City Council Candidates Q&A: Barbara Ramsey is your source for free news and information in Williamsburg, James City & York Counties.

Barbara Ramsey, a contractor with Colonial Williamsburg at the Golden Horseshoe Golf Club, is running for City Council. (Nicole Trifone/WYDaily)

WYDaily sent an identical questionnaire to each candidate running for City Council.

Barbara Ramsey, a College of William & Mary alumna and a 45-year city homeowner, is among a field of five candidates vying for three seats on council.

Ramsey’s answers are unedited and presented below.

The election takes place May 3.

Read a completed questionnaire from the other candidates:

1. What do you feel are the three major issues facing the City of Williamsburg right now? What are your ideas on how to address those issues?

As a longtime Williamsburg homeowner, I am happy with the current state of the city and believe we need to preserve our low taxes, unique neighborhoods, high quality services, and business climate.  But we also need to keep an eye to the future.  To that end:

  1. Economic vitality. We need to support our tourism industry that helps us keep residential property taxes so low.  There are two major institutions in the city – William & Mary and Colonial Williamsburg – and countless businesses that support them.  We need to maintain synergies with them.  And we need to aggressively market Williamsburg to other business sectors that will diversify our economy and bring high-paying jobs to our region.
  2. A strong school system is critical to retaining and attracting families and businesses to Williamsburg.  They are also critical for preparing our children for the jobs of the future.  We need a school system that provides students with a great education while preparing them to be college and career ready.
  3. I have a tremendous amount of pride in the City of Williamsburg.  But I also realize that our future businesses and residents will find borders between Williamsburg and our neighboring localities arbitrary at best.  While maintaining pride in our city, we must also look at ways that we can collectively market our region and create cost saving synergies with our neighboring localities to share costs such as the reginal emergency dispatch center.

I will use my experience from my business career, my service on the Neighborhood Relations Committee and my civic engagement to build consensus on how to address these issues.  As someone with a reputation as a collaborative problem solver, I will bring neighbors, business leaders, city staff, and elected officials together to address our issues.  Some specific ideas on the issues listed above are:

  • Ensure effective return on investment on tourism marketing initiatives.  Where initiatives are found to lack sufficient ROI, seek changes and to make them more effective.
  • Protect neighborhoods and renters by strictly enforcing standards on landlords.
  • Keep open communication with William & Mary students, college leadership, and tourism leaders to maintain relationships between major local entities.
  • Build the fourth middle school.
  • Work with WJCC School Board to provide more opportunities for students to pursue advanced classes, post-secondary education, technical certifications, and career tracks.
  • Encourage city staff to find more ways for Williamsburg to provide shared services with neighboring localities to save costs, enhance services, and build a stronger regional climate.

2. Talk about the relationship between the city and college and what changes, if any, you would like to see. How can you achieve those changes through City Council?

I have been a part of the city-college relationship as a student, a homeowner, a landlord, and a member of the Neighborhood Relations Committee.  I concur with Coucilman Scott Foster who recently said that “by everyone’s accounts, town-gown relations are at an all time best.”

In recent years, new on-campus student housing options have opened, adjustments have been made to the 3-person rule to better accommodate students living off campus, and noise complaints have dropped exponentially.  Still there is work to be done to continue recent progress.

Some specific goals are:

  • Assist students who opt to live off-campus by ensuring landlords take good care of the properties they are renting to students. This will include strictly enforcing existing rental standards, encouraging students to report predatory behavior by landlords and creating an online “rate my landlord” platform to pressure landlords in terms of safety, maintenance, appearance, and pricing.
  • Work with the college, the Student Assembly, and the EDA to attract new student-friendly businesses within walking distance of campus.
  • Promote the region to William & Mary upperclassmen in such a way as to encourage them to consider Williamsburg as a future home. Encourage local businesses to offer career-track internships and promote Williamsburg’s unique quality of life.

As a member of Council, I will bring all the stakeholders together to work towards these goals.  As a member of the Neighborhood Relations Committee, I have worked to bring together students, faculty, administrators, and neighbors by hosting gatherings at my home so all parties could better know and understand each other.  I will continue this relationship-building effort as a member of Council

3. What is your vision for the Arts District? What steps need to be taken to achieve your vision?

To be effective, an Arts District needs to be more than just visible public art.  It needs to be a hub for tourism, art studios, and art-related businesses.  It needs to be a center for economic development and be an attractive and welcoming area for residents and tourists alike.

As a member of Council, I will draw on my marketing experience to collaborate with the EDA and the Arts Commission to effectively pitch a vibrant section of the city and offer enhanced tax incentives for arts related businesses and events that locate there.

