Inside the Beverley Manor District race
The Top Story by Chris Graham
Jim Bailey announced his retirement from Augusta County politics earlier this year, leaving the Beverley Manor District seat on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors an open seat.
The contenders for the seat – Democrat Lee Godfrey and Republican Jeremy Shifflett – answered questions on the issues of the day in Augusta County in separate interviews with “The Augusta Free Press Show.”
The big issue of 2006 – involving the proposed industrial megasite in Weyers Cave that had the interest of Toyota as the possible location for a new automobile-assembly plant – has been a hot topic of discussion in the county in 2007.
We asked the candidates their thoughts on the 2006 issue and how it was handled – and how they would handle any future megasite issues should they present themselves in the future.
“As a supervisor, it’s my job to talk to anybody who wants to come into Augusta County and do business. However, it’s also my job to let them know that my first loyalty is to my constituents,” Godfrey said. “So if a company wants to come and talk to me, absolutely right, I will talk with them.
“But I will take into consideration the comprehensive plan – it is a plan that was written by the citizens, it’s what they want to see in this county. As far as industry goes, that plans does call for small- to medium-sized industry. So that’s what I would be aiming for,” Godfrey said.
“The megasite down there, I didn’t quite agree with it,” Shifflett said. “From what I heard, that was going to turn into Augusta County’s largest employer – I heard the range of anywhere from 2,000 up to 4,000 jobs. And my concern with it was, one, it was money for infrastructure. We were going to have to widen the roads down there. We were going to have to purchase land, extend water and sewer lines. I always grew up with the belief that you never put all your eggs in one basket. And with one large industry like that, being the number-one employer, it would be the basis of economic activity throughout the county.
“With Ford and GM and their current financial situation, who’s to say that in five, six, seven years, the board of supervisors would have a press release that says, Toyota is now going through restructuring, doing whatever, and they were going to have to close the plant down there? Now we’ve 2,000, 3,000, jobs that people are without, and what’s going to happen with that unemployment?” Shifflett said.
“The megasite may come back up again in the future. We’re always trying to attract new industry into Augusta County,” Shifflett said. “But the first thing on there is Augusta County is always going to have to rebuild its image as a locality that can be trusted. Businesses want their negotiations with localities held in confidence and not sheer secrecy. Augusta County – I didn’t agree with the way they handled that. A lot of people in the county over there didn’t even know about the megasite out there. People out in the county that are citizens of the towns didn’t know about it.
“It would have been good if they would have come out and let us know something – that an industry was looking to locate in Augusta County, when we get more details at this time, we’ll release them out to the public,” Shifflett said. “Or they could have said with the expenditure of our tax dollars on that secret study that they’d done, they could have let us know something about it – again, they could have said, A business is looking at our locality, and they’d like to do a study to see if it would be compatible with the area and if we could benefit from it. Just to let us know something, instead of keeping us in secret on that.
“I’m always a big proponent for fair government and open government,” Shifflett said.
Beverley Manor is perhaps the most urban district in the county – which means that its supervisor is busy dealing with development issues.
We asked the candidates their thoughts about development in Beverley Manor.
“We’ve got people that’s born in Augusta County every day. We’ve got people that’s moving to Augusta County every day. They’re certainly going to want housing, and they’re going to need jobs,” Shifflett said.
“My approach on it is to keep the growth in the urbanized areas, as our comp plan stated. The water and sewer is there. The roads are there. Literally the infrastructure that we as taxpayers have paid for in the past is there. Let’s get a return on our tax dollars and use it,” Shifflett said.
“I am in favor of denser growth. I’m not one to have dense growth where houses are stacked on top of one another – where you can reach out your house and knock on your neighbor’s door over there. If we keep the growth in the urbanized areas, we can greatly reduce the pressure that’s facing our rural areas in terms of development,” Shifflett said.
“People say that they want to save farmland, and they want to save open space – but they don’t want to go through denser growth. They want to use open lots,” Shifflett said. “So my scenario on it is the county, on average, issues about 500 building permits – so you’ve got 500 houses that’s going to be built in Augusta County. Well, if you want to save the open space, you’re going to want to put them on, let’s say, five-acre lots. Well, that takes up 2,500 acres of land. If we used a little bit denser growth, let’s say half-acre lots, now we only have to use 250 acres for those 500 homes. You’ve just saved 2,250 acres of farmland, and you’ve got 2,250 acres of open space.
“The Beverley Manor District is growing. It is one of the most urbanized areas in the county. And it is located – we’ve got the interstate that runs through, we’ve got the interchange that is here in the Beverley Manor District there just outside of Staunton. And it’s certainly going to be a possibility that it’s going to be growing in the future,” Shifflett said.
“Beverley Manor is definitely slated for a lot of the intensive growth,” Godfrey said. “What I foresee is developments there, subdivisions that are probably going to be of higher densities than this county is usually used to. Put in the right place, I think that’s the right way to go.
“I just see that the densities are going to be tighter. Of course, that way, you put more people where you want them, so that they’re not putting the pressure on the rural parts of the county. There are some rural parts of my district and some open space in my district – and I certainly want to protect that,” Godfrey said.
“What I would like to see is the county hire a consultant to help us with our economic-strategy development plan,” Godfrey said. “I think we need somebody who has some expertise, who knows how to talk to businesses outside of this county, and can attract them to our area. It’s a global economic world that we live in – so we need the expertise of a person who knows how to deal at that level.
“I would love to see business come into the Mill Place industrial park – and also there’s a lot of groundwork that’s been done at the Neff industrial-business park. I would like to see some businesses come in there. And of course those businesses would contribute to our tax base – and that would be wonderful,” Godfrey said.
Which brings us to the issue on everybody’s minds – taxes.
The county’s 58-cent property-tax rate has been in place since the 1990s. The question that we asked the candidates relative to taxes is – can the county do a better job of managing its spending so as to reduce the burden on county taxpayers?
“I think the county’s doing a pretty darn good job now,” Godfrey said. “I know they try to be as efficient as possible – and absolutely I’m all for that. We do have the lowest tax rate – and you’re right, when I go door to door, people are very concerned about the increase in their tax bill. We all got that letter just last week, so we’ll be looking for the new bill to come out.
“It really is important to get some good businesses into the county,” Godfrey said. “Businesses contribute a lot to the taxes that we take in. Certainly some of those taxes go to the state, but some of that trickles back down. It just behooves us to have good, solid businesses in this county.
“I’m going to come back to hiring somebody to help us get those businesses into the county. Certainly, you have to pay for somebody to do that – and I know that there are some people that aren’t comfortable with that. The amount that I’ve heard thrown around is about $100,000. But anybody in business knows that you have to spend money to make money. So for me, I see that as an investment,” Godfrey said.
“I don’t foresee any reason to raise the tax rate from 58 cents. I know Tracy Pyles talks about dropping it back down to 56 cents, and perhaps that’s something we’ll look at. But I think for the time being, the county’s doing a good job of spending the taxpayers’ money as efficiently as possible,” Godfrey said.
“Taxes is a big concern with me,” Shifflett said. “The county is doing a good job at the expenditures over there. They’re continuing to prioritize between their wants and their needs – and I intend to bring that to the board also, to keep the priorities set on there.
“One’s property is going to increase in value. That’s what property is. It’s an investment. It does go up in value,” Shifflett said. “How we can relieve that tax burden on the individual property owner is to keep that property tax low. Right now, the county is able to pay all of its bills on 56 cents per $100 in the tax rate. We do have a surplus there. And some people think that just because we have that surplus on there that we should spend that money. Well, we need to keep prioritizing, because we don’t know what the future holds.
“When the federal government or state government mandates something that the county has to do, it doesn’t matter whether it’s going to cost Augusta County a hundred dollars or a hundred million – we’ve got to find that money somewhere. And if we keep continuing the prioritizing of our needs and our wants out here and the expenditures of our tax dollars, we can reduce the burden simply by keeping the tax rate low,” Shifflett said.
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.