Land Use Plan, the Unified Development Ordinance, Zoning and Annexation. The town staff are the professional guides for growth and development while the Town Council, as representatives of our residents, makes the final decisions.

There is presently an abundance of housing developments on the horizon for Apex. We must entice more businesses to Apex as a means of balancing these housing developments. Providing an easy transition for businesses through infrastructure planning and installations along with smart incentives will enhance the town’s ability to attract businesses that provide quality employment for our residents.

Whatever growth takes place must be an asset to those who presently live in Apex. We may wish to limit additional housing developments until our business sector is expanded. This management may be achieved through zoning and limited annexations.

Q: Apex was recently named the best place to live in the country. How should the town’s elected officials capitalize on that reputation?

The primary value to Apex being rated the No. 1 place to live in the America is attracting high-tech companies that will provide excellent paying employment close to home. Apex is presently mostly a bedroom community, and that does not bode well for a long-term low tax-rate. By developing a quality business base in Apex, our quality of life and standard of living will remain high as Apex grows. We must remember that growth does not always bring a more enjoyable life experience, so we must be cautious with how we allow growth to take place.

Q: Apex’s property tax rate is lower than it was in 2007. What could make you support returning the tax rate to the pre-recession level or higher?

The Apex tax rate is now lower than in 2007, because when property is reassessed, the town adjusts the tax rate to be revenue neutral. The actual cost to the homeowner is likely similar to what it was in 2007. The town is a business, and it needs to be run as a business. When we compare Apex to other towns, we are the most efficiently run town in the area. So there is little opportunity to squeeze money out of the operating budget.

If we wish to purchase land for parks or town facilities before the costs rise, then I could support a tax rate raise to cover the loan costs. This approach can be smart management, because the long-term cost to our residents will be less. I would only consider a tax rate raise under these circumstances and where we are providing additional services or infrastructure for our citizens.

Wesley Moyer

Age: 34

Occupation: Managing partner and financial adviser, Modern Woodmen of America

Education: Bachelor’s degree, journalism and mass communications, UNC-Chapel Hill

Political experience: None

Community involvement: Vice chairman, Apex Chamber of Commerce board of directors; President, N.C. chapter of National Association of Fraternal Insurance Counselors; Volunteer, Hope Community Church; Sponsor, Bowl Away CF (Cystic Fibrosis); Coach, youth sports teams

Q: What is your main goal if you are elected?

I believe we should keep the character and small town charm of Apex. This starts with re-evaluating our 2030 land use plan. We need to be mindful of the impact of medium and high-density residential developments on schools and roads. We should consider non-residential development to recruit more business to Apex.

Q: Growth and development are key issues. What role should the town play in guiding growth?

Being named the No. 1 town in America brings unique challenges. We need to set the precedent for how we would like to grow certain areas of our town. We should evaluate our land use plan. We can encourage more non-residential growth so our residents aren’t burdened with higher taxes in the future.

Q: Apex was recently named the best place to live in the country. How should the town’s elected officials capitalize on that reputation?

With this recognition, we should be able to attract prestigious, reputable businesses to our town. We have a highly educated population. However, the majority of our residents drive to other towns to work and spend money at these other locations. These are lost opportunities for providing jobs close to home. These are also lost revenue opportunities.

With more non-residential growth, we can balance our tax base and promote the live-work-play atmosphere in Apex.

Q: Apex’s property tax rate is lower than it was in 2007. What could make you support returning the tax rate to the pre-recession level or higher?

I believe in keeping our taxes as low as possible for our residents. However, I feel this can only happen if we encourage more non-residential growth. We need to be mindful of the cost to the town for providing services to more than 80,000 people, which is the current population goal in the 2030 plan.

The ratio of non-residential development versus residential development needs to be considered when developing our town and considering our budget going forward.

Scott R. Lassiter

Age: 28

Occupation: Assistant principal, Durant Road Middle School

Education: Bachelor’s degree, social studies education, N.C. State University; Master’s degree, school administration, North Carolina Central University

Political experience: Apex Town Council (2011-present), Chairman, Special General Fund Budget Committee (2015), Planning Committee (2011-present) and Member of the Personnel Committee (2011-present) and six previous years service as Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources advisory commissioner.

Community involvement: Advisory commissioner, Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources; Past board member, Citizens for Apex Parks; St. Andrews Catholic Church; PTA member; N.C. State University Alumni Association; Wake County Historical Society.

Q: What is your main goal if you are elected?

My main goals, should I be re-elected, are to continue to provide excellent government services for the residents of Apex while ensuring efficiency. This year’s budget, for which I served as the General Fund Committee chair, represents a continued commitment from me to meet the needs of residents while being fiscally responsible and downright thrifty and doing more with less.

Apex, during my term, has reached new heights. The vast majority of folks who move to Apex already have a job. Our unemployment is at one of the lowest rates in the state. During my time on the council, Apex has seen a 21 increase in employment. Our property tax rate is one of the lowest in Wake County.

I, along with town staff, came up with a creative bond funding method to complete the town’s loop road, the Apex Peakway. Through this proposal, several pedestrian connections and intersection improvements will be added. The bond will not require a tax increase.

In my next four-year term, I will fight to ensure a dedicated senior citizen center is built in central Apex. I will also work to, as I did with the Apex skate park, provide more adolescent activities in town.

Q: Growth and development are key issues. What role should the town play in guiding growth?

Apex, over my four years on the council, has experienced an average of about 2.5 percent population growth per year. Our consultants suggest it is unsustainable to grow more than about 4 percent annually. We have to ensure that growth doesn’t negatively impact the quality of life for our existing residents. It is our responsibility to ensure town services and town maintained infrastructure keep pace. However, we can manage it.

