In advance of Election Day Nov. 7, Charlottesville Tomorrow has produced in-depth nonpartisan voter guides, featuring exclusive one-on-one interviews with all the candidates for the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and Albemarle County School Board. In advance of the election, we will also feature their responses to important questions about their qualifications, priorities, and key quality of life issues so that our citizens can compare candidates’ answers and make an informed choice.
Charlottesville Tomorrow’s 2017 Election Center website also features candidates in the city of Charlottesville and links to the full written transcript and audio of these interviews.
All the following passages are verbatim excerpts from our interviews.
COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, FIRST IN A SERIES
Diantha McKeel (D-Jack Jouett) * Incumbent
Our rural areas are really critical to our economy. Everyone thinks about our development areas as to where businesses are, but our rural areas contain a lot of our businesses as well. Cattle, agriculture we have – gracious knows I don’t even know how many vineyards we have and now distilleries. Many of those are in our rural area. So the challenge I think in the rural area is how to balance our scenic, beautiful areas that our visitors love to see and we want and my constituents and residents really want those wonderful, rolling vistas that we’re known for and still allow the businesses in our rural area to thrive because of course many of these businesses bring in traffic, they bring in more noise, they bring in events. So there has to be a balance of how to support the rural area. I think there’s a sense that some sometimes in Albemarle that growth doesn’t happen at all in the rural areas when in fact it does. It’s just a different type of growth. And so we have to support that balance. We also are looking at how to protect our streams right now, that affects our farmers. We have to be fair with how we are going to change our regulations to make sure that our streams are protected from cattle and from sediment while still making sure that farmers can afford to keep their farms and to farm. So there is a balance and there is some tension there’s no doubt.
I think the opportunities that we have been seeing with all the agro-business that’s been going on… there are folks who one, that have rural areas that they’re protecting for… to keep land protected and rural, which it should be, but there have been some great examples of folks, between all the wineries and the cideries and the breweries that are coming up… to the farm to table type food sourcing, there’s a lot of… it’s been fun to see the innovation that people have had, using… whether they’re the land owners or people are using the land to help source these things. We’re in a community that likes and appreciates that. I hope that type of thing will continue to grow because I think that’s good for everybody. Challenges, I think the environment is going to remain a challenge for our rural areas. I get concerned… you know, we don’t know what the federal governments doing, it seems like they’re going to start pulling back environmental safeguards and… even the stream buffer issue in the county. On one side you have to weigh the health of the [Chesapeake] Bay and the bay clean up and making sure streams… and waterways are clean throughout the entire watershed. And then local farmers, that can impact based on what can they do with land if they have cattle, etc, and what’s their end of it. I hate to see getting into where you’re trying to say the local farmer’s more important than maybe a person who’s crabbing over in Virginia, I don’t want to get into that kind of place. But if something pulls back at the federal level we should probably as Virginians go, “What makes the most sense? What’s a wellbalanced approach for our folks here locally and for our people who are crabbing and doing other types of that activity on the coast?” and say, well this is a mutual way forward. And staying rural is probably going to be another challenge for the rural area. You asked the question earlier about the designated growth area, should that expand, at some point that definitely is going to be a pressure. There is probably pressure now with housing development type of things and what could happen. So I think… there are folks who, protecting the rural areas is their number one issue, that would say we’re already there and feeling that pressure. So that’s a challenge … I think the vision should be, we have a designated growth area, we have an urban ring, we should embrace that. But we also have rural areas that we should protect and embrace that as well.
Liz Palmer (D) * Incumbent
Well, first of all, our land prices are really high here. And so farmers are really challenged, if they own the land, they can make a lot more money developing it, and that’s a challenge for them. If they’re leasing the land, it can cost too much for them to lease to actually get their farms going. We have our Land Use Valuation Tax program, which I think is very, very important. They say cows don’t go to school, and they don’t. So we shouldn’t have to tax farmland at the same price that we do residential. And so we don’t. I think that we have to continue to support that. Our acquisition of conservation easement programs allow landowners of moderate and lower income to participate in the financial benefits of conservation easements. I think that’s very important and I’ll continue to support that program. Then there’s other just sort of natural challenges. Loss of biodiversity, changing climate, invasive plants…all those kinds of things. So there’s that environmental aspect of it, and there’s that economic pressure. We also need to have more places for them to bring product. For instance, we have a new business going in in my district to aggregate hops. So they’re going to buy hops from all the different hops producers. And so having a local person, a local business here to do that is helpful. You know, there’s different groups that try to buy vegetables and farmers markets and all those kinds of things, which we do have to support. I recently supported the North Garden farmers market get started and they have. I think they’re being relatively successful. 7 So just giving them places, helping them find places to sell product or to aggregate their products, and to distribute.
Okay, Albemarle’s blessed with beautiful land. We all love our land and there’s so much interest in it that perhaps the people who own the land — and we’re dealing a little bit here in property rights — the people who own the land are being asked too much of them on both ends. On taxation, because taxes are going up on real estate, including farm land, and on what they have to do to comply with regulations for Albemarle County’s voluntary participation in storm water and what’s going to be the rain tax. So our rural areas are beautiful now, but the owners of the land are kind of getting pinched both ways. We have about a thousand farms in Albemarle County, but not very many of them make much money. Do you know that the average wage of a farmer is $12,000 dollars a year? So that’s why farmers have daytime jobs, and 6 adding more burden of tax on either end, is not helpful for them in their keeping their land economically viable.