Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of profiles on candidates for three open seats on Troutman Town Council.
BY DEBBIE PAGE
Community volunteer Tonya Bartlett is throwing her hat in the ring for one of three seats up for grabs on the Troutman Town Council in the November 2 election.
The UNC-Charlotte graduate earned degrees in Business Management and Education and completed additional graduate study at Gardner Webb. Though currently focused on providing end-of-life care for her mother, she previous worked in mortgage, real estate, and accounting fields and as a homebound teacher for Iredell-Statesville Schools.
Bartlett also serves as secretary of Troutman Rotary, is a member of the Troutman Parks and Recreation Committee, a board member for Statesville YMCA, and has also been involved with the PTO organizations and other groups that are now mostly inactive due to COVID-19 restrictions.
With her background in business management, sales, accounting, and education, Bartlett said she has a “love for public service and civic duties. With this, I can bring fresh ideas to the town council.”
Bartlett has several ideas to promote economic and opportunities for Troutman, including spurring local growth, capitalizing on current employers, and creating employment diversity.
She would first “focus on local growth by investing in our local businesses’ growth and community member start-ups. Not all investment needs to be from outside of our community.”
“We have several small companies that are successful, and we can help grow those existing businesses by knowing their needs and doing everything possible to meet them because their success is our success.”
By capitalizing on the existing investments and businesses who have chosen Troutman to showcase their goods and services, the town can “create interest from other local and non-local investors and businesses,” the candidate said.
Bartlett also believes diversity is important for the community’s business climate.
“Troutman should have a healthy economy and not become complacent with replication of the same type of businesses. Investors and business owners want diversity in the community in which they are located,” she said.
To better market Troutman’s “brand” to attract small businesses, Bartlett supports “preplanned communities” to make Troutman “more proactive instead of reactive. This is being done now in small communities across the country, just like Troutman, and it is having great success for those communities.”
Bartlett also supports the idea of a business group that is united in promoting the town’s economic strengths and opportunities to those looking for a business location.
The town can help fill vacant buildings using pre-planning strategies and by putting a “focus on our local small businesses and residents looking to open start-ups. We need to find out what is needed and help to get those needs met,” added Bartlett.
EASING GROWING PAINS
A growing town means a growing need for services and staff to provide them. Town Hall space is very tight, and options for expansion have been included in council discussions in recent years. Several pieces of property have also been purchased by the town in recent months.
To solve these space issues, Bartlett noted the town currently owns approximately 50 properties. She believes two of the existing properties would be suitable, with some renovations, for office space.
“I feel that the town should utilize these existing spaces and postpone any major renovations or building until construction costs and material costs are stable,” she said.
“We do, however, need a police station, and the properties adjacent to town hall would be a great central location. There are several different grants Troutman could apply for in terms of funding. JustGrants, COPS, OJP, and OVW are just a few.”
Roads and traffic are also an increasing problem in Troutman since the population triples each school and business day. To combat these traffic woes, Bartlett suggests that “all new companies and neighborhoods should be required to effectively integrate into the community without causing more issues with traffic congestion and possibly help to eliminate issues that have already been created.”
“This can include turning lanes, increasing lanes of traffic, creating roundabouts, traffic lights, sidewalks, crosswalks and so forth.”
Since a quick fix to the town’s state maintained roads is not likely, Bartlett thinks the town should “take steps to implement upgrades ourselves.”
“Troutman’s expansion to four lanes does not have a start date at all. We must make sure that we are doing everything possible to monitor any new issues that may arise with the state of our roads, including discussions with current businesses and any new development.”
Bartlett believes Troutman’s growth “needs to be strategic by focusing on what we already have in town and adding complimentary business growth. Troutman needs to reinvest in our local assets. We have many existing businesses and residents who would qualify for resources.”
“Many communities, including Asheville, are doing a great job of working with start-ups and helping grow existing businesses.”
“Asheville has Mountain BizWorks, which helps small businesses looking to grow their existing business and helps create start-ups in the area. Mountain BizWorks matches qualifying candidates with resources to make their ventures successful.”
Growing needs for sewer and water capacity also create challenges for Troutman. Bartlett believes “Troutman should develop and build our own water and sewer treatment facilities. We should invest in our own town instead of investing in other towns.”
“USDA rural development long-term, up to 40 years, low fixed interest loans would be a great option for our town.”
Bartlett has many ideas that she would like to implement if chosen to represent her community on the council.
“I would love to implement ‘visitor days’ to encourage our local businesses and citizens to be watchful for needs that tourists might have.”
She would also like to “start an Against All Odds campaign to choose a specific problem, such as homelessness, hunger, or addiction, and address it. A Youth Expression Program would be fun addition for our youth.”
She would also be interested in possibly creating “an Empathy Tour to create empathy to implement community development ideas.”
Bartlett also believes the town needs to move forward with the 2018 Strategic Master Plan recommendations. “The Strategic Plan has many short-term recommendations for the first two years which have not been implemented, some of which have little to no costs.
“These include ‘Knowing Troutman’ suggestions of monthly coffee club meetings, annual Troutman school events, and developing key performance indicators. Other suggestions I would hope to see accomplished include community gateways, smarter growth, and land planning with Barium Springs.”
If grant or other funds become available, Bartlett would focus on constructing more sidewalks, focusing on connecting neighborhoods to downtown. “This would increase the walkability that so many of our current residents are asking for,” she said.
Bartlett sees the most pressing public safety issues in Troutman “in our walkable areas. There is traffic moving at speeds that is not safe for pedestrians and bicycles. Controlled crosswalks with traffic signals are needed at the intersection of Highway 21 and Old Mountain Road.”
“Controlled and marked crosswalks are needed in many other locations around town now that we are seeing an increase in students walking and riding bikes to and from school,” she said.
GOVERNING AND ENGAGEMENT
Bartlett believes transparency in government operation and decision-making is important. She hopes to open the governmental process in Troutman more fully and to encourage community engagement.
“Troutman residents are not always aware of what is happening in the community, so I plan to use every outlet possible to make the community aware of meetings. A prime example is the meeting to discuss a new warehouse last Monday,” she said.
“Most town residents did not know about the meeting, and several have complained to board members to push for another meeting. The next Planning and Zoning meeting is Monday, October 25 and residents of Troutman need to be there.”
If elected, Bartlett plans to promote communication with citizens by being available to the residents and business owners in the community.
“I plan to continue to attend town-sponsored activities and continue my current civic duties, including volunteering, something I have always loved to do, when and where needed.”
In the past, three council members lived in the same neighborhood, creating concerns about all citizens being well-represented and bringing up talk of voting districts for council seats. Bartlett does not see the need for this change at this point.
“We should ensure all community areas are effectively represented, and all residents should feel their voices are heard now and in the future. At this time, Troutman is such a small footprint that I do not feel that we are ready to create districts; however, in the near future it is possible, and I am not opposed to district voting.”