By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Friday, October 16, 2009

All six candidates for the

Albemarle County Board of Supervisors

participated in a forum sponsored by the non-partisan Senior Statesmen of Virginia on October 15, 2009. Samuel Miller District candidates

Madison Cummings


John Lowry

(I) and

Duane Snow

(R) sat alongside Rio District candidates

David Slutzky

(D) and

Rodney Thomas

(R). Jack Jouett District incumbent

Dennis Rooker

(I) was also on the panel even though he faces no opposition.

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After each candidate gave a five-minute opening statement, they answered questions from the audience about land use taxation, the role of chain stores in Albemarle’s economic plan and cooperation with the City of Charlottesville. Each candidate was also given a chance to make a closing “wrap-up” statement.

The opening statements offered a chance for each candidate to explain why he is running. Rooker pointed to many achievements the Board of Supervisors has made during the past eight years, including maintaining a AAA bond rating.  Thomas said his time as Chairman of the

Albemarle County Planning Commission

prepared him to serve as a Supervisor. Slutzky said he was a hard worker who would put in the time to continue to serve Albemarle County. Snow said he was qualified for the job by his lifelong residency as well as his experience as a business owner. Lowry called for the creation of an economic development department. Cummings pointed to his service on the School Board as a reason why he should be elected.

The following are highlighted responses from the five questions asked by the audience.

Question 1:

What action would you take to enable restaurant chains such as the Olive Garden and Cracker Barre

l, as well as big box stores such as the Home Depot, to open in Albemarle County?

Duane Snow (R-Samuel Miller):

“We make it almost impossible for them to come here because we demand so much from them…”

Dennis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett):

“We do not choose which businesses want to come here. We provide adequate land uses for businesses to locate here. We have today about 3 million square feet of commercial space that is approved in the County but has not been built out.”

Rodney Thomas (R-Rio):

“The [County’s] maximum footprint is 65,000 square feet… I think that probably should be doctored a little bit to let the bigger stores come in…”

David Slutzky (D-Rio):

“The Department of Conservation and Recreation issues some draft regulations that were ruthless in protecting the bay, but they also were going to have a profound chilling effect on the business climate in the Commonwealth in Virginia…I came up with an alternative proposal… They’ll be finalized and signed by the Governor later this year.”

John Lowry (I-Samuel Miller):

“Businesses have to want to come here. Is the County perceived as being friendly to business? We need to have an economic development office to invite businesses here.”

Madison Cummings: (D-Samuel Miller):

“If we’re not welcoming to businesses… we need to be working on that… I do hear occasionally that there are County employees who are less welcoming and sometimes rude. I would hope that we would work on that.”

Question 2:

How would you join with Charlottesville government to help in making both areas save taxpayer dollars?

Rodney Thomas (R-Rio):

”I would plan a meeting to do something with the revenue sharing… Right now we have no say over that money that is spent inside of the City of Charlottesville. $18.8 million is what the check is going to be for in January.”

Dennis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett):

“City and County cooperate on many, many things… We can always do more.”

David Slutzky (D-Rio):

“The City runs the bus system… the bus system is very downtown-centric yet 80% of our commercial activity is along [U.S. 29]. I would like to see us enter into a collaboration with the City to form a Regional Transit Authority.”

Duane Snow (R-Samuel Miller):

“We have to be careful that in the effort to collaborate, [that] we don’t get carried away with spending…”

John Lowry (I-Samuel Miller):

“We have a City operating independently inside the County and logically the two really ought to be together completely so we wouldn’t have an overlap in the school system and police, fire and rescue…”

Madison Cummings (D-Samuel Miller):

“I was on the School Board in the late 90’s and I approached the superintendent and [asked] how we could cut this dog.gone transportation budget? I tried to work and see if maybe we could meld at least in the urban area the two transportation systems for the schools… One opportunity maybe we could consider again.”

Question 3:

The Daily Progress recently reported that housing prices have dropped by 20%. How should the Board respond to lower real estate assessments?

Duane Snow (R-Samuel Miller):

“There’s nothing we can do about raising those property values back up until the economy improves. But in the meantime you can’t tell someone that is already struggling to make ends meet that we have to raise taxes… Cut the waste in the County and then from there we can make decisions. Do you realize the County has never had a zero-based budget?”

