Brittney Lofthouse – Staff Writer

The Macon County Commissioner Primary is set to take place on Tuesday, May 8, and two Republicans are vying for the open seat for District I, which represents the Highlands area. Incumbent Jim Tate and challenger John Shearl are both seeking election for a seat Tate has held since December 2011. Only Republicans will be able to vote in the primary, and whoever receives the most votes between the two candidates on May 8, will be elected to the board of commissioners and sworn in this December. 

Both Shearl and Tate addressed voters last week during a public forum hosted by the Macon County News and the Smoky Mountain News at the Macon County Public Library. Each candidate was given the opportunity to explain why they are running for office, as well as answer questions facing the upcoming year in regards to budget, financing, and their vision for Macon County. 

Meet the candidates

Jim Tate:

Tate has served as a District 1 County Commissioner since December 2011 and has served as chairman the past two years. Prior to being a commissioner, he served as vice chairman of the Macon County GOP and he served on the County Planning Board. Tate has also served the Town of Highlands as chairman of the Zoning Board, Appearance Commission, Planning Board and Land Use Committee. Currently he is a volunteer fireman with Highlands Fire and Rescue (previous Rescue Lieutenant and Rescue Captain) and a member of Highlands Rotary Club.   

John Shearl: 

“I am not a politician, I am just a common guy, family man, and business owner,” said Shearl. “However, I have served on the Macon County Planning Board and several other volunteer organizations.” 

Shearl has been a Macon County citizen for more than 18 years. He owns and operates two small business in Macon County and believes that operating the county government is no different than operating any other business.

Why are you running for office? 

Tate: “I simply have a deep desire to make a difference with my life and in my community,” said Tate. “My family has called Macon County home for six generations. I want Macon County to be a place where my children are proud to raise a family. I have been blessed to make my business and personal life successful and fulfilling, and I want to utilize my skills to make Macon County one of the best places in the world to live.”

Shearl: “The number one reason that I have filed for District 1 Macon County Commissioner race is to help stop the over reach of majority of our current county commissioners who are in the process of stripping us of our freedom and private property rights with the Macon County Soil Erosion addendum,” said Shearl. “If this addendum is adopted it will require you as a private property owner to obtain a grading license to do work on your own land. To help stop the out of control budget and growth in government; help stop the over taxation of Macon County Taxpayers and adopt a budget and live within the budget just like the private citizens of our county must do. I would like to make sure that all the citizens of Macon County are taken care of.” 

Public Education. With the state continuing budget cuts and passing the buck to local

government, how far or how much do you think the county can take on before having to take drastic measures to compensate the school system? Do you think there is a point to where the county will have to say no?

Tate: “Let me first say that I am a huge proponent of our local education system and I like to see available county funds go to our school system,” said Tate. “Our children deserve the facilities and tools to be successful, and I want to see us provide them.  As you mention, the time will probably come when the county will need to find alternative and crafty solutions to the school compensation issue within the next couple of years.”

Shearl: “I affirmably believe in public education in also believe our tax dollars that is spent on education is investments for the future of our children and county. As a county commissioner I would take all financial concerns to the citizens of Macon County to discuss financial needs for school system to make them aware of needs and come up with a solution to the problem so that we can make our school system the best it can be.” 

County Finance. What is your vision for the county’s budget plan and finances in the future? All politicians say things like “lower taxes” and if that is something you believe in and want to work toward,  explain how you plan to do so.

Tate: “Presently, out of all 100 counties in North Carolina, Macon County has the second lowest property tax rate and I want to see us continue to be one of the lowest,” said Tate. “This is proof positive that our county is currently being managed very efficiently.  Due to the needs with the school system, the jail and the senior services center, I do not foresee being able to lower property taxes anytime soon; however, I do believe that we can remain revenue neutral for the foreseeable future.” 

Shearl: “Needs list: In the budget process I would like to have two lists:

Number one: the needs for Macon County.

Number two: the wish list for Macon County.

I would like to take care of the needs list and then look at the wish list.  I would like to lower taxes and cut the budget if I find that the citizens/taxpayers are not benefitting from the goods and services that are being provided.” 

Economic Development. Everyone wants to create jobs. No one is going to run for office and not say “We need jobs” But how do you think the county should do that? What specific plans of action or paths should Macon County take to ensure job growth and economic development?

Tate: “Being successful economically means bringing more money into Macon County than we expend,” said Tate. “I believe that Macon County is a great place to live and that is what can set us apart.  If we can continue to make Macon County a great place to call home and to visit, then success will be inevitable.  How do we do that?  We keep our county safe, clean, friendly, livable and we provide the necessary great infrastructure (schools, healthcare, broadband, etc.).  If you look at our sales tax and occupancy tax revenues, which are up 21% and 47% respectively over the last four years, we are obviously heading in a very positive direction economically.” 

Shearl: “Macon County is driven by tourism and as long as you are in the service industry or you work for our government you will do fine,” said Shearl. “Most of our young people that seek higher education will move away from Macon County to go to college then they will begin their career elsewhere. Unless we decide that our county is not solely based on tourism nothing is going to change. If Macon County wants to bring in big corporations and higher paying jobs, then we need to form a volunteer economic development team made up of business leaders of our community to come up with a plan to bring in businesses.” 

The Nantahala Community has been vocal about needs ranging from a new library to a community center. What is the county currently doing to address these issues and how can they improve the relationship with this community in the future?

Tate: “The Nantahala community center and library are both on the commissioners’ radar as we head into discussions with the recently introduced Capital Improvement Plan,” said Tate. “We are very aware that both are needed and I believe that the county will be able to make significant strides over the next few years in equitability.” 

Shearl: “As a county commissioner I would like to see our entire county’s needs taken care of,” said Shearl.  “I would listen to the citizens and then plan to help take care of their needs in the future budget. I would apply this process to all areas of Macon County. Projects such as the library and community building in Nantahala is top priority of the Capital Improvement Plan.” 

Next week: Macon County News will preview candidates who will be running for local office this November for Register of Deeds, Macon County Board of Commissioners District II, Macon County Sheriff, and North Carolina Senate House 50, all of whom spoke at last week’s candidate forum held at the Macon County Public Library.