By. John Haksch, Louisa Field Officer
On September 22nd, the Free Enterprise Forum presented the first Louisa County Candidate Forum for the incumbents and challengers for the Board of Supervisors. The county has seven districts and, every two years, either three or four districts’ voters select their representatives at the polls. There are two contested seats in this election cycle, and one seat uncontested.
The event was held in the Great Room of the Bettie J. Queen Intergenerational Center and moderated by Free Enterprise Forum President Neil Williamson. Dan Byers is the incumbent for the Jackson District and Troy Davis is challenging P.T. Spencer, who was unable to attend for medical reasons, for the Louisa district.
The event featured a series of eight formal, pre-disclosed questions regarding each candidate’s personal vision for the future of Louisa County. Questions regarding economic development, comprehensive planning, environmental issues, a disaster reserve fund, transportation and fiscal responsibility. The formal question and answer period, given in detail below, was followed by an informal discussion.
Question 1: What is your top priority for action by the Board of Supervisors if you are elected?
Mr. Wade: My top priority if elected is a bit of a twofold priority list as of right now. My long-term top priority for the board of supervisors will be to create jobs through economic development. My top priority at this red hot moment would be to develop a plan of action to help the victims of this most recent earthquake. I don’t think we should wait around on Federal aid options before we devise a plan. I think that if we get Federal aid then that’s great; we can help to reimburse the county for its expenses but we need help right now and I think a decisive plan of action is in order. That would be my top priority right now. (0:49)
Mr. Byers: Thank you, Neil and John, for hosting us this evening. Since I am currently serving with the Board of Supervisors I think one of the things I would like to continue working on is a greater…building a greater relationship among the various entities of county government and I think that, as Mr. Wade just mentioned, part of that would deal with the earthquake. As you are aware there has been a tremendous amount of time and effort that has been spent recently by members of the Board of Supervisors, the School Board, employees of the school system, employees of county government, various volunteer organizations and groups coming together, trying to embrace the building back of a community that had a devastation. To me, that goes a long ways in building the type of county that we all want to live and continue to work and exist in. In addition to that another top priority is to continue my efforts of looking at ways to streamline county government. I believe we have too much government , both county, state and federal, and I think we need to look at greater efficiencies in county government and I would continue to speak to that issue. (1:20)
Question 2: Do you support continued economic development in Louisa County? Why or why not? What policies would you support, or tools would you use to further this goal?
Mr. Byers: I certainly do support economic development. I think that’s a critical, or key, part or ingredient in making our county one that you can live in with a reasonable tax base. Economic development is certainly a central item and I think we need to look at economic development in the sense that there are many things that we need to do in order to have a place which is going to be attractive for folk coming in and then setting up developments, setting up businesses, and we have to have an infrastructure that will support that and also, we need to make sure that we are supportive by our actions to folks who want to come in and be a part of our community. Now, economic development is certainly something that is attracted to Louisa County because you find that in most of the areas, ‘Location, location, location!’ is a major attraction for companies wanting to come and locate here so we built ourselves an infrastructure, a system that trains people to be able to perform the jobs, we have the right location – economic development should grow well in our county. (1:!6)
Mr. Wade: I am a strong supporter of economic development in our designated growth areas which represent, if I am correct, about ten percent of Louisa County. One thing I love about Louisa is how rural we are. With close to ninety percent of our county being rural we get to have the best of both worlds here which is a small town rural county with all the services and amenities of more developed areas. The great thing here is all the development is going to be in a few specified locations without the effects of urban sprawl. I think economic development is an extremely competitive industry right now on the state and local level, with every state and locality fighting to land the same prospects. For that reason I think we need to be ready, to have the components in place, to land these companies and businesses. I-64 is our business backbone of Louisa County. Given transportation costs are high, the closer you can locate a business to an interstate the better its going to be. That said, it doesn’t really help out too much if you don’t have the infrastructure in place that you need, i.e., water, sewer, gas. Utilities are key component to economic development. We need to focus our efforts on growing our growth areas and getting these utilities to those markets. I know the county does have some policies for attracting businesses – some tax breaks to give existing businesses as well as new businesses but it needs to be a more streamlined process, kind of like Mr. Byers said earlier, we need a littler bit less red tape. As a small business owner I know that things move fast in a results base business world; its not always the case in government. I’d like to do a little bit to improve that. (1:37)
Question 3: How do we ensure the community infrastructure – roads, sidewalks, public safety facilities, libraries, etc. – is in place to support our current population, new development and redevelopment in our designated growth areas? To what degree should this infrastructure be funded by developer proffers?
