Albemarle Supervisor candidates on taxes and capital funding
In the run up to Election Day on November 8th, Charlottesville Tomorrow will once again mail out our in-depth nonpartisan voter guide, featuring exclusive one-on-one interviews with all the candidates for Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and Charlottesville City Council. In the weeks before the election, we will feature one to two questions a day so that citizens like you can compare candidates’ answers and make an informed choice November 8th.
Charlottesville Tomorrow’s 2011 Election Center website features links to the full written transcript and audio of candidate interviews, as well as links to videos of candidate forums, copies of our 2011 voter guide, information on where to vote, and more. All the following passages are excerpts from our interviews.
COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, FIFTH IN A SERIES
In recent budgets, the board of supervisors has chosen not to raise taxes to provide additional funds for capital budget needs such that the current capital budget primarily supports only maintenance projects. How will you address capital funding needs as part of the next county budget?
Ken Boyd (R) - Incumbent
The problem with capital “needs,” is who defines what these “needs” are. I fully support the needed infrastructure as well as maintenance of our capital assets. We do have to be diligent in our spending relative to the state of the economy and the impact on our citizens.
I would not support borrowing more money that we don’t have the existing capacity to pay back. Meaning that if we don’t have the operating funds to pay back the loans, then we can’t borrow the money. That’s what they do in Washington, D.C. and that’s what’s gotten them in so much trouble at this time.
Sometimes you have to kind of keep the late model car rather than buying the new one if you can’t afford to buy a new one. That should apply to government as well as in our individual lives.
Cynthia Neff (D) - Challenger
I think that the actual word from the county executive was “minimally maintains what we have.” Minimally maintains what we have. And yet if I look at the capital needs budget, it’s actually a funny document because it talks about all these grand and glorious things we’re going to do. Here’s our vision, we have walkable communities and they’re self-sustained and then we’re going to protect the rural areas, we’re going to…provide great quality of life and infrastructure. We’re going to do all this stuff, but oh by the way we don’t have any money…
If you look at the Strategic Plan, if you look at the Comprehensive Plan, you look at the Economic Vitality Plan, we continue to articulate a vision for what this place looks like, what it feels like, you know, the kind of place it is to get an education, raise children, you know, conduct a business and yet we’re not supporting those goals.
We’re not even being honest about the goals…I don’t know how you can have goals that we don’t ever work on. You know, so when we say that we want to build walkable communities, walkable, bikeable communities, what are we doing? What are we doing to hold ourselves accountable for that. And if it’s not feasible because there’s no money, then we need to be honest with it.
You know, in the past few months I can’t tell you how many people have told me, “Before you lay off any more teachers, please give us a chance to talk about taxes.” You know, because nobody really wants their taxes [raised] – last night I was on the phone with two teachers who are married to each other and have children up on Stony Point Pass. And you know, they said…“We don’t have much money because we’re teachers.” But it’s like, “before you cut more teachers or…make our lives…even more difficult than they are, as taxpayers can’t we talk about that?” So I think yes, we should be talking about that… I don’t have a firm answer because I think it’s not just my decision. It is our decision what we do.
Chris Dumler (D) - Open Seat
There’re a few ancillary points I want to make on this. First of all, we’re looking at the best bidding environment we have seen in years because of where the economy is right now and so I think that over the last few years we might’ve missed a pretty good opportunity to take some projects to bid where we could’ve gotten spectacular deals on them. That being said, I understand everyone I’ve talked to has been sort of pleased that property taxes stayed where they’ve been at the last few years but I think, again, with so many things, it’s about having the conversation. It’s about talking to people in Crozet and saying you want this library, is it worth an extra penny to you on the tax rate.
Or Monticello High School is at capacity. If we want to build Monticello High School as it was originally envisioned and put in those extra few buildings, is it worth an extra penny to you, and a lot of people will say yes and a lot of people will say no but I think it’s a discussion that needs to be had.
There’re a few things the County has been doing recently with regards to capital improvements and finding funding for that which I completely support. I’m really glad to see that Davenport came in recently and helped us sort of restructure the way our bonds were set up… [A]nd I think that the plan that they brought before the Board with regard to putting an extra penny or two on top of the tax rate and setting that aside in sort of a capital improvement project budget is one that merits consideration and I think it should be part of the budget conversation next year.
Things like that, any kind of potential tax increase that’s going to be discussed, if it’s clear what it’s going towards, people are less likely to be resentful of it… [S]o again, it’s about a conversation, it’s about sitting down with folks, addressing the needs and I know there’s a lot of needs right now. We haven’t really made any major improvements in a few years but I think it’s something we need to talk about in the next budget cycle.
Jim Norwood (R) - Open Seat
Well I think that I’ve studied the [capital budget] plan and the projected plan over the next five years and without question, you know, with the economic conditions today and the fact that the revenue stream is a challenge to us, we’re going to have more and more stress on being able to fund the [capital budget]. I guess that we’re basically going to have to go to a maintenance project at this point in time and see how we do. I fear that in the next couple years, our revenue stream is not going to be – certainly not going to be positive. And so we’re going to have to figure out a way to address our maintenance needs.
Now, regarding taxes, I think that right now is not a good time to be raising taxes. We might have to wait until we can until we can get a little more economic stimulus in the area here. I do feel that if we can expand the local businesses that are in place right now, and help stimulate and support them, increase food tax, BPOL taxes, commercial taxes, commercial property taxes, will help us address the shortfalls of our revenue stream. So I think it’s going to be a challenge without question and we’re going to have to be very prudent and diligent in how we allocate our revenues towards the capital improvements.
White Hall District
Ann Mallek (D) - Incumbent
…I have talked to [many county] residents [about taxes]. They are unhappy about the necessity for…a higher tax rate. But they understand the consequences if we do not and they are willing [to support and equalized tax rate] – especially last year when I was just focused on the equalized tax rate as a goal. And they understood that how…if each person is able to put in the same amount of money as they put in the year before (with the higher values), then that would supply an extra four or five million dollars, which we could have been leveraged into ten times that amount for construction projects …
We have been hoarding our funds and been almost mired in inertia because the fallen economy is such a great excuse to not do anything. And there are some residents of our county who don’t want to do anything. They don’t believe in government. But I do believe that there is an essential responsibility of government to provide for school facilities, provide for recreational facilities, do our very best to have careful use of our water and our resources and recycling facilities. There is tremendous support in the community for all of these things …
The community and staff have anticipated the construction of the Crozet library for many years. It entered the need list in 1988 when the library was found to be below state standards for the population then… This library is now shovel-ready. The plans are done. It was number one on the capital list just before the economic downturn and has safety issues which place it in the emergency category. On the school side, the School Board has the challenging task of anticipating and planning for the students of the future. This is important because of the many years it takes to bring additional facilities into use. It is challenging because the schools are often the last to know when people move into or out of the system. The School Board will study all the alternatives to new building, including understanding capacity for each of its current facilities and the districts that the schools currently serve. These studies will provide information before new investments are planned.
The hardest challenge is going to be moving out of our state of inertia and taking that first step to get back to the program that our citizens have relied upon for 30 years.
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