Supervisor candidates address the issues
In the upcoming November 3 Middlesex County Board of Supervisors election, two candidates are seeking a Saluda District seat and one candidate is running unopposed for a Pine-top District seat.
In Saluda District, Peter Mansfield of the Urbanna area is challenging incumbent and current board chairman Robert Crump of Topping. In Pinetop District, Carlton Revere of Hartfield is running unopposed.
In a recent written questionnaire, the Sentinel asked all three candidates the same three questions. The questions and candidates’ answers follow:
1. With the ongoing recession, it is almost a certainty that county budget funding will be tight again in the next fiscal year 2010-11 (FY11), and the county could face another cut in state funds. Are you in favor of county tax increases to generate more budget revenue, or are there areas of the county budget that could or should be cut to save funds? Be specific and give reasons for answer.
Robert Crump: Increase of taxes to generate revenue should not be the first choice of the government.
As of October 8, 2009, in a special called meeting to deal with budget issues, the Board of Supervisors voted to cut their administrative staff by 2 and to reduce hours for the winter at all convenience centers. Summer hours also will be changed and announced in the next two weeks.
First of all, all departments in county government must stay within their budgets for the fiscal year 2009-10. Secondly, all departments must prioritize based on the perimeters in which they work. Third, all departments should arrange a realistic budget projection using the previous 5 years of budget data to determine trends in spending, add no excess, support projected requests with balance sheet data, and attend the Board of Supervisors work session to answer questions and present data. Fourth, each county employee and citizen must make every effort to save money and cut costs efficiently to help save; as it is imperative that we work together.
We cannot look at this time in history from a “business as usual” view. This is truly a time to, as John F. Kennedy said in his inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.” I believe this response is quite self-explanatory and we will continue to follow good general practice for controlling funds. Save first, and tax only if necessary.
Pete Mansfield: Reckless spending coupled with the ongoing recession have precipitated this crisis. The request for emergency borrowing power to meet payroll should be a clear indication that our budgetary warning flags have failed. But, the decision to approve the expenditure of additional funds at the same meeting for the “Saluda wastewater plant” is most ridiculous.
It is my understanding that the state has cut county funding by 17%, which should trigger a revised budget. However, I have not seen the updated numbers and will not be able to be as specific as the question requests.
I am certainly not in favor of “local tax” increases, but it would not be advisable to rule out any option without an in-depth study of all the possible funding sources.
However, in the face of reality, we must now make hard decisions on a line-by-line basis to harness our spending without further cuts to education and protection, and with a minimal effect on “quality of life” issues.
Each line item in the budget must be impartially evaluated based on the benefit to the county.
All county ongoing ventures must have transparent quarterly cash flows.
Each proposed expenditure above $1,000 must be justified.
Projects of $10,000 and more must include the projected project quarterly goals, and must have a final reconciliation sheet to close the project prepared by the project manager.
It is clear that we must also put into place a more effective early warning system to avoid future budget train wrecks. And it might be advisable to have an independent source review our county budget with comparisons to other counties with like demographics. We might also form a committee of local business people to give their suggestions for additional sources of revenue.
Carlton Revere: Regardless of the current economy, our county should always be vigilant on where it spends its public funds. For the current year, the county cut its collective budget by 6.75%. However, the strain on localities to make up the future shortfall from the state will force our community to make tough decisions on our essential priorities. Unfortunately, we do not know what the state reduction will be. Nevertheless, I believe we should maintain our commitment to the school system, but we need the school board and administration to prepare responsible, cost-conscious budgets.
Other belt tightening will be necessary from all departments of the county before we debate tax increases. I would look to each department head to find some item to cut or reduce. Areas that are ripe for analysis are the General Properties and Environmental Enforcement categories, which had budgeted increases for the current year of 10% and 3%, respectively. I would also suggest an examination of the hours of operation of the convenience centers and determine if some of the hours of operation may be cut. Small reductions, such as this, add up and can avoid the need for tax increases; however, cuts in state funding for essential services will continue to put enormous pressure on the revenue from localities.