Mr. Wade: I think that In this tough economic time the county needs to spend your money very wisely and as best as it can. I think public safety should always be a top priority. I think we have a great volunteer program [that] saves the county a ton of money working alongside our county’s paid service members do a fantastic job taking care of residents of Louisa County. After public safety I believe that the county needs to spend your money where it can garnish the best return on investment. In my opinion that would be building the infrastructure as in the growth areas to attract more businesses, therefore increasing our tax base as much as possible and giving the county more money to operate on. Proffers, I think, are a a bit of a twofold issue. I think that proffers can be good when you have a strong and thriving economy but I don’t think that proffers make much sense when you are in an economic crisis. When things are booming and everybody can make money developers can afford to pay some proffers but when lot sales are down by twenty-five to fifty percent no developer is going to come in and pay high proffers when they are not going to make any return on their investment to begin with so I don’t think we should let the allure of the short term gain – proffers on developers, proffers on investors – detract us from the long term goal which is an increased tax base for the long term. (1:32)
Mr. Byers: This is really a critical part of county government and a critical issue that we have to deal with every day and that’s an infrastructure. I think often people don’t realize the amount of money it takes in order to build and maintain an infrastructure that really is able to support a thriving community. As an example, we have just spent about twelve million dollars in Zion Crossroad on a waste treatment plant up there. There’s been some discussion with a similar system in the Lake Anna area which is about ten to twelve million dollars. If you add those monies up along with what may happen with the earthquake that’s a lot of money. And so, for me, what I like to do is to look at, long range, what is it going to take us to be able to attract the type of businesses that we need in ur county? How much is is going to cost us? How long is it going to take us to get our payback and how is that going to …I guess…impact our taxing revenues? Looking at all of that, we try to make some determination as to what level of infrastructure we can continue to support. I do believe that there’s a proper place for proffers. Developers typically come in, the proffers are passed on to the buyer. They usually don’t lose that money; they usually pass it on to the buyer. So we look at that and see. There has to be some…I think…buy-in from developers, some buy-in from businesses if we are going to continue to expand, because it is not an inexpensive process. And so, I think there is some opportunity to utilize proffers that helps to fund some of the infrastructure we have and some that we need. Infrastructure is really important and its one of the things that is constantly an issue before our board that we have to look at. (2:02)
Question 4: What steps, if any, do you think Louisa County should take to develop some sort of reserve fund to assist citizens with recovery from future declared disasters?
Mr. Byers: I think that has been demonstrated in the past few months there has been a lot of activity by county government looking at ways of being able to assist citizens who have the unfortunate experience of dealing with a disaster. I think when we look at that there is a number of opportunities that we have. One, we have an opportunity to put in place an educational component that talks about the types of insurances or protection that homeowners need to have in order to protect their valuable assets. Also, we need to look at working through our communities, through our churches, through other organizations helping to raise money. There are a lot of people that think that what we need to set aside some of the taxpayers’ money to do that. I believe that when we look at helping people, such as the persons that suffered from the earthquake, that becomes a benevolent issue. When we look at programs that we have, social programs, if there’s some opportunity to take some money, that’s been designated from that, to help set aside, there may be some application there, but I just find it difficult to levy against individual taxpayers to set aside a fund for what may or may not be needed. The federal government and state government already have programs in place that they use for funding disasters. When the state and federal government can send money to other countries, and to other areas, they ought to be able to help out here in our community of Louisa County. (1:38)
Mr. Wade: I think there definitely needs to be monies available to the citizens of Louisa County when disasters occur. That said, I agree with Mr. Byers and I think that we all pay enough federal and state taxes that we should be able to rely on federal and state funding in the event of a declared disaster. But also, that being said, I think we need to plan on how to help ourselves in the even that that help doesn’t come from anywhere else. I know from what I’ve seen since this earthquake that we are a strong community that’s come together to get through these tough times. We should have a plan to take care of our own regardless of how much or how little the federal government decides to help us. It should be a plan that cuts through red tape, and can go into action quickly. When elected to the board, I’ve got some ideas about this and I look forward to discussing those ideas with my fellow board members. (0:51)
Question 5: The Board of Supervisors allocates the funding for the schools, but the elected School Board dictates how those funds are spent. How do you think these two boards should interact?
