The Top Story by Chris Graham
The torch is being passed in the Beverley Manor District in Augusta County – where the man who has represented the district on the county board of supervisors for the past five-plus years, Jim Bailey, a Republican, is retiring from local politics at the end of the current year.
The people vying for the right to replace him on the board of supervisors are as different from each other as night is from day.
One is an Augusta County newcomer and veteran political activist who would become the second Democrat on the board if elected. The other is a conservative Republican who is a local small-business owner and is 23 years old.
“Over the past years, I have seen things happen in this county that I do not agree with, such as the loss of farmland, the lack of new industry and unbridled growth. That’s why as a businessman, farmer and lifelong resident of Augusta County, I decided to run for the board of supervisors,” said Jeremy Shifflett, the Republican Party nominee and the aforementioned 23-year-old.
“I believe we must have members of the board, who provide new ideas, new insight of the present consensus, and who will seek out the right answers,” Shifflett said. “I believe that if a local government is to be efficient and beneficial to its people, it must have an arrangement of members representing all walks of life, young, old, rich, poor, businessman, farmer, et cetera. Any combination is a plus.
“This is what local government is about, to agree and to disagree with each other. But together in the boardroom, we must set our views of one another aside and put our principles, our insights and backgrounds to work for the people of Augusta County,” Shifflett told The Augusta Free Press in an e-mail interview.
Democratic Party nominee Lee Godfrey moved to Augusta County in 2004 – and has been active on the local political scene since, including organizing local rallies in conjunction with MoveOn.org.
Her interest in running for the board of supervisors is more fundamental than you might think by reading about her involvement, however limited it may be, with MoveOn.
“Looking at the comprehensive plan, I just thought it was such a well-written document with great ideas – and I just decided that to implement that, I needed to be a part of the process. And there are a lot of ways to do that, but one of the more effective ways is to run as supervisor,” Godfrey told the AFP in a phone interview.
The megasite issue
The county’s dalliance with the issue of the development of an industrial megasite that reportedly had the interest of Toyota as the possible location of an automobile-manufacturing plant last year promises to be an issue again this fall as the county-board races heat up with the changing of the leaves.
But at least in the Beverley Manor race, the two candidates have similar viewpoints on how the county should deal with industrial development in the future.
“I’d like to say that I am against a single large industry,” Shifflett said. “I grew up with the belief that you never put all your eggs in one basket. With one large industry like that, it would end up being the number-one employer, and would end up being the anchor pin to other economic growth. With Ford’s and GM’s current financial troubles, look at what the local economic impact would be if that anchor pin were pulled out and shut down?
“I am more in favor of diverse medium-size industry that is easily sustainable and environmentally friendly,” Shifflett said. “With this type of industry, the county infrastructure can readily supply its needs and utilities. Also there would be no need to divert resources from other localities and the spending of our tax dollars to purchase land, rezone, and extend and widen roads.
“We must realize that this county produces close to 1,000 new citizens each June,” Shifflett said. “It is in our best interest to insure that jobs will be there for them. We must curb the exportation of workers to other localities due to our lack of new industry. The cycle of starting out at an entry-level job and then moving up the employment ladder to long-term employment that provides a livable wage, benefits and retirement should not be unbroken.”
“The comprehensive plan was written by the citizens, and it said, We want small- and medium-sized industry,” Godfrey said.
“If Toyota or Subaru or somebody else came in and said, We want to talk to you, certainly as a supervisor it’s my job to talk to anybody who comes to this county and shows interest. But what I’m going to tell them is, You know, I just don’t see that fitting into our plan. I don’t think that’s something that the citizens want. It would bring a lot of additional growth with it,” Godfrey said.
“As a supervisor, it’s also my job to look for good-paying jobs with good benefits. But from looking at the plan and talking with people – and I’ve been talking with a lot of people – that is not something that people are in favor of,” Godfrey said.
Growth in Beverley Manor
Beverley Manor surrounds the city of Staunton on three sides – and is thus perhaps the most urban district in the increasingly suburban Augusta County.
The outgoing supervisor cautions that his successor will have to keep this in mind as he or she goes about the job of representing the district.
“We have several potential developments in the Brands Flat area, out on Barterbrook Road and into the Verona area. And we have to be pretty cautious about what we do, where we do it and how it comes to pass,” Bailey told the AFP in a phone interview.
Godfrey welcomes the growth that is coming to Beverley Manor – again pointing to the comprehensive plan that suggests that the district is a prime spot for future development.
“My district is slated for a lot of growth – and it’s where it should go. There’s water and sewer, there are roads, the deputies don’t have to drive too far into the county to answer calls here. I think that’s absolutely appropriate. It’s close to town. That’s what we’re looking for,” Godfrey said.
