Oct. 18, 2013. High Country Press asked candidates in the Beech Mountain Town Council race three to four questions, depending on whether a candidate is an incumbent or not. As the candidates respond, answers from those running for Beech Mountain Town Council will be posted here.
Barry Schorr is running for Beech Mountain Town Council.
Bio of Barry Schorr
I was born in New York and graduated from Hunter College. I hold a B.A. degree with a major in Marine Zoology and a minor in Human Anatomy and Physiology. After graduation I joined the Naval Reserve and became a Hospital Corpsman. The Navy provides medical services to the Marine Corps and I was trained as a combat corpsman and spent a year in combat attached to the 3rd battalion, 9th Marines in Vietnam.
When I was honorably discharged from active duty I moved to Washington, D.C. and was employed by the IRS as a Supervisory Computer Programmer, and as a senior level Systems/Program Analyst. I wrote code for very large scale systems, coordinated large systems and programs that were national in scope, and acted as a technical advisor for the Assistant Commission for Returns Processing and Taxpayer Service.
My wife and I retired to Beech Mountain in 2000. I was the Executive Director of the Beech Mountain Chamber of Commerce for three years. My hobbies include playing 1960’s folk guitar and banjo, traveling, and SCUBA diving when time allows.
- HCP: What would you consider the most important infrastructure needs that the Town of Beech Mountain needs to address and why?
Barry Schorr: I believe our most pressing issue facing us today is repairing/replacing our crumbling and failing infrastructure…especially the water/sewer systems. It is over 30 years old and needs to be replaced in large part. The reason is obvious. We need to protect the health and well being of our residents. We must also protect our environment and stop sewer discharges into our lakes and streams. The state of North Carolina mandates water and sewer testing and develops standards regarding water quality. If we fail to achieve the stated quality targets, we face the real possibility that the state will come in and take over. The town will lose its ability to implement its own plan and strategy.
But we also must understand that the town also has a fiduciary responsibility and trust with its residents to spend their taxpayer dollars wisely. So when we devise plans and strategies to fix the leaks and capacity problems, we must do it in a fiscally responsible way. We need to have a Strategic Plan with action items, feasibility study, cost analyses, benchmarks, alternative proposals, etc. to guide our path.
- HCP: Would you consider cutting the Beech Mountain Police Department budget and/or cutting town funds that go towards the local fire department?
Barry Schorr: This question is somewhat of a red herring. Unlike my opponents, I have over 30 years of public service and understand the issues and challenges our town employees face….not just the Police Department, but all our employees. I have many years of practical experience in managing groups of people in the public sector.
Contrary to what my opponents say about my position regarding public sector employees, I believe that the town has entered into a contract with the staff and as such we need to honor the contract. Employees have made commitments in the form of mortgages, auto loans, life style expectations based on their Beech Mountain employment…and we should not “pull the rug out from under them”. We need to support our emergency services because it is in the best interest of everyone, employees and residents alike.
But we also need to recognize that we also have that fiduciary responsibility to our taxpayers as I mentioned in the previous paragraph. We cannot continue on the current trajectory and expect that our taxes will not rise. Our expected revenues this year is $6.6 million (General fund, water/sewer, sanitation). However, our total personnel costs are $3.2 million (including salary, insurance, taxes, and 401K contributions), roughly half of our revenue stream. By contrast, the entire budget of Banner Elk is $1.7 million. There may be reasons for the some of the disparity, but we are talking orders of magnitude and it should be examined. In 2006 our General Fund revenues were $3 million. In 2013 it was $4.5 million. Our tax rate is 64 cents while our next closest neighboring community is Banner Elk at 38 cents. The NC League of Municipalities surveyed property taxes levied by 535 cities in NC and shows Beech Mountain as the 491st on the list of highest rates in the state.
Clearly, with the redo of our infrastructure that is estimated to cost in the millions of dollars, and the taxes and water fees already among the highest in the state, we cannot continue on this trajectory that some of my opponents have placed us on. Something needs to change. And the question is “what and how”. We need to rethink our employee needs and benefits for FUTURE hires to reduce staff cost over time. We need to rethink how we can motivate our employees to increase productivity. Towards that end I would favor the introduction of concepts such as Quality Circles, where appropriate, so that our workers are empowered to help to shape their jobs, and find ways of doing their jobs more effectively, efficiently and with greater degree of quality. We need to reassess what expenditures are critical, which are desirable, and which can be put off until our fiscal house is in order. That will necessitate some very difficult decisions. But I want to assure all current employees that the town will honor its commitments and assure all our residents that I take my fiduciary responsibility very seriously.
- HCP: Would you support an endorsement from or are you endorsed by a Committee for a Better Beech Mountain?
Barry Schorr: I have been endorsed by the Committee for a Better Beech Mountain. I have not solicited their endorsement. I have made no commitment to them as far as how I would vote on any issue. They asked me for a brief bio and made a decision to support my bid for Town Council. I welcome ALL endorsements, from ALL stakeholders that believe in my vision and ability to change the political dynamic on Beech Mountain.
Let me say that the Committee has not always been reasonable in its tactics to have its voice heard. And when such was the case, I called them out. But the town has not always handled the issue well either. The town and the Committee created an atmosphere of divisiveness between seasonal residents and year round residents. Most of the revenues generated by the town, in terms of real estate taxes, are paid by seasonal residents who have no vote or say in how the town is run or how their tax dollars are spent. I have heard many year round residents exclaim that if they (seasonal residents) don’t like it, they can go back to Florida (or NC, or SC…wherever). THAT would insure that Beech Mountain property values would plummet, staff would be laid off, we could not pay our bills, our credit rating would fall which in turn would ADD cost to our infrastructure redo in higher interest rates on borrowing, and taxes would have to rise. Conditions would be ripe for the state to step in. Rather than look for ways to accommodate everyone’s needs, the current council has chosen to throw oil on the fire by not opening a real and meaningful dialogue with the opposition and look for consensus. Now each side is deeply entrenched and it only hurts our community. I believe that everyone has a right to be heard. Everyone has a right to truthful and timely information. Working in a cooperative mode rather than a confrontational mode produces better decisions and when everyone buys into a strategic plan, implementation of that plan becomes easier. It is a win – win for everyone.