In a campaign season filled with forums for the four Albemarle Supervisor races, the business community took their turn Wednesday to hear where candidates stand on transportation, public safety and how to pay for the costs of infrastructure.
Williamson moderated a campaign forum sponsored by the North Charlottesville Business Council, which along with Williamson’s group, is supported by the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“I’d like to move in that direction to make it more operable,” Thomas said, adding that he wants to extend the bypass north to Ruckersville.
His opponent, Democrat Brad Sheffield said he would like to improve public transportation in the U.S. 29 corridor and called for the county to renew talks to create a Regional Transit Authority with the city of Charlottesville.
Samuel Miller incumbent Republican Duane E. Snow and Scottsville District Republican candidate Cindi Burket both said they would like to see the existing road turned into more of a pedestrian-friendly boulevard.
“However, if it is completed, U.S. 29 will continue to need improvements to the traffic congestion,” McKeel said. “All of the independent studies have shown that travel times will not be significantly reduced by the bypass.”
“I think one of our most serious [challenges] is to get that area opened up either through an eastern bypass or maybe another parallel road,” Snow said.
Some of the candidates were asked to grade the county’s economic vitality action plan, which began three years ago.
“We’re doing a better job of connecting businesses with resources,” said Liz Palmer, the Democratic candidate for the Samuel Miller District. “I would be interested in having more staff in the economic development office.”
Palmer also said the county needed to do more to retain young people to the area by building more bike lanes and creating more central places like the Downtown Mall.
Snow, whose election in 2009 helped pave the way for a resurgence in economic development efforts, gave the county’s plans an A-plus.
“For years and years we did not have an economic development plan,” Snow said. “Basically our plan was to live off of the University of Virginia.”
Jane Dittmar, the Democratic Scottsville candidate, said she had been sad that Albemarle eschewed economic development when she president of the chamber of commerce.
“There’s a new understanding of the value of economic development,” Dittmar said.
“I will have a real focus on economic development because it’s something I have background in.”
Burket said the action plan is just getting started.
“I think it’s time to fund and implement the plan by hiring the folks who can promote and set a positive and enthusiastic and optimistic tone for Albemarle County,” she said.
The event also gave Williamson the chance to ask about cash proffers paid by developers, citing a February 2013 white paper that outlined what the forum sees as their negative consequences such as higher housing prices.
“We should at the very least go back and crunch the numbers again to determine the cost of proffers,” Burket said, adding she thinks they are currently too high.
Dittmar said she was concerned that proffers have moved away from becoming voluntary.
“We have to support reasonable and smart economic development to take pressure off of property taxes,” said McKeel, who added proffers can be an example of a public-private partnership in action.
Rio District candidates were asked if the county utilizes debt appropriately.
Thomas pointed to the county’s AAA bond rating as a sign that Albemarle manages debt responsibly.
“We are very careful in Albemarle County with what we go in debt on, and we are careful in what we do borrow,” Thomas said.
Sheffield said the county should have taken more debt in the past four years to build capital improvement projects during the recession.
“[With] low interest rates, a AAA bond rating, and low construction costs, we could have been putting businesses to work during the low economic times by investing,” Sheffield said.
“I am a core function person and this is something we should strive to do,” Burket said.