By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer
On Saturday, October 19th, the Ruckersville Elementary School PTA and the League of Women Voters held a forum for the four candidates for the two Greene County Board of Supervisors positions open this November 5th. Current BOS Chairman Jim Frydl is facing Steve Keene for the Midway seat. In the Standardsville District, former at-large supervisor Patsy Morris is competing with Bill Martin.
The Forum Moderator, Charlottesville attorney Tara Boyd, outlined the forum ground rules the event would start with opening statements from the candidates followed by three questions that all four candidates had received prior to the forum. In addition, audience members were welcome to submit questions in writing of which four were selected. All of the questions were asked of all candidates in a rotating format.
The following are the Free Enterprise Forum notes from the event. With two staffers at the event, we have attempted to capture the meaning in each candidate’s answer, but it is important to recognize our notes are not verbatim quotes – nw.
Patsy Morris: I work for the United States Post Office and have for 14 years. I also previously served two years as a member of the Greene County Board of Supervisors. I support land rights and is not in favor of contractors buying up land to resell. I believe the past 2 years the BOS has spent, spent, spent.
Bill Martin: Demand for services is growing in Greene County putting a strain on resident’s property taxes. Virginia has passed on unfunded mandates that are increasing the county’s burden. The commercial tax base must be expanded to lower property taxes on residents.
Jim Frydl: Four years ago I was elected to the Board, this year my peers elected me as Chairman. During the economic downturn, Greene has done better than most counties. We cannot spend beyond our means. Greene property tax rate is the same as it was four years ago, while Albemarle County is up 7% and Madison County is up 66%. Frydl indicated economic growth has added 368 new jobs during his tenure.
Steve Keene: Originally from Southwest Virginia, I chose to relocate to Greene County. I have generated positive results in the Sheriff’s Department including trash pickup using inmates and those out on probation. Teachers are leaving county schools since no raises. We need to buckle down because we are in hard times.
Question #1. According to the US Census and the Weldon Cooper Center, seniors 65 and over currently represent 14.5% of Greene County residents. That is expected to grow to 16.7% by 2020. By 2030, seniors will represent 20.1% of Greene’s population. While that has many positive aspects for the community, it will also put increased demand on many county services such as JABA, Greene County Transit, and health and emergency services. How would you address the budget impacts of those emerging needs?
Bill Martin: Seniors are the soul of our county. Demand will grow in future years and it is our challenge to assess needs in all areas. The BOS need to balance the needs vs. revenues. Our seniors need more attention. I support the reduced property tax rate program for needy seniors and we need to continue to look at changes to the tax rate for seniors.
Jim Frydl: I have a passion for seniors. During my term on the BOS we have expanded the tax relief for seniors. I have supported increased funding for rescue squads and our fire and safety departments along with the Sheriff’s volunteer program.
Steve Keene: This area needs to be improved. We can look to seniors because they have more experience and can volunteer. Seniors also have less demand for services than younger citizens do.
Patsy Morris: We could look to sell ads on our county vehicles. When I was on the BOS, I encouraged a lower tax rate for seniors. I will work the Commissioner of Revenue to continue to lower Seniors tax burden.
Question #2. With our schools facing cuts to their budgets year after year even as they continue to grow along with recent Virginia Education Association reports showing that compensation for Greene County teachers is slipping from middle towards the bottom for our area – how will you work to ensure our schools are fully funded and able to stay competitive with surrounding localities?
Jim Frydl: 18% of our population is students, and when you include parents, the percentage of the Greene County population personally impacted by our education funding decisions grows to 65%. Quality schools benefit a county in attracting business. Even when the county faced $2 million in cuts from state funding, I supported funding the schools. I would support any unspent funds from the schools budget be placed in a fund for future capital improvements/maintenance or the schools.
Patsy Morris: We must keep teachers and put the dollars in the classroom. But how much can we afford?
Bill Martin: Last year, cuts in Federal and State funding took $750,000 from our schools. The schools absorbed this cut while only receiving the same level funding from the county. New businesses look for quality schools for their employees. Strong schools equal a strong county. We need to improve communication between the BOS and the School Board.
Question #3. What do you view as the biggest challenge facing our county, and what are some key measures you would advocate for to help address this challenge?
Steve Keene: Teamwork and communication are our biggest issues. I would work to improve the communication gap between the BOS and the School Board along with each department in the county. Also, the water impoundment and growth in the county are important.
Patsy Morris: Open communication with the school so we can understand what we can and can’t afford. Teachers need to get the best pay.