Mr. Wade: I think that government needs a system of checks and balances and we have a system that incorporates those needs in place. The citizens elect the school board to decide on how best to run our school system. They elect the board of supervisors to appropriate the county’s funds responsibly and use it with the entire county as a whole in mind. I know there will always be heated discussions when it comes to funding our schools. The school board is concerned with the schools; that’s what they’re elected to do while the board of supervisors has the needs of the entire county to consider. I know there will always be differences of opinion when it comes to funding the school systems and I hope to bring calm with my limited problem solving approach to these discussions while keeping our ultimate goal in mind, which is the betterment of our children. (0:48)
Mr. Byers: One of the things that’s interesting about our county is that both the school board and the board of supervisors are elected. Each of us have distinctly different responsibilities. One of the things that’s really important is for each of the respective boards to realize what their responsibility is, and to work collectively in order to be able to have the best school system that’s possible. Now, it is appropriate, I believe, for us as members of the board of supervisors to ask pointed questions, trying to get sufficient information to be able to make a determination because we have to look at a kind of a multitude of essential services and try to determine how much money is going to be allocated to each of those service providers. Education is important, but I can tell you, its important at 3 o’clock in the morning when your house is being broken in that law enforcement is there. Its important for other types of services so we have to look and make sure that we allocate monies appropriately. So, I think that it really is important for us not only to have that relationship with the school board but also the constitutional officers but we have that. I think that the relationship between the board of supervisors today and the school board is as good as I have seen since I’ve been in this county and I’ve been here for sixty-seven years. (1:32)
Question 6: What are your thoughts regarding the size and location of the growth areas in the current County’s Comprehensive Plan?
Mr. Byers: As you perhaps are aware, we have nine designated growth areas. Four of them kind of go along the corridor of I-64, the Town of Louisa, the Town of Mineral, the Town of Gordonsville, and then Lake Anna. I believe, in looking at the county, I believe that they are fairly mapped out. Having served on the Planning Commission before, having looked at development in our county, and having looked at the infrastructure that we have in order to be able to support development and growth areas, I believe they are well-situated. In realizing that we have a fairly large number of growth areas for a rural county. When we look at developing growth areas, we have to look at long range. What is it going to take, what kind of infrastructure are we going to have to have to support that? And so, I believe we have a sufficient number now. I believe that we are going to see growth pick up in the Lake Anna area, and I think we are going to see I-64 develop more. I think its appropriate to look at those growth areas because most of them have good access roads, especially along the I-64 and they are areas that can attract economic development and help us with our taxes. (1:18)
Mr. Wade: I would tend to agree with Mr. Byers. I think our locations are perfect as they are and they are already establishing communities of their own, defined by their ow attributes. The four that stand out to me, as I perceive, are the big four, are Zions Crossroads, Ferncliff, Lake Anna and the Gum Springs area. Zions Crossroads, goes without saying, has great commercial potential and great residential base to support continued commercial development. The size is adequate for all we want to do and I think there’s a lot of potential there to help increase our tax base. Ferncliff, I envision as a lighter industrial office park type destination, accessible to commuters with great access to the interstate, we just need the utilities there; its going to be a really great price point for future growth in that area I think. Lake Anna – the residential densities are there to accommodate tremendous commercial and retail growth; the only issue with Lake Anna is water and sewer. If this part had water and sewer the potential is unlimited. We’d have hotels, shopping restaurants, town center living…the town center living concept. Gum Springs, I look at as kind of the…Zions Crossroads to Richmond; as Zions Crossroads is to Charlottesville. Get water, sewer out there would be great for proximity to Richmond, would make a great location for new commercial, residential development. From a pure revenue perspective, these locations would do a lot to provide a lot of tax revenue for Louisa County. The interstate locations pick up interstate business, the lake picks up summer visitors and tourists. I think most important the locations also attract residents from other counties that spend money and generate revenue for Louisa County which goes to pay for all of our services and benefits that we get to enjoy as citizens and they don’t have access to. Thank You. (1:56)
Question 7: What is the greatest issue that you believe Louisa County will face in the next four years? What are your plans to deal with this issue?
