JCC Board of Supervisors Roberts District Q&A: Heather Cordasco

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Heather Cordasco
Heather Cordasco

WYDaily sent an identical questionnaire to each candidate running for the Roberts District seat on the James City County Board of Supervisors.

Heather Cordasco, who is currently vice chairwoman of the Williamsburg-James City County School Board, faces incumbent John McGlennon in the race. Cordasco’s answers are unedited and presented below.

The election takes place Nov. 3.

Read a completed questionnaire from McGlennon 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?

  • Long term planning has not been executed effectively in this county. We have lacked strategy in dealing with challenges, but also lacked strategy in our vision for the future. We can celebrate our historic roots, but without a plan for the future, the celebration won’t endure. The strategic planning process is key and I look forward to participating. Growth without vison is not what the people of the county desire.
  • There is a key role for business in our county, and every dollar that business contributes is valuable. As I have researched the minutes of the previous two decades of meetings and spoken to thousands of citizens, our county is not known for the ease of doing business here. To business time is money; that is a pressure that often can be forgotten in local government. I would make it my goal not only to increase the revenue provided by businesses, not only to open more job opportunities, but to decrease the amount of time it takes to get a business open. I like the concept I have seen in some other localities, where someone who has had experience in local government might play the role of an ombudsman to guide someone through the process. Through the relationships developed through Manufacturing Day, I hope to encourage more interaction with advanced manufacturing in our area.
  • Our debt is an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed, much of the debt we are carrying now is a carryover from schools previously built and from purchase of land. We are still paying for the decisions that have been made in the past to build smaller schools and for the purchase of land that had no realistic future of being developed. Money would have been better spent financing the Skiff’s Creek Extender, and greatly improving the quality of life for Grove residents by removing tractor-trailers from Route 60.  In addition, the budget must be more transparent to the average person, a number of localities throughout the Commonwealth place their “checkbook” online to easily allow access to the budget.

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?

Having served on the school board, I am fully aware of the importance of the real estate tax in shaping our schools. The fact is that the flat budget, which was actually $3.5 million higher than last year’s, would have fully funded our schools, provided raises, taken care of all of our core service, and begun several of our initiatives – without raising taxes. The budget with the tax increase did not fully fund our schools.  Our assessment of properties will happen this year and as we moved into the strategic process and identified our land book value, we then could set the rate. As I have talked to citizens, the majority are opposed to the tax increase. Many live on a fixed income such as Social Security.  I recently talked to a couple that only receives about $24,000 in Social Security payments. They do not qualify for tax relief.They did not get a raise this year and may have to make some tough choices about what expenses they pay, do they fill their gas tank, buy their medicine or pay their taxes. Many Roberts district residents will acutely feel the heat of even a $20 a month increase.

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? 

If you watched the Supervisor meeting on this subject a few months back, you will see that although the county policy was requested, it wasn’t produced.  That’s because there isn’t one. The PSA should not be a tool for zoning; zoning should be a tool for zoning. We also shouldn’t rule by exception and must be consistent. If you have water in, you should have waste water out and vice versa. Septic tanks are a health hazard.

I have great concern that we are once again building a school that will be too small and it will come at the cost of taxpayers.

4. Storm water issues were at the forefront of budget discussions earlier this year. County storm water officials identified several communities that lack the drainage infrastructure needed to deal with runoff. How would you direct the county to manage drainage issues?

One of the frustrating things about this election cycle is how much misinformation there has been about stormwater. If you watch the June work session, you will see that James City County has been a leader in this area and in fact made our whole area a resource management area. However the county can only control County-owned land, the MS4s, and the Municipal Separate Storm Water Systems. Any new neighborhoods that are built here are required to have Homeowner Associations, and 80 percent of the neighborhoods in James City County have homeowners associations who are then responsible for their stormwater. Does that mean that we don’t have concern for the other 20 percent? Of course it doesn’t, but we should not be raising taxes on those that have already paid for their stormwater through their HOA. We should take care of their needs through setting spending priorities. In addition, in at least one neighborhood that is affected, the developer should have been held accountable and was not.

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?

Water is a need, not a luxury, making so this is an important question. It must first be noted that we are not under immediate pressure to make this decision, we must NOT react. Right now, we have a window of time to plan before we act, while our General Assembly partners are helping us. There is a study being conducted. We are also looking at a pilot program to reinject gray water into the aquifer. It is important to note also that due to incentives and water saving measures, we are actually using less water and not talking about aquifer depletion but about the Department of Environmental Quality reducing the amount we can draw from the aquifer. It is premature to talk about renegotiating the deal until we see if another solution can be provided for the paper plant in West Point.

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?

The Skiffe’s Creek Extender is critical, not only to improving quality of life for the residents of Grove, but adding incentive to businesses considering locating in the industrial park, not to mention fulfilling the promise of its completion that was made to the Wal-Mart Distribution Center.

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?

Virginia has suffered from the shutdown of the coal industry in Southwest Virginia and continues to be a significant importer of energy. I along with many are saddened at the pressure given by the Environmental Protection Agency to shut the Yorktown coal fired plants down. That timeline has hastened the need for additional energy. The choice about the power lines has been taken out of our hands and is completely in the hands of the Army Corps of Engineers. They alone will decide. It seems as if their decision has been that the lines must be over and not under the river. The board will decide soon, whether to accept the switching station. It is important that all safety considerations are addressed, including health concerns.

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?

This is also a very common theme in the minutes of previous meetings. I support allowing maximum citizen participation. I have been to meetings in which citizens have not been permitted to speak and seen the high level of frustration. Regardless of the length of the meetings, citizens should be able to speak. After all, Supervisor is a position of public SERVICE.