BERLIN – Longtime incumbent Worcester County Commissioner Jim Purnell faces challenger Eddie Lee in the District 2 Democratic primary, which will determine who serves as the county representative of the district.
With no Republican opposition, the victor in the primary will only need to gain more votes than any write-in candidates to take the commissioner seat in the general election.
With four terms as Worcester County Commissioner for District 2, first minority-majority district commissioner Purnell is looking for a fifth term.
“I love doing work in the county, trying to help people,” said Purnell. “It’s always been in my blood.”
A lot of people, from inside and outside of his district, asked him to run, Purnell said, which was the final puzzle piece in his decision to seek re-election.
Purnell wants to maintain the county as it is. The county is in good financial shape compared to many neighboring jurisdictions, Purnell said, and he wants to make sure it stays financially healthy.
The public schools are strong, with every one a state Blue Ribbon school, and some national Blue Ribbon schools, none of which happened by accident, he said. The county has made the financial commitment to the schools to hire the best teachers and keep the schools up.
It would be a disaster to lose all that, Purnell said. One day, he would like to increase the county’s financial commitment to the schools, but the county needs to stay within its means right now.
If re-elected, Purnell would concentrate on finding money to move forward with the renovation of Snow Hill High School. Parents and students deserve a modernized school, he said.
“We cannot walk away from that,” Purnell said.
The African-American student achievement gap is getting narrower, but students still need help from communities and parents to make more progress. Teachers also need to learn more about the culture African American students are part of, Purnell said.
Purnell said he would also continue to work on the dualization of Route 113.
“As commissioners, we have to stay on top of that. We can’t let the progress stop. We must keep it moving,” said Purnell.
Jobs in Worcester County have been lacking for a decade or more, especially since chicken plants in the north end of the county closed, said Purnell, and nothing has been done to replace the lost jobs.
The stumbling block for many new businesses is infrastructure, such as water and sewer, outside of towns. That has to be addressed, he said.
The commissioners need to sit down and overhaul the business regulations to see if things can be streamlined, he said.
The county also needs affordable housing. The commissioners could consider an ordinance requiring a certain percent of a development be low-income housing, Purnell suggested.
Purnell also wants to bring a youth and recreation center to the north end of the county.
However, the county is going to have to make do with the revenue it gets.
“I will not vote for a tax raise at this time,” said Purnell. “People cannot afford it.”
The county needs to look at what its needs really are and ask departments to tighten the belt otherwise. The commissioners, he said, have done a good job controlling and balancing the budget in the last two years.
He does not support lay-offs for county personnel and is troubled that county salaries have been frozen.
Transparency is something the commissioners need to discuss. If it can be done, the commissioners need to take that route, he said. Some administrative and personnel matters need to be discussed behind closed doors.
Purnell has no problem with public comments at the end of the meeting, but speakers should not be allowed to drag stuff up and try to get decisions changed, he said. The comment period should just be a chance to ask questions.
“I didn’t know it was a problem,” said Purnell. “You have to listen to the taxpayers of the county.”
The Liquor Control Board (LCB) is a state issue, he said. If the state closes the LCB, he would be concerned about LCB employees losing their jobs. Otherwise, if there is a problem, it should be fixed.
Purnell thinks the county is doing a great job environmentally, with more environmental protections added in the Comprehensive Plan, but there is always room for improvement.
Purnell feels that people should vote for him because of his leadership on the commissioners, with two years as president of that body, and because he is a partnership builder.
“I believe in honesty number one,” He said. “I’m an unselfish worker for others.”