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Ashby wants to chart Staunton on new fiscal course

Story by Chris Graham

Rusty Ashby is concerned about the fiscal future of the Queen City.
“I think it’s acquired a lot of debt over the last few years, and I think there’s going to be some real infrastructure needs – with roads, with water and sewer, those things that people don’t like to talk about. And given the shape of the economy right now, I think the next couple of years that it’s going to take a lot of work to keep the real-estate taxes at a reasonable level while providing the services that the citizens expect,” said Ashby, a candidate for one of the open seats on Staunton City Council being contested in the May city elections, in an interview on today’s “Augusta Free Press Show.”

Ashby, a financial advisor who served on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors for six years before moving to Staunton in 2002, said fiscal issues have been at the top of the list of concerns of the city voters that he has met in the process of gathering signatures on his candidacy petition.

“I don’t know if I want to say they’re angry, but they’re very upset about the spending in the last couple of years,” Ashby said, referring to spending on projects related to improvements in the downtown district and other parts of the city.

“I know back in my earlier time, I always said, Well, government should run like a business. First of all, government can’t run like a business, because there’s not a CEO who says, Do it this way, or I’ll fire you, or I’ll be fired. You’ve got a lot of chiefs in government, so you’ve got to learn how to work together and compromise and just realize what your goal is. But at the same time, when you’re spending taxpayers’ dollars, it seems like to me no one is looking at what is the return going to be on this. And I keep hearing that down the road this is going to provide tax dollars, but I’m not seeing it anywhere at this point. So any kind of spending like that, I would have to see return on tax dollars,” Ashby said.

“2009 is the next reassessment, and it’s going to be interesting to see what they do. I think if they raise the price of the houses, people are going to be upset, because they’re going to say that the price that they can sell it for is going down. But I’m sure the city has incurred additional costs during those two years, so they’re going to be looking to try to increase the revenues. I just think they should be looking toward 2009 and thinking, What things can we do to cut so that when that comes, we’re not going to be faced with a real difficult decision of raising property taxes after we just reduced them,” Ashby said.

While a member of the county board of supervisors, Ashby was instrumental in getting the county and its two city neighbors, Staunton and Waynesboro, to sit at the table to talk about areas where they could share the burden of delivering services to their residents on a regional basis. The momentum from those discussions has died down in recent years, but Ashby is vowing to renew the focus in that respect if elected.

“I will bring that back to life,” Ashby said. “Those kinds of issues, you shouldn’t be doing them only when things are tough, and that’s what happened last time – when the economy went down in the early 2000s there, and everyone was panicking. While it’s not the greatest right now, it’s not that bad, and that’s the time that we need to sit down and look at the alternatives versus a crisis situation where something has to be done immediately.”

Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.

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