Bill Martin: Population growth is putting pressure on how to generate additional tax revenue. Since 2006, our sales tax revenue has grown by $600,000 which has the value of $.04/$100 on your personal property tax rate. We need to do more and attract clean businesses to the 6% of Greene County zoned commercial while still maintaining our scenic views.
Jim Frydl: Our seniors and our water supply are our two key items. We must hire competent people. The connection fee for water and sewer needs to be changed to attract more users. An example of reducing regulatory barriers is we reduced the minimum square footage required for a home in the Greencroft subdivision and the number of homes constructed more than tripled.
The last phase of the forum consisted of questions from the audience. Questions were provided in writing and selected by a League of Women Voters screener.
Question #1. We need to balance spending vs. the tax rates – where can we trim expenses vs. spend more?
Patsy Morris: We need to cut spending for schools and other agencies. We need to hire part timers so that we don’t have to pay benefits. The property tax rate should have only been raised $.01/$100 instead of $.03/$100 this time.
Bill Martin: While schools are the largest portion of our budget, all departments should have a hard review. I would propose a zero based budget approach vs. incremental budgeting. We need to take care of quality teachers while still looking for cuts. Our latest property tax rate increased by $.03/$100 combined with the lower assessment generated equalized tax revenue – no increase in the average tax bill. The end result was to bring the rate back to what it was four years ago.
Jim Frydl: Last year the schools were the only department to go down, mainly from the state cutting $600,000 in funding. Other departments, including the sheriff’s department, increased. One of the reasons we hired our new County administrator was his experience with zero based budgeting.
Steve Keene: Criminal justice costs are eating us alive. Probationary personnel are picking up trash . My opponent has indicated the new Sheriff’s programs cost the County money. I do not agree. I challenge him to show me where the County is spending new money on these programs.
Question #2: There is tension in the county between those born in Greene vs. those who have relocated to Greene – please address.
Bill Martin: I understand the concern but we are all residents of Greene County. Since moving to Greene County I have been very active in the community. We chose to move here for the beauty of Greene County.
Jim Frydl: I don’t think it matters at all rather it is the commitment needed to be involved and care. My goal is to serve the people of Greene County on the BOS.
Steve Keene: I agree with both Bill and Jim. Character is important to keep the rural, clean county. We are all here from different parts of the state and even the country. We should reward good behavior.
Patsy Morris: I am a native of Greene County. The natives of Greene County worry about land in the county being sold for big bucks and trying to change Greene County. Don’t change our county. I will try to protect our rights. I’ll bet you didn’t know what the STAR program in Stanardsville was going to do. I thought it was just new sidewalks.
Question #3. Earlier in the evening many candidates mentioned commerce as the source of new revenue for the County. Does such revenue come from growth in commerce or increased fees and taxes on commerce?
Jim Frydl: Government doesn’t control the free market, must have reasons for businesses to come to Greene. We hear from large chains that we don’t have enough rooftops to attract them to come to Greene. Government can encourage them by reducing barriers. In a recent BOS roundtable Walmart commented how easy Greene was to work with, the same was said by Pioneer Bank.
Steve Keene: Greene has chased some businesses from the county. We must look at how to decide the price of water and sewer and the water impoundment. The counties ISO rating needs to be lowered. There are good facts coming out with this discussion.
Patsy Morris: It has been said that “we need more rooftops” in Greene County – I don’t’ understand? The Stanardsville voting district is big, I know I’ve been knocking on doors. Greene County doesn’t need to be a bedroom community for Albemarle County any longer. We need the water impoundment and the water and sewer hookup fee of $20,000 must be lowered.
Bill Martin: We need to encourage more commercial growth to generate more tax revenue and help take the pressure off personal property tax rates. We need to grow the tax pie larger by attracting more businesses. We should also streamline local government and make it easier for businesses to come to Greene County. Finally, the town of Stanardsville has a place in the economic development of Greene County.
Question #4: Property Rights vs. Eminent Domain?
Steve Keene: I am generally against the use of eminent domain. There must be good common use for the county to take property under eminent domain.
Patsy Morris: I would never vote to allow property to be taken. The government is taking more and more control. We have no money.
Bill Martin: A person should be allowed to manage his own property. Eminent Domain has some uses, the bypass on Route 33, but I don’t see any other uses in Greene County.
Jim Frydl: Eminent domain is not a county issue. Bill is correct, property rights stay with the property regardless who owns it. I would support property rights even if I disagreed, since it is the law.
The forum provided a good way to gauge the candidates and their beliefs for the future of Greene County. We encourage the voters in Greene County to turn out and vote on Tuesday, November 5th
Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a non partisan privately funded public policy organization.
The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.
Photo Credits: Newsplex.com, candidate websites, Facebook