White Hall Board of Supervisors candidates Ann Mallek (D) and Steve Harvey (R) attended a forum on September 11 hosted by the Senior Statesmen of Virginia at The Center in Charlottesville. Here is a sampling of the questions asked and a summary of the candidates’ responses. The full audio of the forum can be found at www.seniorstatesmen.org.
Q: What county services can and should be consolidated with the city?
Harvey: Unlike some people on my side of the aisle, I am in favor of some sort of revenue sharing agreement (RSA). We don’t need a SWAT team for both county and city, we don’t need multiple helipads for EMS. There’s some crossover in public transportation, and lots of things create expensive redundancies independently. I do also think that the RSA needs to be re-negotiated. The Board of Supervisors (BOS) should be pushing state representatives to be requiring that contracts into perpetuity must be renegotiated every 10 years.
Mallek: I have heard from many constituents who want to look at this issue, and the conclusion has been that the only way to achieve an agreement with the city at that time was to have no end date. I’ve worked with Delegate Landes to put forth a bill to limit the length of agreements, but we’ve had no success yet; this is an ongoing effort. I personally am not satisfied that the information the city provided as to how they use the money met the requirements of the law passed last year. This is a very serious issue and we will continue to press it.
Q: Are you in favor of getting state monies for funding Biscuit Run state park, and if so, how?
Harvey: The process is already unfolding at this point. If they already have state funding of $35 million, I wouldn’t get in the way of it. $35 million seems exorbitant but I haven’t examined the project in detail so I’m not sure what that money gets you in a park. I believe there are already trails in place, so I’m not sure why is it so expensive to put in a natural area.
Mallek: The $35 million is for the full implementation of the master plan, including six or eight soccer fields and pavilions and gathering places as well, but it will take a very long time to be carried out. In the first phase, $5 million from the General Assembly would provide improvements for an entrance on Scottsville Road (Rt. 20 south) to enable people to access existing trails. I do think it is inappropriate that Albemarle County would get funding from the pipeline fund when the damage of the pipeline is being done in Buckingham and other places, but we do also have state park funding to tap into.
Q: What is your view on term limits?
Mallek: The voters are in the best position to make that choice. I don’t have a special number.
Harvey: Term limits make sense when talking about the federal level and talking about entrenched monied interests and it’s impossible to overturn those. At a local level, I don’t think it will apply to Albemarle County, the turnover rate seems to be pretty normal to me. It is a problem when supervisors run unopposed for multiple cycles. My opponent has run for three cycles and nobody came forward to oppose her for eight years and that’s a breakdown of the local system, solved by more interest in local government.
Q: What can be done to correct the increase in students [population] and not the increase in transportation options?
Harvey: I think that, specifically, Crozet comes to mind for transportation error. Areas such as Old Trail were rezoned for high growth and the surrounding infrastructure has not been improved, so there’s a tremendous traffic jam every day by WAHS. I would say something needs to be done immediately; this is the complaint I get more than anything else when I knock on doors. White Hall wants cell service and infrastructure and has land use issues, but Crozet wants roads that work for the people in Crozet.
Mallek: JAUNT is cooperating with Crozet and U.Va. to help citizens get to Charlottesville and that’s a great start. The transit authority is a joint city and county effort that is 18 months old and U.Va. will be joining that in a more active role to better coordinate. The highest priority for the county budget in transportation this year will be getting [VDOT] revenue sharing money to build the connection between Cory Farms and Foothills Crossing which is called the Lickinghole Bridge. The county thought that developers would make this connection but it was impractical due to its size and cost, so now it is pushed to the top of the [county] list.
Q: Will you make a pledge to oppose the rain tax?
Harvey: Heck yes, absolutely no rain tax. My opponent said on the radio multiple times that she was opposing it, but when the opportunity came to bring it up and vote on it, she did not do that, it was tabled twice. This election is a referendum on whether or not that tax comes forward in some other form. I’m fully committing and will shout from the rooftops to bring this to public attention—it is not a dead issue.
Mallek: The rain tax is a funding mechanism to work on gray infrastructure to repair pipes, mostly in the urban areas, so though the work done would be in the urban ring, the majority of the money was going to come from the rural area, and that put a knife into the heart of the project. My constituents who came to multiple town halls made it clear that their barns out in middle of a field were going to be taxed in the hundreds of dollars per year for rain that came off the edges and went right in to ground. So two weeks before those fifty tractors came to my town hall, I had already told the committee that I had withdrawn my support, to the great disgust of my colleagues on the BOS, and all agreed that work needed to be done, so now we are paying for it out of the general fund.
Q: Why does the growth in our tax rate not match our population growth?
Mallek: During the 2010 to 2014 recession, funding for capital projects halted—the capital budget was zeroed out for three years, stopped cold. We reduced staff in the county by 15% through attrition, and we did not provide infrastructure spending, and now we are catching up. This year’s [real estate] tax increase of 1.6 cents was approved in the referendum of 2016, but we did not attach that increase at the right time. We should have put it on at the time when people would have had a clear connection to the school improvements it was intended for. Residents continue to say, ‘more people are here, where are the sidewalks and bridges?’
Harvey: When the tax rate goes up, it goes up forever; it’s a 5% increase into perpetuity [including this year’s real estate assessment increase]. When the tax rate goes up, that’s basically telling you that something hasn’t been managed properly, because when population goes up you would expect that revenue goes up with it. It means not enough businesses are coming here and paying taxes. A study was done of Albemarle County, noting that while the rest of the country is in an economic boom, the County has lost 165 jobs. Losing jobs tells me that regulations are improperly restricting economic flow in this county.
Q: What should the Board do to make building a home in Albemarle County easier and cheaper, and how can we have more affordable housing?
Harvey: My wife and I just built a house on land we own by right. The enormously complicated and very expensive regulatory process just to build a single-family home needs to be radically reformed. As to affordable housing, the state of Virginia made proffers illegal a couple of years ago, but it still goes on in the county. People should question the $17,000 per unit the County is charging to housing manufacturers here. This is a shake-down, and it’s being done behind closed doors.
Mallek: The legislature did overturn localities’ ability to charge off-site cash proffers in 2016, only for properties in a rezoning. Fees were allowed before because the extra residences had needs for services. It was a way for government to receive the money to build things like the Crozet Library and the streetscape. The proffer policy was a constant negotiation, and the $17,000 has been reduced to $6,000. As for affordable housing (meaning about a $200,000 property), many can’t afford that or need rental housing. In Crozet there have been 1,000 units built by-right and not subject to proffer. Another issue is the preservation of current affordable housing—we have houses built in 40s and 50s and those should be preserved.