Incumbent Mary Jones faces Ruth Larson, who is currently a member of the Williamsburg-James City County School Board. Jones’ answers are unedited and presented below.
The election takes place Nov. 3.
Read a completed questionnaire from Larson here.
1. What do you feel are the three major issues facing the county right now? What are your ideas on how to address those issues?
Taxes and spending. We need to repeal the 10% tax increase and return to sensible budgeting. From 2008 through 2011, the County faced dramatic reductions in revenues. We reduced spending by being frugal with taxpayer funds and maintained services. We also received a Triple-A bond rating.
Long-term planning. We need to adopt both a strategic plan and a public facilities master plan. We need a strategic plan to end the cycle of being reactive to situations. We need a public facilities master plan so we don’t end up with expensive projects like the $61 million middle school and administration building.
Respecting citizens. Local government needs to understand that our citizens are its customers. We need to be answering to them and ensuring they are getting a good return for their tax dollars. Right now, we’re increasing their bill 10% and are going to reassess their home next year – so they’ll pay even more. That’s not customer oriented service.
2. Talk about the effects of the real estate tax rate increase on the county and its citizens. If elected, what factors will you consider when setting the property tax rate for fiscal year 2017?
I will vote to repeal the tax increase. As I noted when I voted for a budget that did not increase tax rates, our revenues increased $3 million without raising taxes. We did not need to raise them. The budget needs to be prioritized to ensure our core services are met, which could have been achieved with the current revenue streams.
3. How do you propose to control growth in the county, particularly in light of concerns about the Primary Service Area’s effectiveness and school capacity?
First we should address the false narrative that James City is experiencing “rampant out-of-control growth.” The current growth rate is 1.2%. James City did experience high growth rates during the 80s until mid 2000s, with its most significant population increase prior to 1990. Most of the development witnessed recently was voted and approved 20 years prior to my even being elected. A combination of responsible policy and an economic recession has all but stopped the development.
The absurdity that any development I have voted for is requiring Dominion to install power lines across the river demonstrates a complete lack understanding of real issues and illustrates a lack of seriousness by those perpetuating such nonsensical statements.
4. Stormwater issues were at the forefront of budget discussions earlier this year. County stormwater officials identified several communities that lack the drainage infrastructure needed to deal with runoff. How would you direct the county to manage drainage issues?
Your question conflates multiple topics and several different issues. Stormwater issues are why I became involved in policy in the first place. As a result of improper planning and poor development management, our home – along with the homes of 99 of our neighbors – flooded during Hurricane Floyd.
One of the first things I accomplished when I was first elected was the formation of the Citizen Stormwater Advisory Committee, which was tasked with identifying and prioritizing stormwater projects.
The problem with this broad topic has been politics and priorities. We know what needs to be addressed and what priority levels are appropriate. But, as evidenced by the Essex Court project or the millions spent keeping undevelopable property from being developed, our priorities are misdirected.
Some were further confused during the recent budget discussions. The tax increase does not fund any stormwater projects – PERIOD.
Stormwater needs to be prioritized as the health and safety issue it is and properly prioritized in our regular budget. We need to fund solutions to real problems, not create new departments addressing theoretical issues mandated from the EPA and DEQ.
5. The James City Service Authority is exploring alternative water sources in response to declining water levels in underground aquifers. One option is a multi-million deal JCSA first signed in 2008 to purchase water from Newport News Waterworks. How would you address the county’s water needs in light of a depleting groundwater supply? Would you look to renegotiate the deal James City County has with Newport News Waterworks? Why or why not?
Formulating and implementing a plan to ensure a future water supply for James City County will be crucial. Ground water is the primary water source for the region, and James City County is one of fourteen localities that are under consideration for reductions to their groundwater withdrawal permits.
Currently, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) permit allows James City County to withdraw up to 8.8 million gallons of water per day. But, they have recommended a 55 percent reduction in that permit that would leave us with just 4 million gallons per day. That amount would only cover only 75 percent of our current average daily use of 5.4 million gallons per day. I have been in contact with and am working with Senator Norment and Delegate Pogge, both of whom are committed to ensuring we do not suffer a permit reduction of the size being recommended by DEQ. Senator Norment successfully passed a bill this year requiring a two- year delay in any permit reductions and insisting there be a thorough analysis done regarding the aquifers. At the County level, I am committed to identifying the best options regarding future water resources so that we will be less vulnerable to federal and state mandates affecting our supply.
While the details of a resolution may not be immediately apparent, I have and will continue to support these efforts, as well as meet regularly with our state legislators, to ensure we are working together. Water is a vital resource for our community. We need to prioritize our citizens first, making sure their needs – both long and short-term – are the primary consideration when it comes to such resources. This is the best way to ensure our community is both sustainable and prosperous.
6. James City County has sought state grants to help fund some of its major transportation initiatives and road projects. Which transportation issues do you think should be priorities for the county, if any?
Rt. 60 is the biggest issue in James City County and has been neglected for decades. We can’t justify spending tens of millions on bike paths and roundabouts for wealthy neighborhoods when a critical artery that transverses the entire county our is in need of repair.
7. The James City County Board of Supervisors has expressed its opposition to Dominion’s preference to build a switching station on county land. What is your opinion on Dominion’s proposed power line crossing the James River and the proposed switching station? Would you vote to grant Dominion’s rezoning request? Why or why not?
Although I would prefer we not have a power line crossing the James River, my opinion – like the opinion of every other Board member – holds little real weight in this process. Once the Army Corps of Engineers made its decision that the lines could not be placed under the river and that the two routes terminating in James City County were the only real options, our ability to substantially alter the process ended.
The decision on the switching station must be based solely on the merits of that particular case. As it is pending before the Board and a public hearing has yet to be conducted, it would be inappropriate for me to render a decision at this time in the process.
8. The Board of Supervisors redesigned its public comment period earlier this year to give more consistency to the start time of public hearings. How do you feel about the change? Would you adjust it or keep the new system?
I was opposed to the change and would restore public comment to the way it had been done for decades. The new public comment policies have limited and restricted citizen participation which is unacceptable.