by Gene Marrano
With Election Day – November 8 – just a month away, voters in two Roanoke County magisterial districts will have to choose between an incumbent supervisor and two challengers in both Catawba and Cave Spring. The Roanoke Tea Party recently invited all six candidates to a forum, asking them questions about taxes, budget cuts and economic development.
In Cave Spring, incumbent Charlotte Moore, running as an independent this time after first being elected as a Democrat four years ago, is challenged by Republican George Assaid and independent Stan Seymour, who owns a number of Bojangles’ fast food restaurants in the valley.
In Catawba, incumbent Joe “Butch” Church, current chairman of the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors and an independent, is being challenged by two other independents: David Drake, a retired engineer, and Carter Turner, a college professor at Radford University who ran against Church unsuccessfully four years ago.
“A lot of people don’t recognize how important local government is,” said Chip Tarbutton, president of the Roanoke Tea Party, as he introduced the candidates in the boardroom at the Roanoke County administration building. Local government, not centralized in Washington, is a consistent Tea Party theme across the country. “As much as possible should be done at the local level,” said Tarbutton.
Seymour, who is challenging the construction of a Chick-Fil-A in Salem that would be located near one of his Bojangles’ joked that “I’m the one that’s been in the news – even though I didn’t want to be.” Seymour pored through Salem zoning requirements and threw out a red flag, saying the Chick-Fil-A tentatively approved by the Planning Commission in Salem violated provisions of set-backs and parking.
Asked what role the Board of Supervisors played in economic development, Church replied that it was “only a small part.” The county does offer tax incentives to help entice new businesses, noted Church, who is running for a fourth term. Seymour claimed, however, that Roanoke County taxes are “the highest in the state.”
Drake, who has a manufacturing background, said he would look at the county’s taxes if elected. “The tax structure really drives people away from this area,” he contended. Assaid, an architect by trade, wants to “eliminate cumbersome policies” that deter economic development.
Turner said the infrastructure, including high speed internet, must be in place to support economic growth. He would like to see a Business Development Council put in place, a group that would meet regularly “to find out what the needs are.” He and Church sparred several times over an asphalt plant that was proposed for the Glenvar area, with Turner claiming that the incumbent misrepresented his opposition to the first site proposed, a location ultimately nixed due to local protests.
The Tea Party wanted to know how the candidates would approach the subject of a budget cut if Roanoke County was asked to trim 5-10%. Moore, a real estate agent and the owner of a landscaping business, noted that the county budget went through a five percent trimming just last year. “[We’re] working on a bigger budget decrease,” said Moore, who added that it was “not fiscally responsible” to lower tax rates at this time.
Seymour claimed Roanoke County has “wasted” taxpayer money – he opposes the $30 million dollar Green Ridge Recreation Center – while Assaid claimed “there’s always room for cuts.” Drake wants to look for duplication of services, pointing out that he had 35 years as a troubleshooter in manufacturing that would serve him well in looking for waste. “I know how to do that,” he asserted.
Church noted that the property tax rate has actually decreased from $1.14 to $1.09 per one hundred dollars in assessed value since he took office, adding that a major reason the rate is higher than some adjoining counties is because residents here want more services – like curbside trash collection. None of the candidates said they would raise taxes, especially in light of the sluggish economy.
The six contenders also thought the idea of Roanoke County maintaining its own secondary roads – a notion floated by the General Assembly – was not feasible, saying the financial outlay, beginning with “$11 million in startup costs alone” according to Church, could cripple the local government. “I don’t know how you’d fund it,” said Drake.
Church declared outright that “we’re not going to do that,” while Seymour would look at cuts elsewhere if that scenario came to pass. “Quit spending money on capital projects that don’t have to be done,” he said. Assaid could see it happening several years down the road, while Moore said the current group of supervisors “are continuing to have discussion with VDOT and our local [state] legislators” on the issue.
As a group the candidates declared their support for the county school system, when asked if there was room to cut the $140 million dollar annual budget there. Supervisors must pass a resolution funding the schools. “The short answer is no,” said Assaid about any budget cuts; “education is the backbone to successful economic development.”
Assaid, who had a hand in designing several local schools, also said that “better facilities encourage kids to come to school.” Moore stated that “the school board is doing a good job” working with the funds it has on hand.
Turner couldn’t see cutting the school system budget, while Church noted that Roanoke County schools have been highly rated nationwide. He also touted the joint funding mechanism put in place by the Board of Supervisors and the School Board almost a decade ago, which has allowed capital projects to move forward in tough times.
Don’t raise taxes, support the schools, don’t waste money, look for economic growth: all six candidates from the Cave Spring and Catawba districts seemed to be singing off the same sheet of music much of the time. Making a choice at the polls on November 8 could be somewhat challenging in light of that.
“We should pay much more attention to these local issues,” advised Chip Tarbutton. Candidates for the two Board of Supervisors races in Roanoke County—especially the challengers – would probably agree.