2. What is your position on the proposed county sewage treatment plant in Saluda? Should the plant be built if its effluent would be discharged into Urbanna Creek? Give reasons for your answer.
Robert Crump: Construction on a 39,000-gallon plant with approved permit was stopped due to my efforts. The proposed plant was engineered to be a water re-use system, allowing water from the proposed plant to be used as irrigation for fields or industrial uses. Two times I was instrumental in postponing the meeting for a permit hearing at the State Water Control Board to give the Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD) time to conclude a feasibility study of land application. I voted against going for the permit of SWCB until HRSD had a chance to present a formal presentation of what it could offer the citizens of Middlesex.
To grow business, we must provide some infrastructure. We must consider the drainage field at Middlesex High and the Courthouse Complex. While it is cheaper to pump and haul, this system offers no investment in the future; with businesses paying a portion of the tax, this tends to offset the amount which real estate and personal property bear, and works to spread the income of the county government over a broader base.
So while being against dumping effluent in the creek, I am for infrastructure, which at some point we must have, but the goal for the era should be as follows: The plant should be built and operated by the trained professionals at HRSD. The plant presently in Urbanna should be deactivated. The jail plant also should be deactivated, leaving only one plant. This plant would supply service to Urbanna, the jail, and Saluda with land application as the choice for handling the effluent. The above will take a number of years to implement, perhaps as many as 20, and, of course, this all will be driven by the state of the economy.
The cost so far incurred by the county for engineering and acquisition of land is paid for and will be useable by the county. If the county’s choice is to proceed with HRSD, the land that is now owned by the county could become part of the agreement which, in the future, may benefit both the county and HRSD.
Pete Mansfield: This project, including the upcoming hearing before the State Water Control Board, should be stopped immediately. The proposed sewage plant lacks justification, as we can simply pump and haul until our budgetary conditions improve. The nutrient content as permitted will cause further degradation to Urbanna Creek and the existence of an effluent point source discharge will condemn our historic waters to an “impaired” status until it is removed.
When budgetary conditions improve, we might begin talks with the regional corrections facility to receive the courthouse complex waste stream by simply opening an existing valve. Their excess capacity could also handle tying in the several homes, and businesses in the Saluda area with failing septic systems. There would be little cost to the county since the users would pay for the manifold and hook-ups. An enhanced UV or chlorine system could then be installed, if necessary, to meet state requirements for land application. The plant effluent could then be pumped to a suitable forest or field disposal location for spray or drip dispersion. This would result in the removal of one of the two point source discharges from Urbanna Creek, while solving the Saluda problems.
We must make every effort to keep HRSD’s offer to take the wastewater from the Deltaville area (and east) via a pipeline across the Piankatank to join the Mathews line. Since sizing will be an important criteria, the county will need to work closely with HRSD to keep this option open.
HRSD will be responsible for a non-polluting answer for Urbanna. It could be land application as written in their draft proposal. However, we should not rule out a pipeline to the Gloucester or West Point headers without first comparing the long-term costs and advantages of each option.
Carlton Revere: I feel that the county should have more dialogue with the Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD) and the owners of surrounding sewage treatment systems (i.e. Town of Urbanna, Middle Peninsula Regional Jail, Rosegill Development and Christchurch School). Our goal should be to develop a coordinated plan to address current and future sewage disposal needs. We cannot solve one problem that exists with sewage disposal at the courthouse and ignore other sewage issues that are adjacent to our backyard. These other systems will face regulatory deadlines and forced upgrades in the future so any solution for the courthouse area must have a comprehensive approach. There may be a way to leverage all our sewage disposal needs and develop a system that is more cost efficient for all parties.
There has been a lot of debate on what to do with the effluent from any system. The recent feasibility study from HRSD reveals that a land application for a large sewage disposal system is possible; however, it comes with an increased cost over discharging into Urbanna Creek. I think that land application scenario should be given due consideration. I don’t feel that putting more effluent into Urbanna Creek is a smart solution over the long term in spite of the short-term cost savings. We should do what is reasonable and necessary to protect our rivers. The water is our largest resource and is the backbone for a lot of our local economy.