To draw people in, I envision hosting art-centric events in the district such as performances on public squares, plein air events, displays, and festivals.

4. Members of the James City County Board of Supervisors have not been in agreement regarding the need for a fourth middle school in Williamsburg-James City County Schools; the current City Council members agree there is a need. Do you believe the school division should move forward with its plans? Explain.

There is an absolute need for a fourth middle school.

A strong school system is critical to the future of the City both in retaining and attracting businesses and families to the City.  Overcrowded and underfunded schools will not encourage residential and economic growth in the City, nor will they serve our children well.

The student population in Williamsburg-James City County is projected to continue to grow in the coming years and we need to add capacity to accommodate that growth now before it is too late.

By some projections the new 4th Middle School will be at 90% capacity when it opens in 2017.

5. The city has made building and implementing redevelopment strategies a priority. How much influence should City Council have in reshaping select corridors in the city? What tools are available to the city and how should they be used?

The city is right to focus on reshaping select corridors in the city and has made great progress in some areas like Second Street.  Some corridors are the first impressions that visitors have of our community.  Others could benefit from new investment and vibrancy.

The city has options for investing in these corridors such as re-zoning, tax incentives, economic development incentives, and re-development grants.  The city should develop comprehensive plans specific to each corridor utilizing a mix of all of these options.  The plans should include reuse of underperforming properties, aesthetic upgrades, and improved roads and sidewalks.  Wherever possible, the city should partner with the state to provide additional economic development incentives and share in the investment.

As a member of Council, my goals will be to objectively evaluate these plans to ensure the city will receive a strong return on investment.  The city should not jeopardize its current tax revenues by granting extensive tax benefits to developers that will not bring in a return.  I will also use my position as an elected representative of the residents to ensure they have a voice in the planning process and that their interests and concerns are accommodated in the final plans.

6. In what ways should City Council support local efforts to spur tourism to the area?

Tourism is critical to our city.  It provides jobs for many of our residents and enhances our quality of life.  And the taxes that tourists pay in the city help keep property taxes low on our residents.  The city must actively invest in the tourism industry.

City Council needs to continue its strong investment in destination marketing for our region and must ensure its marketing investment is paying off with increased visitation statistics.  It must also be a convener to make sure the region’s local governments, major tourist attractions, and key agencies like the Chamber and the Hotel-Motel Association work synergistically for the collective good of our community.

The City must also look for new ways to utilize its unique assets to attract different kinds of tourists.  Eco-tourists will enjoy our natural resources and close proximity to two major rivers and the Capital Trail.  Gastro-tourists will enjoy our many fine restaurants.  Arts tourists need to be attracted to our Arts District.  By collaborating with our local governments, EDA, and DMO, we can appeal to these specialized tourism sectors to increase visitation in our community.

7. Name specific goals you would like to set for City Council to achieve over the next four years.

As a member of City Council, I recognize that on my own, I cannot attract new businesses, increase tourism revenues, or maintain town-gown relationships.  What I can do is articulate my own forward-looking vision for the city and work collaboratively with my colleagues on Council, city staff, residents and businesses to achieve this vision.

The vision I hope to pursue working with other stakeholders include the following goals:

  • Diversify our regional economy. By marketing Williamsburg’s central location, low tax rate, and quality of life, we can spur new business investment.  With the right combination of incentives, we can make Williamsburg a hub for new businesses.
  • Support and expand our tourism industry. By partnering with other local governments, local attractions, and partner agencies, we can market Williamsburg to new specialized tourist sectors.  We also need to ensure that funds spent on tourism marketing are achieving a return on investment in visitation and tourist spending in town.
  • Continue my personal efforts on town gown relations. Bring together students and residents to build relationships.  Seek opportunities for new student-focused businesses within walking distance of campus.
  • Maintain the quality of our neighborhoods through closer oversight of rental properties and cracking down on predatory landlords.
  • Build and open the fourth middle school
  • Support continued investment in our public schools to ensure that our students are receiving a top-quality education and are graduating high school both college and career ready.
  • Facilitate the redevelopment of the Williamsburg Shopping Center to bring new vitality to the mid-town area.
  • Improve transportation around the region with investments in roads, sidewalks, bus routes, and cycling lanes.
  • Maintain Williamsburg’s low tax rates and high quality of services.
  • Seek opportunities for cost-saving collaboration between localities along the same model as our regional 911 dispatch center.
  • Ensure a citizen voice in decisions that affect them and their communities.

Make Williamsburg more hospitable to young professionals by investing in businesses attractive to them, encouraging businesses to create internships and apprenticeships for young people, and providing opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs.