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Commissioner Candidates Talk Hospital Funds, Other Issues

By Cece Nunn, posted Oct 21, 2020
Candidates for the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners spoke Wednesday morning during the Greater Wilmington Business Journal's Power Breakfast. (Photo by Cece Nunn)

The six candidates vying for three seats on the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners shared their views on how proceeds from the pending sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center should be spent, among other issues.

“One of the things I’d like to see is to have internet and broadband countywide,” said Deb Hays, a Republican and real estate broker. 

She was referring to the use of the $1.25 billion in NHRMC funds that would be used to create a community foundation if Novant Health’s purchase of NHRMC comes to fruition. “I think this is impactful across so many areas, and so many issues will be handled because we would be connected electrically to everyone.”

Other candidates agreed, and all expressed the need to put resources toward education.

They each answered questions Wednesday morning as part of the Greater Wilmington Business Journal’s Power Breakfast, held at the Wilmington Convention Center.

The in-person gathering incorporated social distancing practices between attendees, tables and candidates, who in addition to Hays also included incumbent Jonathan Barfield, a Democrat and real estate agent; Leslie Cohen, a Democrat and business owner; Kyle Horton, a Democrat and an internal medicine physician; Bill Rivenbark, a Republican and current member of the school board; and Skip Watkins, a Republican and former county commissioner.

Because of the limited audience size, the Power Breakfast was streamed online. Click here to watch the full video.

In reference to the NHRMC funds, Barfield mentioned investing in education, affordable housing and the treatment of substance abuse and mental health disorders, along with other areas that included infrastructure, such as water and sewer in Castle Hayne, and the film industry.

About economic development in the county, Barfield said, “I think we’re doing a lot of the right things ... but I would like to see us go back and revisit the Garner report, see if there are any missed opportunities ... and look at how we can grow our economy even more.”

Of the hospital proceeds, Cohen said, “As we’re bringing this money from our hospital I think we need to keep the focus somewhat on the health of our community,” including addressing adverse childhood experiences, “which have a strong impact on the health of a person their entire life.”

She said she'd like to see economic development efforts helped by expanding Cape Fear Community College and making it possible for all high school graduates in New Hanover County to attend the school for free.

Hays said on bringing in jobs, “I think we need a focused approach and a focused effort, and in that focused effort, I’d like to see us pull everyone together,” referring to the area’s many and we 

Referring to the hospital funds, Horton said officials should be “making sure the community foundation is as accountable to us as it possibly can be ... I also believe that we need to be investing more in our school infrastructure.”

Rivenbark said, “When we were trying to figure out how to teach the kids virtually -- and we did -- it was really hard. We need some help there; big help.”

He also said of the hospital funds, “I would like to pay the teachers a little more,” referring to the county’s place “at the bottom of the totem pole” when it comes to teacher salaries.

Watkins said of the community money, “I don’t think all the growth should be spent, and I’d like to see that principal increase.”

Of economic development, Watkins said, “The county has a great incentive program right now,” and when he was previously a commissioner the board extended water and sewer up industrial corridor U.S. 421 to create shovel-ready sites for potential employers. 

Addressing growth in general, Watkins said, “We have to find a way to balance it ... It's going to be an ongoing balance; it was before and it will be in the future.”

Early voting, also known as one-stop voting, began Oct. 15 and continues through Oct. 31. Election Day is Nov. 3.

Also at Wednesday's Power Breakfast, the two candidates vying for the District 9 seat in the N.C. Senate weighed in on issues for the region. Click here for coverage of their discussion.

Correction: This story version corrects Republican commissioner candiate Bill Rivenbark's first name.

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