3. What other issues are important in the November 3 supervisor election and what is your position on these issues?
Robert Crump: I believe the most important issue in November and for the foreseeable future will be maintaining the budget. Both state and local governments are experiencing cuts and shortfalls in funding due to the recession and unstable state of the economy. The housing market has experienced reduced sales; those sales are taking more time than in past years and are selling for much less. This is being experienced nationwide, so if we cannot find ways to create the revenue needed, as the USA Aviation Handbook says when talking about “crash landing” in a field which has stumps, “after the plane hits the first stump, the next 75 yards probably won’t matter too much to the pilot.” So, we must make sure we don’t crash into that field. We will do that by saving, carefully managing our budget, looking for ways to generate more funds, and pressing Richmond not to send unfunded mandates.
Pete Mansfield: Once elected, one of my most pressing objectives will be to bring a degree of harmony to the various elements of our county government. In the last Board meeting an open fight with the Sheriff’s Office erupted. And, by the decision to proceed with the SWCB hearing, a “no” truce ultimatum was handed to the Town of Urbanna. Both issues negatively impact our fiscal health as the Board apparently rejected, out of hand, volunteer work on county property, and the hearing before the SWCB will cost an additional $4,000.
As to the Sheriff’s Office, we must verify with legal counsel that it is okay for a certified, off-duty officer to work on county vehicles at no cost to the county. If okay, then why not just say thanks as we recognize that they too help the county.
An issue the county faces this year is the budget. I will work to ensure the county properly funds its infrastructure, including education and police protection. It is difficult to maintain a balanced budget during economic downturns, but with careful attention to the details I will seek out waste and inefficiencies within the budget and eliminate them. I do not believe additional burdens need to be placed on citizens and businesses without exhausting all other possibilities.
Another issue is the demand to provide a quality educational system. This is not only a budgetary issue, but a fundamental issue of providing our children with the tools they need to succeed in our community and in the world. Our school system has made tremendous advances in both program and facilities. These advances should continue and I will work closely with the School Board to give it the tools necessary to continue with the advances.
Residential and business planned growth continues to be important. I will support both business and residential growth that follows the Comprehensive Plan and does not negatively impact the resources that I mentioned previously which gives Middlesex its identity. With careful planning, we can have positive growth that does not create a burden on the county’s infrastructure.
Carlton Revere: The overriding issue impacting Middlesex County will be the budget. The decreased funding received from the state will continue to put pressure on essential services such as our schools and public safety. I believe that there are still expenses that can be reduced in county operations. But the real question is when does reduction go beyond the fat, and start compromising the muscle? This determination must occur after in-depth discussions with citizen involvement.
We must continue to impress upon VDOT and our state officials that fixing the Stormont Road (Rt. 629) span across Healy’s Mill Pond is a priority. The failure to fix this highway is a public safety issue by disrupting emergency vehicle traffic and is putting increased pressure on other roads in the system that are in need of upgrades. The Circuit Court ruled that the county could not force the road to be fixed by the state. Therefore, the county is left with relying on its 6-year plan for saving the necessary funds. It will be a long time before we save up enough money that is given to the county by the state to fix this highway. We must continue to point out the importance of this road and make sure it gets the priority it deserves. Maintenance of the highways is the responsibility of the Commonwealth.
The county has begun to investigate using a Regional Real Estate Reassessment approach with surrounding counties. I agree with this effort and believe it has the potential to provide a higher quality work product than has been achieved in the past. The idea is to develop a staff reassessment team that would travel to the different member counties and perform the work rather than an outside contractor. By utilizing people that have knowledge of the area and are accountable to the participating counties, I would expect the work product to be improved. A feasibility study by the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission reveals that this regional approach has merit and it is about time that we give it a try.