York County Board of Supervisors District 4 Q&A: Robert Holloway

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

Robert Holloway and Jeff Wassmer will face off in the District 4 race. Holloway’s answers are unedited and presented below.

Wassmer did not return answers to the questionnaire.

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?

After seven weeks of knocking on doors and talking to many, many citizens, these are the three issues that I hear the most about.

  1. Development is the number one subject that concerns the citizens that I talk too. Rt. 17 has become a Jefferson Ave. or in your case, Richmond Rd. Most people who moved here did so because they wanted to get away from the hub bub of city life, yet we are fast approaching that very thing. Citizens are seeing trees being cut down all around the county and they are not happy about it. While we can’t stop property owners from developing their properties, I think we need to look at how the proposed development will affect the county. Will it create more of a burden than a benefit? Our longtime Supervisors do not ask the questions that need to be asked about new projects. If staff recommends its approval, then the existing BoS will do just that. Public participation has always been a problem during public hearings. If elected, I would like to set up a citizens advisory group. My plan is to choose maybe a dozen citizens in each district who would be willing to review upcoming public hearings and ask their friends for opinions which could then be brought back to the board. Facebook is the obvious method for this. You only have to follow York County 411 to see that our citizens are very concerned about what is happening in York. I believe we could get way more interest in issues through social media.
  2. Keeping taxes from rising is a great concern for most residents. Many, especially seniors, are struggling to pay exorbitant taxes while still being able to pay other bills.  When I introduce myself to people, I tell them that I am a follow the money kind of guy and I’m not happy with how York has been spending our tax money for the last ten years.  The overwhelming majority agree with me and many will go into a diatribe about their personal experiences or issues where they believe York is wasting our money.  My own research has revealed many examples of mismanagement of tax dollars.  Supervisors need to do a better job of understanding where our money is going.  Transparency about spending is a huge problem in York and I will work to improve this.  I plan to push for the county to switch to Zero Based Budgeting where every expense has to be justified.  I want our checkbook posted online so every taxpayer can see where his money is going.  Proper financial management is more important now than ever.  Our citizens cannot continue to support the tax and spend attitude of our longtime Supervisors.
  3. The third issue is more of a personal thing.  As I knock on doors, I have talked to hundreds of Seniors.  Almost all are concerned about their ability to stay in the lifetime homes in York as their taxes rise every two years.  Many, who paid their houses off years ago, have taxes that cost more each month than their house payment did.  When you add this to the myriad of county user fees and insurance, it is damn difficult for many of our seniors to stay here.  These folks are on a fixed income and they are heavily burdened by just how expensive it is to live in York.   I have a close friend who is an Elder Law Attorney.  He tells me that staying in their family home is the most important thing for most healthy Seniors but that many just can’t afford it in York County.  I think this is atrocious.  Our leaders have placed many lifetime elder residents is dire straights with constant tax and user fee increases.  Virginia is one of only ten states in the country without a Homestead Act.  I would like to see York push the state legislature to pass a Homestead Act that every jurisdiction can then use to protect its Seniors.  It isn’t right that we place such a heavy financial burden on residents who have lived in the same home for decades.  These folks use less services than younger families and should be rewarded for staying put when SO MANY younger families move out as soon as their children get out of our schools.

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?

OMG!  It is no secret that there has been animosity between the two boards for years.  I understand some of it.  The School Board doesn’t have any taxing authority so all they have to do is tell parents that they can’t do more for little Johnny because the big bad Supervisors refuse to give them any money.  You can bet that if I was going to give half of my pay check to someone, I would spend a lot of time finding out how they managed it.  Nearly 50% of York’s budget goes to schools, yet the two boards do not communicate except for one or two meetings at budget time.  The school board always asks for more money.  I can never remember a time when they came in front of the BoS and didn’t want millions more than the previous year.   In my opinion, there needs to be greater transparency in how the schools spend money.  In addition, I believe that Supervisors need to be more involved in the schools.  Not just for extracurricular activities, but also classroom observations and other normal school day activities.  They need to see how our tax money is being handled.

You didn’t ask, but I also believe that the school board needs to switch to Zero Based Budgeting.  This is the ONLY way we will know for certain that they are spending our money wisely.

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

Toooooooo well.   One only needs to review the agendas from the past five years to see that 95% of the votes are unanimous.  There is way too much decided behind closed doors.  During a meeting last year, Tom Shepperd advised the audience that even though it seemed like they were making quick decisions, the fact was that much discussion about the issues had taken place prior to the meeting.   HELLO! Can anyone say, transparency?  I can’t believe Shepperd actually made the statement.  Even more disturbing is the fact that he doesn’t see any problem with it.    As an expert in FOIA, I will make certain that board meetings are open and decisions are made in public and not behind closed doors.   In addition, I am not afraid to ask questions to make certain that I understand the issues.  If I don’t get it, it is likely that many or our constituents don’t get it either.   You won’t see the bobble head dog syndrome that some Supervisors have just because they don’t want to appear dumb.

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?

As I said earlier, I will push for York to switch to ZBB.  This form of accounting will be met with much resistance from staff as they will actually have to do their jobs, but it will eliminate the hidden pools of money that seem to pop up anytime staff wants to make an unforeseen purchase.   Case is point, the sudden purchase of four Yorktown properties in 2012, for 1.5 million dollars.  This was the same year our tax rate was increased 9 cents per hundred because, and I quote here, “we have to raise taxes to maintain citizen services.”  Not only did a million and a half dollars mysteriously appear for properties that we had no plans for, but another $500,000 was spent for Asbestos abatement and then demolition of the buildings.  Now we have four vacant properties that have been taken off the tax rolls because we don’t pay taxes to ourselves.  To make matters worse, the values of the properties have declined to a point where their value is nearly one half million dollars less than we paid for them.  If we were a private owner, this would make us up side down in our assets.  However, because it is the county, its just tax money.

