Gloves come off at candidates forum

Is the 2012 city election going to be about a long-dormant downtown-development issue, or about the current City Council’s decision to roll the dice on a $3.5 million parcel of land that Mayor Frank Lucente hopes will appreciate in value for resale in 20 years?

That is the question heading into the home stretch toward the May 1 elections, and it was front and center at a candidates forum hosted by the Waynesboro Senior Center on Wednesday.

Lucente used his opening statement to discuss how he and challenger and former City Council colleague Lorie Smith had voted differently on property-tax rates while they were on City Council together – with Smith voting for higher tax rates. Smith shot back later in the forum that Lucente had consistently voted against higher taxes until this past year, when he changed course and voted for increases in the city meals and lodging taxes, moves he defended as impacting visitors to the city more than city residents.

The mayor then revived a dormant issue that he has used with success in past campaigns – city funding for the Wayne Theatre renovation. Fellow incumbent Tim Williams, running for re-election in Ward A, diverted from his campaign against challenger Jim Serba to join in the attack on Smith on the Wayne issue, repeating a baseless claim from past elections that Smith had voted to have the city borrow money to fund the Wayne project.

That’s when the gloves came off.

“I am not going to give money, additional money, to the Wayne Theatre. And I am not going to blindly give $3.5 million of your money to purchase property with no plan for future return on investment,” Smith said.

The key distinction in the May 1 election, to Smith, is the different approaches of Smith and Lucente toward economic development.

“Mr. Lucente has said many times that he is not a proponent of economic development and that he really does not like planning for the future, that he would rather just get through the day. I would submit to you that that is not going to sustain our city through the long haul,” Smith said.

The decision of City Council to spend $3.5 million of taxpayers’ money on land located off Exit 96 from Interstate 64 without a substantive plan for what to do with the property is further evidence of this lack of foresight of the current city leadership.

“I would submit to you that this is not being very fiscally conservative, and it is not working to give you a return on your investment,” Smith said.


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