Currently, Apex has some of the strictest requirements from home-builders and the highest fees in the state. We owe a great deal of our economic development and parks, recreation and cultural resources facilities to well-managed growth.

Having grown up in Apex when the population was closer to 5,000 rather than the current population, it is easy for me to romanticize that time. However, it is important to remember that era represents a time when Salem Street was all but boarded up, we had no appreciable public amenities to speak of, lackluster schools and even the simplest of shopping trips required going to Cary or Raleigh. Population growth in Apex is the epitome of a double-edged sword. However, with proper management and a clearly defined plan we can dull the negative impacts.

Q: Apex was recently named the best place to live in the country. How should the town’s elected officials capitalize on that reputation?

Town officials should remember it wasn’t us who attained the aforementioned achievement. Instead, all residents who positively contribute to life in Apex played an important role. Community service and a positive spirit were key to our achievement and will need to be fostered and encouraged in order for us to remain on top.

One of the most important specific things we can do to capitalize on our achievement is ensuring housing that comes to Apex is of high quality aesthetically. We can afford to be selective. We also should use our achievement to recruit quality employers.

I feel we should never lose sight of who we serve. I list my personal cell phone for all constituents in Apex. I always find time to take calls and respond to emails of concerned parties. Our town manager answers his own phone. The Town of Apex, and myself, recognize we are in the customer service business. My No. 1 priority is representing my constituents and helping them find workable solutions in their dealings with their local government. Once we stop listening, we’ll stop being No. 1. I’m committed not to tune out.

Q: Apex’s property tax rate is lower than it was in 2007. What could make you support returning the tax rate to the pre-recession level or higher?

It is very important to continue responsible budgeting practices. Though I will stop short of echoing former President George Bush in saying, “Read my lips, no new taxes!,” I will say I never intend to vote to raise taxes barring some unforeseen economic calamity. Having said that, Apex has a sustainable tax policy and has no need to raise taxes unless the clear majority of citizens demand additional services.

Stephen Xavier

Age: 58

Occupation: Former president and CEO, Apex Chamber of Commerce, 2013-2015; Founder, president and CEO, America’s Top Coach business leadership company. Published author and business expert

Education: Bachelor’s degree, business management, Lesley University

Political experience: Communications director and board of directors, Orange County GOP, 2009-13; Designed and delivered media training program for N.C. GOP in 2010-11. Campaign consultant and local radio/TV political commentator.

Community involvement: Involved with Kraft YMCA, Apex Small Business Network, Apex Downtown Business Association and the SBA SCORE program for small business. Pro bono media and PR consulting for Western Wake Crisis Ministry. Member, Apex Rotary. Former tutor and volunteer with court-ordered boot camp; Former consultant to AIDS awareness group

Q: What is your main goal if you are elected?

My main goal is to keep Apex growing in the right direction. We made it to No. 1 in America for good reason, and it was not by accident. What we do next with that accolade is key. Creating a balanced plan for growth – residential, commercial and industrial – I strongly believe, is our key to future and sustained success.

Historically, many cities and towns across the United States have had the honor of being No. 1. Getting the title is hard. Sustaining that title is even harder.

If we can create the right mix of more residential, well-placed commercial (small business and select big-box) and larger job-growth industries being part of our plan, we can truly elevate ourselves from just a bedroom community for Research Triangle Park to a world-class town and, keep our charm intact.

Q: Growth and development are key issues. What role should the town play in guiding growth?

Through Town Hall, the Town Council and the Town’s economic development arm, working together, a pro-balanced growth process has to be in place. Currently, the Town has a 2030 Plan, which has a lot of clear benefits. However, since that plan’s inception, residents and business owners alike are seeing the rapid growth created by that plan and want to do a brief time-out to possibly revise it.

As a professional who has worked successfully in a wide range of enterprises, any process needs to have check-ins to monitor process and progress, and the 2030 Plan should be no exception. Public forums, coupled with dynamic Planning Board and Town Council participation, will create that balanced approach to ensure our growth without sacrificing what’s already great about Apex: our charm.

Q: Apex was recently named the best place to live in the country. How should the town’s elected officials capitalize on that reputation?

It needs to be more than a simple public relations campaign, which many other towns have done. Capitalizing on this recent accolade can be best achieved through our economic development arm, and the current director, Joanna Helms, is an expert in that realm. However, she needs inventory, a commitment by the town and Council to budget necessary funds to acquire land, build infrastructure and “if you build it, they will come” industry.

I consulted extensively with Wake County Economic Development (WCED) for two years prior to moving here to run the Apex Chamber, and I helped reshape both WCED and the chamber. Dynamic partnerships with WCED, coupled with our commitment and a sensible plan of growth, will ensure our growth, broaden our tax base and, make us a destination to live, work and play.

Q: Apex’s property tax rate is lower than it was in 2007. What could make you support returning the tax rate to the pre-recession level or higher?

If elected, I would be opposed to any significant tax hike. Will some increase be needed down the road? Yes, it’s inevitable. The reason? We’ve been heavy on residential growth, slow on commercial growth and zero on industrial growth, leaving our tax base vulnerable. That has to change.

I would support, if needed, a 2 to 4 percent tax increase, perhaps, but only if we are engaged and fully committed to real economic growth. That’s the only viable solution to ensure our town’s future success and our ability to maintain a sustained low tax rate for residents in the years to come.

Doran: 919-460-2604; @will_doran

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