Collins looks to serve in Greensboro council District 3

by Jeff Sykes

Kurt Collins is running for the District 3 City Council seat. | @jeffreysykes

Kurt Collins is a mild-mannered, soft spoken young man who just happens to care deeply about the future climate for economic development in the city he calls home.

Collins, who turns 36 this month, has often been a visible speaker at Greensboro City Council meetings in the last two years. He speaks on spending matters, calling for greater fiscal restraint, but he’s by no means a free market ideologue.

In fact, his past work as a loan officer and underwriter, in addition to his current role as a fraud investigator for United Guaranty, has helped him develop a measured, common sense approach to life’s difficult choices.

Now he wants to bring that approach to the city council itself. Collins filed last week to run for the District 3 seat thrown open when four-term incumbent, Zack Matheny, resigned suddenly in late June to take a job as head of the booster group, Downtown Greensboro Inc. Local attorney Justin Outling, an associate with the law firm Brooks Pierce, was appointed to fill out the rest of Matheny’s current term. Outling has also filed to run for the seat in the November election.

Collins and Outling work in the same building on North Elm Street and both are members of Greensboro’s young professionals group, synerG.

Collins moved to Greensboro six years ago when hired to investigate mortgage fraud by United Guaranty. He moved into an apartment in City View, but moved out about a year later, he said, in part because of the unregulated noise coming from downtown clubs. Shortly thereafter, a proposed noise ordinance downtown was a hot topic, and Collins began attending council meetings and public discussions about the issue, hoping, he said, for a solution acceptable to all sides.

The noise ordinance has undergone a few changes, with decibel level thresholds being raised, then lowered, but Collins credits the club owners with adjusting to the growing residential environment. At City View, it was noise coming from the building that is now Limellight that crossed the open space across the railroad tracks from the backside of Elm Street until it bounced off the apartment’s facade.

Collins said he supported clubs being able to have outdoor music, and credited club owners with reconfiguring the venue.

“Even if the (ordinance) noise level was higher, I think the way they have redesigned that building, it probably wouldn’t be an issue anymore,” Collins said.

While the noise ordinance drew Collins in to attending council meetings, issues related to public finances and spending are what catch his attention.

Collins lives in Kirkwood now, and says the city does a good job maintaining high-quality neighborhoods. He’s concerned about the projected growth in city expenses, the specter of property tax increases, and how the city can attract and retain a more diverse set of industry and jobs.

Supporters have cautioned him against talking too much about numbers and budgets, Collins said, out of fear of losing voters during a tedious discussion of city fiscal policy. Collins disagrees, saying that in order to serve as an elected official he feels it’s necessary to understand the nuts and bolts of how the city works.

Collins said the recent city budget contained assumed increases in water and sewer fees. City budget planners have forecasts that they use to determine how much to raise rates each year, Collins said, causing him to wonder how long such assumed increases are sustainable.

The city’s current debt service is about $19 million a year, and projected to increase to $23 million, Collins said.

It’s the overall trend of spending increases that he believes needs more scrutiny.

“There are cities within a very short drive from here that have, some would argue, done a better job with their economy,” Collins said. “That’s my big take on things. If we continue the spending, then property taxes would have to go up, which would make us less competitive.”

Competitiveness, and the ability to attract a wide array of jobs to Greensboro, remains at the top of his list of priorities.

“I want to see jobs. I want to see us run the gamut of jobs, different types of industry,” Collins said. “I want to see more restaurants. We all want to see more restaurants and shops. At the same time, let’s not forget big industry””factories, technology, aviation.”

District 3 includes most of the downtown district, beginning with Lee Street before moving north between Church Street and Battleground Avenue to the city’s northern edge. It includes prime downtown real estate, the Marty Kotis district around Pig Pounder Brewery and Marshall Free House known as “Midtown”, and some of the city’s oldest and wealthiest residential areas.

Collins believes that the entire city deserves equal attention, but that cities thrive when downtowns are healthy. In addition to downtown, Collins sees opportunities for growth near the airport and in the eastern part of Greensboro.

“We’ve got a lot of room to grow out there,” Collins said. “We can create a lot of jobs. We can’t forget the airport area. At the same time, we can’t forget the east side of Greensboro. There is a lot of room for development over there, and not just land. Jobs are needed there just as bad, if not worse, than they are needed in other parts of the city.”

Collins noted that Matheny was reelected several times and that people seemed to appreciate his common sense approach to municipal policy.

“Everybody wants to know what they are getting (in a council member),” Collins said. “I want them to know that they are going to get similar representation.”

In addition to fiscal policy, Collins has gained experience into public safety issues during his two years of service on the committee that reviews citizen complaints against police. Collins said body camera footage resolves the majority of cases. Sometimes the footage shows an officer that needs to be coached and improve his skills, but often it shows facts that do not support a citizen’s complaint.

“The beauty of the body camera is that you’re holding everyone accountable,” Collins said. “The police officer knows it is being recorded. The citizen knows ‘hey there’s a camera.’ It’s beneficial to everybody.”

Collins said he’s thought deeply about how to handle public requests to view the footage. He’s evolved his position from an absolute no to a 99.9 percent in opposition. Privacy is the driving concern, he said, making sure that innocent bystanders and victims don’t have their stories made public, while keeping the officer’s privacy rights in mind as well.

Collins said he wants to err on the side of caution on that issue, a stance that matches his overall prudent philosophy on public spending.

“If you are responsible with the taxpayer’s dollars then your city will thrive,” Collins said. “If you want to have a thriving city, then you’ve got to have jobs. I think the best way to create jobs is growing the economy. You can’t do that without being financially responsible.” !