By Diane Tilson
It is becoming increasingly apparent that the people running for Watauga County Commission have two very different ideas of Watuaga’s future. Or perhaps I should say, one proactive vision of the future and one reactive lack of vision.
On the one hand are the current majority on the commission, who are content to attend meetings (some more-or-less on time and often unprepared) and wait for things to happen in the county, only to react after a bad situation catches their attention. On the other are candidates who are used to thinking forward, planning for future challenges, and choosing to deal with situations while they’re still manageable.
As Democrats, we believe that thinking ahead and dealing with situations before they have gotten completely out of hand means better decision-making and a more efficient use of limited resources. For example, local Republicans like to take credit for paying down a $63-million county debt, conveniently forgetting that that debt was incurred building a new high school — almost universally supported in months of open community meetings in every school district across the county — and that paying down that debt quickly and sensibly was planned from the outset. That’s how counties build needed schools.
It is widely acknowledged right now that two of our schools (Hardin Park and Valle Crucis) will need to be replaced at some point. We can wait until they are falling down and/or flooded, and be at the mercy of ever-rising costs and higher interest rates, or we can plan for where and when to replace them that makes the most sense for Watauga County children and Watauga County taxpayers.
At a recent forum on county recreation needs, every single candidate stated that a recreation center would bring in more money than it would cost — bringing in out-of-towners to tournaments, attracting small business-owners to locate here because of our amenities and quality of life, and reducing health-care costs (many of which are borne by taxpayers). But while some people chose to wring their hands and say, in effect, “but I can’t imagine how we can afford to build that,” Democrats said, “let’s work together, think creatively, and bring together different resources to make it happen.”
Watauga County is blessed with everything we need in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. We have low taxes and almost no debt (thanks to Commissioners of BOTH parties), and well-educated people who want to live here and are prepared to work in jobs that were not even invented a decade ago. If we are to keep educating our folks, keep the air we breathe and the wells from which we drink clean water, and attract the kinds of low-impact industries we need and want here, we have to plan ahead. We have to think creatively.
We all have to come to the table — the County, the towns, the colleges, private businesses and individuals, and grant-making foundations — and combine our resources to make those goals possible.
Diane Tilson is the chair of the Watauga County Democratic Party.