By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on October 7, 2020
Republican incumbent Steve House and Democratic challenger Kathy McCullough-Testa are vying for the District 3 seat on the Dare County Board of Commissioners this fall. House, the owner of First Flight Home Services, is seeking his second term on the board. For McCullough-Testa, who formerly served as public information officer for the Town of Duck and executive director of the Beach Food Pantry, this is her first time seeking elected office in Dare County.
Both Southern Shores residents, House and McCullough-Testa share opposition to oil and gas drilling and seismic testing off the North Carolina coast and both identify the lack of workforce housing as a significant issue facing the county. But the two come to the campaign with different experience as well as priorities.
“I’ve been a strong advocate to protect our watermen and a way of life here on the Outer Banks, along with making monumental advances in keeping our waterways open,” House said in an interview with the Voice. “I have proved myself in these last four years to be effective and I’ve already gained the partnerships that have been effective in getting changes done.”
House, with a 30-year career in emergency medical services, the bulk of which has been in Dare County, is on the Oregon Inlet Task Force and a Task Force subcommittee in charge of having a dredge built to keep Oregon and Hatteras inlets clear. The dredge is expected to be completed and ready for use in 20 months.
“That was difficult to do because it’s a private-public partnership and involved fifteen million dollars from the state,” he noted, adding that he was also instrumental in reinstating the Dare County Commission for Watermen two years ago and that he currently serves on the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council.
McCullough-Testa, who held elected positions in southwestern Pennsylvania as council member and a county register of deeds, said her background and experience makes her the better candidate: “Being an elected official and working in [Information Technology], working in nonprofits, managing large budgets – that experience I could bring to the table.”
“We need to preserve and protect what we’re doing and what we have,” McCullough-Testa stated in her Voice interview. “We have great tourism, real estate, commercial fishing industries. But we also need to look at diversifying our economy and the issues that we’re facing…and those issues have actually become much more transparent with this [COVID-19] pandemic.”
Of the current board of commissioners, she said, “It also needs to be a little be more representative of all us. We need to preserve our history, but we also need to be more transparent, accessible, equitable and inclusive.”
When it comes to housing crisis, House said the current board is working to address the shortage, teaming up with the UNC School of Government and allocating $85,000 to study potential solutions to the workforce housing shortage. He also said county commissioners have moved to ease restrictions and zoning that would stifle the construction of “affordable, essential housing.”
House added that the housing problem has to be addressed before the county focuses on economic development. “We know we’ve got to tackle [housing] before making leaps and bounds in other areas,” he said.
For her part, McCullough-Testa said that if elected, she would advocate for the implementation of a Dare County Office of Economic Development to help the county address workforce housing in addition to diversifying the economy, improving broadband infrastructure and storm water runoff issues. She also said that healthcare, more funding to schools and the environment were significant issues she would address if elected.
In regard to the county’s housing shortage, McCullough-Testa said, “I will call it workforce housing. You can call it what you like, but basically we need to make sure our residents can afford to live and work here.” she asserted. “That just makes us much more stronger, because we’re all together as a community.”