Early voting in the North Carolina primary is underway. Brunswick County residents who vote in the Republican primary will decide on their presidential candidate, U.S. Senate nominee, and a host of state races.
Those voters will also decide which candidate faces Democrat Bill Flythe in November for the District 3 seat on Brunswick County’s Board of Commissioners.
Brunswick County Commissioners represent districts; even so, the whole county votes for all the commissioners. In District 3, Republican Incumbent Pat Sykes is facing a challenge from Jeff Winecoff – an Oak Island Town Councilman and a late entry in the race. In December, a series of personal tragedies made him re-think his priorities.
JEFF WINECOFF: I lost my brother, my sister-in-law, my brother-in-law–all within a two year span. And you know, my brother helped raise me and when I looked, I knew that tomorrow is never guaranteed. So after I handled all the funeral arrangements and all that, on December 10th, December 13th, I went ahead and filed and decided to run for County commissioner.
He says he’s interested in a host of issues, but one galvanized his desire to serve on the county board:
JW: We deal with a lot of tourism in Oak Island and there's a lot of tourism dollars that come in -- over $500 million a year from all our beaches and we really didn't have that support for any of our beaches. And so I just decided it was the best thing to do was to go ahead and put my hat in the ring and run and represent the county and my district.
Unlike other counties in the state, Brunswick County Commissioners don’t help their beach towns pay for renourishment. And Winecoff says he doesn’t want to disparage any public servants, but Brunswick County Commissioners have been unresponsive to his concerns.
JW: They work hard; they do a good job. But, when one of them tells me specifically they're not going to give any money to my beach or any beach, you know, I take that serious…
Everything that happens in our beaches, majority of the renourishment, all that is coming off the backs of every little town that's on the coastline. We have 8,000 residents. And when you look at trying to renourish a beach for $30 million, that's a lot of money. At some point we've got to have some help somewhere. I've been to the state -- the state is actually starting to put money into a pot to be able to help the beaches, but still we need help along the way.
What would that mean for people in Brunswick County who don’t live at the beach?
JW: Well, this, this is what everybody, I don't think realizes. Every taxpayer gets around a $460 -- somewhere in that range – tax break from tourism. That's a lot of money. If you lose the tourism part, you know as well as I do, if you don't have something a customer wants, they’ll go somewhere else to get it. And if we don't have our beaches there, then we'll lose the tourism to somewhere else. And it's going to fall on the backs of the taxpayers to make up that difference.
Winecoff also says he’s concerned about water quality in Brunswick County.
JW: I'd like to be fighting all that. I think we need to look and push. I've got background in construction, I've got background in health care, I have background in management, budget preparation. I think I have a unique quality to offer Brunswick County residents.
Including, as he told WHQR last fall, his ability to bring fiscal conservatism to debt management. He’s proud of Oak Island’s emergence from a heavily-debt-laden Town to one that will soon have no debt dragging down its general fund.
JW: We also have to pay off the debt because, as the County grows, so does our infrastructure and we've got to make sure we keep the debt low on all that. With Oak Island, that's been one of my major jobs that I've done – is pay off the debt. Our general fund debt will be paid off next year … And while we did that, we didn't raise a tax bill to be able to pay that debt off.
His primary opponent, incumbent Pat Sykes, declined an interview with WHQR.