York County Board of Supervisors District 1 Q&A: Walt Zaremba

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On Wednesday, Walter Zaremba was elected chairman of the York County Board of Supervisors for 2013.

WYDaily sent an identical questionnaire to each candidate running for a seat on the York County Board of Supervisors.

Incumbent Walt Zaremba is running unopposed in District 1. Zaremba’s answers are unedited and presented below.

The election takes place Nov. 3.

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?

Loss of tax revenues resulting from the shutdown of Western Refinery and the announcement that Dominion Resources will shut down its Yorktown operations over the next several years.  In response to these revenue losses York will seek creative and aggressive ideas/solutions to preclude forced tax increases such as attracting clean, green light industry.

A second major issue facing the county is the EPA directed TMDL mandate and the accompanying significant costs to meet them. In response, York needs to educate residents toward helping reduce storm water runoff, continue the effective use of retention ponds, and continue to expand its sewer system while implementing the county’s strategic storm water plan.

A third major issue involves meeting workforce housing and other workforce expectations. In response the county needs to ensure that older, more affordable housing located in certain of its subdivisions do not evolve into blighted areas. Pride in some neighborhoods needs to be renewed through public/private partnerships including the use of grant dollars for housing rehabilitation and to revitalize pride of ownership.

2. How would you describe the working relationship between the school board and the Board of Supervisors? What can the Board of Supervisors do to improve or enhance this relationship?

The working relationship between the Board of Supervisors and School Board, while not without periods of strain, is currently a good one. Previous periods could too often be characterized by each board believing the other didn’t understand and appreciate the challenges facing the other, particularly when it came to the allocation of scarce dollars. Factually, it’s seldom possible to meet the full funding expectations of the School Board, especially when state funding for schools has repeatedly been reduced in substantial degrees. State funding reductions notwithstanding, the county has consistently filled these shortfalls with dollars that at times came from reducing expenditures associated with county wide programs and services. While funding for education may not appear to be the state’s top priority it is York’s Board of Supervisor’s top funding priority. Toward further improving the relationship between the two boards each has agreed to meet more often whether jointly or by respective district representatives meeting one on one.

3. How well do you feel the supervisors work together? What do you feel you can bring to the board’s dynamic?

York’s BOS has always worked well together and I believe that relationship will continue with two new members elected to the Board for 2016. As to the board’s dynamic I believe I bring a reasoned, objective approach to the issues we face keeping in mind the best interests of our citizens. I am beholden to NO special interest or vocal few. Nor do I underestimate the power of compromise.

4. The Board of Supervisors passed a budget last year that included a raise for county employees and an increase in its transfer to the school division without increasing the real estate tax rate. What will be your budget priorities if elected to this four-year term? Do you see a need to raise the tax rate in the near future? Why or why not?

My and the board’s budget priorities will continue to remain the same as in past years: (1) K-12 education; (2) Public and fire and life safety; (3) continued replacement of old, poorly functioning septic tanks with state-of-the-art sewer systems; (4) Parks and recreation programs that benefit all of our citizens; and, (5) meeting, to the extent prudently warranted, county employee professional and fiscal expectations. With that said, the county faces acute funding challenges as mentioned in my answer to question number one, above. While York has one of the lowest real estate tax rates in Hampton Roads, I do not foresee the need to raise our real estate tax rate to meet these priorities given the county’s expected expanded commercial base, including clean, green, light industry.  However,  the ability to meet our stated priorities will depend, in large part,  on the continuing state of the country’s and state’s economic well-being as we move into 2016.  And, since cuts to essential county services should not be made, a potential tax increase is always on the “table” if such an increase would truly serve the best interest of York’s citizens.

5. What role do you think York County plays as a regional partner with James City County and the City of Williamsburg? How do you see that relationship developing over the next few years?

The Historic Triangle of York, Williamsburg, and James City have much in common. Our collective tourist-related ventures are obvious but so are many of the challenges we face including shared or overlapping demographic, economic, social and educational needs. Consequently, it makes a lot of sense, when beneficial to the three municipalities, to work cooperatively to achieve goals and objectives that benefit our citizenry without diminishing the individual character of each municipality. And, no, contrary to a recent allegation made by a resident of the area, regionalism is not synonymous with communism nor is it related to the so-called Agenda 21. Importantly, regionalism involving the three jurisdictions should continue to expand to meet, in a cost- effective manner, goals and objectives that support all of our citizens.

6. In light of the recent closure of Western Refining and the impending closure of the Yorktown Power Station, how do you see the county’s economic landscape evolving?

Plains International has transitioned the closed Western Refinery facility into a fuel storage and fuel shipping facility in a remarkably fast manner. It has made a significant financial investment in increasing the country’s ability to move petroleum. However, it will only replace approximately half the tax revenue lost by Western’s closure and that loss of revenue will negatively impact the county’s economic landscape in the near term. That said, I am optimistic that our economic direction will be positive in light of the ongoing growth of our commercial sector and an aggressive economic-related marketing program involving the county’s Economic Development Authority, the targets of which are clean, green, light industry.

7. Route 17 is in the midst of a widening project that is scheduled for completion in December 2016. What other transportation projects do you believe the county and/or the Virginia Department of Transportation should prioritize? Why?

The most obvious transportation requirement that will support the entire region is the ongoing widening of I -64 as well as the widening of highway 17, the county’s major transportation artery. Unfortunately, VDOT efforts to widen Highway 17 fall far short of what is required. Given the heavy traffic volume on that road it should be widened to three lanes in each direction from the intersection of Victory Boulevard in the lower county through to the Coleman Bridge in Yorktown. Priority should also be given to widening and straightening Mooretown Road in the upper county to mitigate the ongoing heavy volume of traffic. At the local level of prioritizing transportation requirements we will work toward expanding the traveled routes of the Williamsburg Area Transportation Authority (WATA) to service currently unreached areas of Lackey and Barlow Road in the upper county. WATA’s expanded service will substantially improve travel capabilities of workforce employees, seniors and tourists who prefer not to drive while transiting the Historical Triangle.

8. How would you characterize the state of the county’s infrastructure? Which infrastructure projects do you consider priorities? What actions and/or policies would you encourage to address those priorities?

Since county related maintenance and construction of roads are the responsibility of VDOT, I’ll keep my response to county-specific infrastructure responsibilities. Sewer and water system expansion has been for a number of years and will continue to be top priorities. Our budget expenditures support these priorities. Replacement of old, failing septic tanks and well water systems are not only related to the health of our citizens but, sewer extension in particular, will also meet TMDL driven time-line requirements and mitigate the high cost of those state and federal requirements as national efforts are exerted to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Finally, to ensure that our school division’s schools and related facilities remain high on the county’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP) priorities, the Board of Supervisors will continue to work collaboratively with the School Board and Superintendent to ensure that those priorities are accomplished.