Money issues dominate Staunton candidates forum
Story by Chris Graham
It wasn’t quite four-on-Carl Tate, but you could get that idea.
“I’m running because I want to put a new perspective in City Hall. I believe that young people need to be represented in City Hall. I believe that conservatives need to be represented on City Council,” said Tate, the only non-incumbent in the race for the four open seats on Staunton City Council, at a candidates forum hosted by the Staunton Senior Center on Thursday.
Free read from AFPTheMagazine.com. Includes a story by Chris Graham and video of the opening statements and answers to two of the questions posed at the forum of the four candidates.
Tate has tried to make waves in the race by touting endorsements from state Republican leaders and signing a no-tax pledge. He told the small crowd at the Senior Center that he wants to push back on the city real-estate tax rate and that he advocates delaying increases in stormwater fees that are going to pay for improvements to the stormater-management system in Staunton.
Tate also said the city may have to look at laying off some city staff in order to maintain core services,” Tate said.
The city actually has taken a step of that nature, instituting a job freeze two years ago that is ongoing as City Council deals with a cut in state aid to localities that is affecting Staunton to the tune of $4 million in the upcoming budget year.
“The people of Staunton have played their part. They have paid their dues. They have taken care of things. It is the state that has created the shortfall,” said Bruce Elder, who is finishing his first term on City Council.
Elder talked up how the Council has worked to maintain the city property-tax rate at its current 90 cents per $100 assessed value – and pointed to the impact that the cut from the state could have had on local families.
“In order to make up for a $4 million tax cut from the state, we would have had to raise taxes 18 cents – our real-estate tax rate would have had to have gone up 18 cents. Through an amazing budget process, we were able to maintain the same tax rate in Staunton,” Elder said.
There is a “fine line between taxing for the sake of taxing and having a tax which is an investment. To provide the fire department and police department and schools, the roads and the street lights, the snow removal and the trash pick-up, all of those things,” first-term City Councilwoman Carolyn Dull said.
“You have to have investment by the citizens of the city in order to provide the services that everyone wants and needs,” Dull said.
The current approach in City Hall, according to Mayor Lacy King, is “maintenance mode to maintain the core services – and the core services are public safety, police and fire, public schools and our infrastructure.”
“I think during these difficult times that those are the things that we need to prioritize because that’s what we’re going to have to focus on to get through,” King said.