Mr. Wade: The answer to that question is pretty simple. The biggest issue we’re going to face is the biggest issue the country is going to face and thats an absolutely terrible and horrible economy and my answer is pretty simple. I plan to support our economic development department and our growth areas as much as possible to increase our tax base, help create jobs, and keep the tax rate on individual citizens as low as possible. I think we’ve got somewhat close to a fifty-five percent commuter rate for people living in Louisa County. Over half them don’t work here. The more industry, the more jobs we can bring to the county, the more people we can keep in house, I think the better off we’ll be. (0:40)
Mr. Byers: I think Mr. Wade really zeroed in on the fact that the economy has a major impact that’s one we’re going to have to deal with, perhaps for longer than four years. I think we have to look at ways of being able to provide essential services that are needed, within the bounds of the revenues that we have. I think that’s going to cause us to look more closely at spending and trying to make sure that there’s, everything that we do, that there’s a level of accountability that’s assigned to it that is equal or greater than the amount of money that we allocate to that particular activity. Funding is one of the major res- ponsibilities of the board; and when we look at funding we have to look at and define what the essential services are, and how best for them to be carried out. We have to reduce spending in areas if we are going to continue to absorb what’s being handed down to us by state and federal bodies. To be able to do that the money has to come from somewhere. You can not spend your way out of debt, so one of the things we have to do is to look at being able to provide more efficiencies in the processes that we have to undertake and so that’s an area that I’ve looked at in the past four years and I plan to continue looking at that with a keen eye towards conservatism if I am re-elected. (1:37)
Question 8: How should an elected official balance citizen input, staff input, and the goal of making decisions that are in the best interests of the community as a whole?
Mr. Byers: This certainly is a challenging process that we need to go through. I think one of the things we have to realize is that we are elected to an office to carry out the…I guess, the goals and ideals of a number of groups. One is the citizens that we serve, the voters, one is looking at the county as a whole, and the other taking into consideration a vast array of information that we are able to collect; maybe from other counties or other localities that have dealt with similar circumstances or situations. We try to fit all that information, glean as much as we can, look at what success had been from the types of programs and the decisions they’ve made and try to form the best informed decision. Often there are decisions that are made that have a greater impact on one part of the county than the other part of the county but the total county has to respond and so, citizen input is extremely important. It is extremely important before you get to the decision point. Also, staff…one of the things that has happened over the past four years is that we have employed some excellent staff. I think one of the things that we look at and certainly I have a keen eye towards, I want to make sure that when we hire somebody, if I have a role in that, that that person has integrity, that person has skills to be able to perform the job, that person has a passion for what they want to do and how they’re going to serve our county. I think that type of person helps to give us a lot of good staff input and we have to consider the staff input, we have to consider the citizens, and we have to consider what’s best for our county, and then we look at that and try to make the best decision we can…one that is not made to give us any praise but rather to accomplish our true goal of what we’re here to do. (1:58)
Mr. Wade: In my opinion board members are elected to represent their districts and Louisa County. Must be willing to listen to all points of view, from the staff, the citizens, in odrer to make well-informed decisions. I own a small business and I am a firm believer that you don’t micromanage people; you hire the right person to do the job and you let them do it. We have some really great personnel for county employees that have their eyes and ears immersed in the county’s affairs forty hours or more a week and I don’t believe there’s any way that the board of supervisors menbers can make a logical decision on any county affairs without their input. In Louisa we also have a very well-informed and passionate private citizens that always have opinions, be it same or contrasting to those in the public sector. The public, in my opinion, is the most important group to respectfully listen to whenever they have something to say, regardless of if you agree with them all or not. After all, they are the ones who put the beard members on the boar in the first place. (0:58)
Mr. Wade: I would just like to thank you guys for having us out tonight. Like I said before, I am a small business owner, I’m an advocate for our public schools, I’m an advocate for our volunteer and paid services and I’m pro-economic development and land rights. I look forward to speaking with many of you in person if you want to and thank you again and I appreciate your help and support on November Eighth.
Mr. Byers: Thank you Neil and John for hosting this event this evening and thank you Mr. Wade for sharing this table with me. I am not a politician. I was asked to serve on the planning commission a number of years ago; I served there for seven years, three years of which I was chairperson. I spent a career in state government; I was fortunate enough to be able to serve on the executive staff there. I’ve implemented programs that affected up to fourteen million people. I supervised as much as twelve hundred folk but I think one of the greatest pleasures I’ve had is being able to serve on the board and being able to – I believe – to make a difference in the decisions that the county makes. I ran for the board the first time because I have a passion for this county. I’ve lived here all my life; my children were raised here and my grandkids are being raised here now. I enjoy living in Louisa County. I enjoy being able to have a rural atmosphere to grow up in. I enjoy being able to work alongside other fellow board members and other members of our county government and our community leaders in order to make this the best place that we can live and enjoy our lives.
John Haksch is the Louisa County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization. If you find this report helpful, please consider supporting the Free Enterprise Forum. To learn more visit www.freeenterpriseforum.org