Dennis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett):

“The County actually did try zero-based budgeting back in 1990 and then they went away from it… What we do today is what I would call a modified zero-based budget. We do look at every line item in the budget to determine whether or not it’s something we need to fund… Actual full-fledged zero-based budgeting is an incredibly time-demanding… At the end of the day it was abandoned because it took up a lot of time that could have been spent elsewhere… Before we raise rates, we always need to look for efficiencies and make sure we are getting the most out of the revenues we currently have.”

John Lowry (I-Samuel Miller):

“Relying on property taxes alone is unsustainable.. You could have $20 million from commercial taxes over time that could be a replacement…It’s not a crisis of wasteful spending. We have a crisis of not having enough revenues to provide the services we like.”

David Slutzky (D-Rio):

“You’ve got to minimize your expenses and you’ve got to increase your revenues… I voted against the turf fields that were going to be put in the schools…I find it frustrating in a campaign process where candidates sit there and say they’re going to cut the waste… if we’re interested in zero-based budgeting, that must mean that these candidates have already looked at the budget and have at least some suggestions of what waste they want to see cut, and I haven’t been hearing that so far.”

Rodney Thomas (R-Rio):

“There’s a lot of ways that you can cut. You want to cut the waste out of the budget… I think it’s going to be obvious as to where we need to make the cuts when we get into the budget, and cut the wasteful spending.”

Madison Cummings (D-Samuel Miller):

“We perhaps are at zero-based budgeting now whether we want to be or not. We’re at least at baseline budgeting because of the number of folks [in County government] that are frozen.”

Question 4:

“What negative results would occur if land use taxation were to be eliminated?”

Dennis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett):

”There probably are some properties out there that have been getting a benefit for that tax break that might not qualify, and we want to make certain that the program is only going to those who meet the definition… We decided to go with revalidation to see where that would lead us.”

David Slutzky (D-Rio):

“I can’t imagine our board would eliminate the program. I certainly wouldn’t support it… It provides immense value in that it does create an incentive for rural lands to be protected for a period of time…”

Duane Snow (R-Samuel Miller):

“I don’t think it’s a matter of taxes. It’s a matter of personal property rights… The people that are living in the County that are getting a tax break on their property, most of them don’t use the services that those in the urban ring use.”

Rodney Thomas (R-Rio):

“Farmers would not be able to afford to run their farms if the program was done away with… I don’t know of any land use participant that is a land speculator… I can’t imagine anyone in the County doing that.”

Madison Cummings (D-Samuel Miller):

”It’s a sacred duty to maintain the rural areas of Albemarle County and other areas. Land use taxation relief helps to do that.”

John Lowry (I-Samuel Miller):

“The agriculture industry would completely go away. The timber industry would disappear, too.”

Question 5:

What are your views on the bypass around Charlottesville?

Madison Cummings (D-Samuel Miller):

“In the 70’s, they were talking about the western bypass. We talked about it and I said, why wouldn’t they talk about going down U.S. 15? What doesn’t make sense about that? That was before Historic Green Springs set itself as a historical area, so that makes it more difficult now… The western bypass, the topography there is not attractive. It’s terribly expensive…I think we need to drive a stake through its heart permanently.”

John Lowry (I-Samuel Miller):

”I’d like to speak on the seriousness ofn the ability to fund road improvements in our area. We have a problem of flow right now. We have a state that is not sending money to our community… It’s not a lack of planning that we’re missing. We’re missing a lack of funding… It’s not the bypass that’s so important. We need lanes connecting Hydraulic to the traditional 29 bypass. We need the rural road program to be funded.”

Duane Snow (R-Samuel Miller):

“They tell us that roughly 10% of the traffic we have in this area goes straight through the 29 area and out of the County. They say that in building a bypass we’re building it mainly for that 10%. What we really need is to make it easier for the 90% that are moving around inside of the city to get around more effectively.”

Rodney Thomas (R-Rio):

“I really like the [Western] bypass… I thought it was a very good internal road that we needed… If the bypass had been put in, it would have eliminated a high percentage of the cars blocking or backing up at the 250 bypass interchange…”

Dennis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett):

“There is no funding for transportation in the state… Somebody needs to solve the transportation funding problem… Hillsdale needs to be built… We know we need to add a lane on 29 from Hydraulic Road south to the 250 Bypass along with an extra ramp at Best Buy… we don’t have any money for it.”

David Slutzky (D-Rio):

“I strongly agree with my opponent Rodney that we cannot let 29 become an expressway, and I think that was one of the original reasons why the community looked at the so-called Western Bypass… If the Board is going to be deliver anything out of Places29, it is that parallel road that is Berkmar that’s been described already.”



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