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?

I really don’t see the advantage of being Regional partners with JCC and Williamsburg.  Clearly, our decade long connection with HREDA garnered disappointing results.  Say None?   The association in the Historic Triangle is a new one.   According to articles about the venture, the intention is to seek small to middle sized businesses.  We don’t need a regional entity to court small business owners.  The three municipalities can and should handle this on their own.  They should be competing for business.  Working together has never worked.   How many additional years of failure will it take to make areas EDA’s keep their efforts and money in the city or county they reside in.

When I decided to run for Supervisor, I called a longtime friend who has been on the York County EDA for 15 years.  I asked him to identify businesses that the group has been responsible for bringing to York.  He advised that although they had assisted a few businesses that located in York, he could think of no businesses who wouldn’t have opened here, anyway.  In other words, York EDA has served no real purpose for the taxpayers in the county.  I think a good example of their ineffectiveness would be the fiasco with the old Kroger store which has been sold to a tax exempt church.  As a taxpayer who questioned the $300,000 EDA grant to Kroger for their move, I have to wonder why our supposed business professionals didn’t consider this before giving any public money to Kroger.  Kroger is the largest grocery chain in the country.  They didn’t need money from us to make a move across the street.

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?

That is a difficult question to answer.  York officials paint a picture of doom and gloom at budget time and always mention the loss of the two operations.  Yet, I have never seen an actual dollar figure for the predicted losses.    As I said in an earlier question, our tax revenue has increased by millions every year since 1999 as has our personal property and equipment tax revenues.  So, unless the figures that the county sends me are artificial, I’m not seeing the lost revenue that everyone is talking about.

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?

As I talk to citizens at their door everyday, many of them want to see sidewalks.  Not a day goes by that this subject isn’t brought up.  Everyone is surprised that VDOT didn’t install sidewalks during the Rt. 17 widening.  The general feeling is that when a road is improved, at least one sidewalk should be installed.  This comes not only from parents, but also from Seniors who like to walk everyday, but are afraid of the traffic.

In addition, I would like to see VDOT make time to meet with our citizens to talk about ditches and drainage in general.  This is a hot ticket subject in York County.  Don Wiggins won his first election by promising to get ditching for Edgehill.  As I visit our citizens, not a day goes by that someone doesn’t show me their ditch and complain about the flow or lack there of.  The Supervisors have limited input with the state on ditch cleaning, but are the first contact when a citizen is angry because water is standing in his yard or not flowing through the ditch in front.

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?

My knowledge of infrastructure is limited to what I can see.  All of our roads are maintained by the state.  Most of our buildings are reasonably new.  Every building is regularly maintained by county staff.  I can’t speak to what I can’t see but I know we spend millions of dollars each year on new equipment to maintain our infrastructure.

From a personnel standpoint, there are several places where county and school services can be combined which will save money for both divisions.  While this has been discussed in the past, neither division is willing to relinquish their control.  In my opinion, this shows a weakness in our longtime Supervisors.  They know that there are huge money savings in joining departments, but do not want to upset the apple cart, as it were.  The three remaining incumbents no longer work for their voters, they have come to believe that they own York County and that they alone know what is best.

The following is just my opinion.

I believe that we need to lose some of our buildings.  Riverwalk is a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars. The complex needs to be sold to a private owner who will actually pay taxes on the property.  Because we own the property, it is off the tax rolls at a loss of about $750,000 per year.  York should not be in the landlord business.  We are dumping millions of dollars in Riverwalk each year in maintenance and upkeep and we are cutting the rents for merchants during the slow winter months to keep them in operation.  (yet another EDA failure) There is no motivation to be profitable when you have tax money to fall back on.  A private owner will bring in businesses that attract locals.  Before the Riverwalk complex was built and the beach was home to Nicks Seafood, the Spectrum, Mikes Convenience Store, the Dairy Freeze, the Duke of York Restaurant and various other small retail shops, the beach was a thriving attraction for local citizens.  During the 80’s when I was a deputy, Yorktown Beach and businesses were a destination for locals and tourists alike.  When York County took over the control of the Beach Front from the Yorktown Trustees, they proceeded to completely change the look and feel of the area.   Other than the Yorktown Pub and the Duke, there is nothing there to attract locals.  Riverwalk will continue to be a huge hole to throw money in as long as it stays in the hands of York County.

Lets talk about the four Yorktown lots that were purchased in 2012.  While, the Supervisors claimed to be making the purchase because the properties were available, the truth is that they were part of a much larger plan to build a new Administration Building.  This information started to come out last year prior to McReynold’s death.  There was talk of a conceptual design for a multi-story Admin building on the cliff behind the parking garage overlooking Riverwalk and the York River.   This site is wholly owned by York County with the exception of one lot which is owned by Carlton Abbott.  Abbott’s company did the original design on the Riverwalk Complex.  Again, in my opinion, the collection of properties leading up to the eventual construction of an unneeded Admin building continues to show the disconnect between Supervisors and citizens.  County leaders have gone to great lengths to keep this quiet, so as not to arouse anger from taxpayers whose taxes are raised every couple of years.  This is tax money being spent for their comfort and use, not for the citizens who have to pay for it.  It is deceitful.

It is unfortunate that we have been unable to get younger folks to run for these offices.  At 60 years old, I am way younger than any current Supervisor.  Two of our incumbents are up for their sixth term.  One is 80 and the other 76.  That is NUTS.  We need young minds and fresh ideas to take York into the future.  It is way past time for the millennials to step up to the plate.