“I think some of what we’re seeing in the district is very positive,” Godfrey said. “For example, there’s a subdivision going in across from the Frontier Museum – and that is slated to be affordable housing. It took a long time to get access to that property – a lot of people talking, a lot of people coming to agreement, a lot of people cooperating. And it’s going through – and I think personally it’s a good idea. It’s the kind of housing that deputy sheriffs, teachers, those kinds of people, can afford. So yeah, I think there have been some very positive things going on in Beverley Manor District.”
Shifflett, for his part, thinks growth in Beverley Manor needs to be handled more intelligently.
“I believe it should be kept in these urbanized areas. The reason being, these areas already have the roads in place and county utilities,” Shifflett said. “Our tax dollars have already been spent on infrastructure in theses areas, so let’s make the most of our current infrastructure, and let’s make it beneficial.
“If we keep growth in the right areas, we can greatly reduce the development pressure facing our rural areas,” Shifflett said. “Farming to me is a reality and not just an idea. With being a native of the area, I have witnessed growth firsthand over the years. If we manage it correctly, it can be beneficial.”
Taxes, taxes, taxes
Growth pressures themselves put pressure on taxes – because for every new subdivision that goes up, for every new retail center that opens up, somebody has to pay for the water and sewer and schools and roads that are needed to service them.
But there is a possible plus side to growth.
“It always been my understanding that with growth, the local economy expands,” Shifflett said. “By growing our local economy, the tax revenues should meet our locality’s revenue growth needs. After all, people shop at local stores, seek services from local businesses, attendance grows at the farmers’ market. Their money is being put back into the local economy. Let’s not forget the county’s monthly utility fees. With additional customers to share the cost, hopefully the end result could be lower monthly fees.
“With the last tax reassessment, as painful as it was to others and myself, the county didn’t have to raise the 58-cent property tax,” Shifflett said. “In fact, the county was able to pay its bills on 56 cents. That tells me that the county is doing something right. The question is, how should that surplus money be spent? Is it going to go to our school classrooms, our law enforcement, new recreational facilities or to help pay down the county’s current debt?”
“I have a lot of constituents who are on fixed incomes – and boy, taxes are a real issue for them,” Godfrey said. “And my answer for that is, one reason we want the growth where the comprehensive plan puts it is we already have the infrastructure there. And the comprehensive plan is designed to use the infrastructure that is already there – and that always saves the taxpayer dollars.
“When you get a lot of people living in the county, and they call the deputy, and they want him to come out for some reason or the other, or emergency services, they’ve got to drive a long way – then you start to hear back from your constituents, why did it take them so long to get to me? Now you’re thinking, Well, we’ve got to add another deputy. And these things always cost the taxpayers money. You’ve got to put your infrastructure out into the county – that means you have to have more staff,” Shifflett said.
“But again, a lot of people on fixed incomes are worried about their reassessments – and are theirs going to go up?” Godfrey said. “Obviously assessments here have been going up, and people are paying more taxes. There’s not much a supervisor can do about that really – because that comes from Richmond.”
I asked each of the candidates to share something that they feel is an important issue that might be sliding beneath the local-media radar.
Godfrey’s answer: “Developers are having a hard time dealing with some of the ordinances that the county uses,” Godfrey said.
“They’re finding that it’s taking them longer to develop projects than they expected – they’re running up against some walls in county planning,” Godfrey said. “That’s not something that I can really tackle as a candidate – but when I’m a supervisor, those are my constituents, too. And that’s certainly something that I will go in and say, You know, I’m hearing this, what’s going on, how can I help these people, explain to me exactly what’s going on so I can explain it to them.”
Shifflett’s answer: “We must learn to prioritize between our wants and our needs,” Shifflett said.
“We must use common-sense solutions on the issues that arise. If we don’t, then tax increases would be the only way out of dilemmas, and only the people of Augusta County lose. Let’s get a return on our tax dollars and get our empty business parks full, and make the most out of our current infrastructure in our urbanized areas,” Shifflett said.
“We must realize the hard truth that people want to live and work in this county, and they are moving here every day, they are born here every day, and they are taking preference to our wonderful way of life. They want housing and to work at good-paying jobs. They want their children to be afforded the same. We must not deprive them of that right,” Shifflett said.
I also posed the same question to Bailey.
His answer: “The Neff industrial park (near the intersection of Interstate 64 and Va. 608 in the Fishersville area) to me is a big issue,” Bailey said.
“I would like to see that continued on in the hopes that we could develop a retail center there – as was the original intent,” Bailey said. “I know Mr. Neff had sold that – and the folks that bought it had wanted to change the zoning on it to put another housing development in there. I don’t really think we need another housing development right on top of the interstate. We do need a good commercial location to help generate some tax revenues for the county – since all the other shopping complexes basically are in the cities of Waynesboro or Staunton.
“We need something in the county, too, and I think that would be an alternative to what is currently available and what will be available there in the future in Waynesboro. I was kind of hoping – and this is the way that free commerce works, and that’s a good thing – but I was sort of hoping when this thing first started out here that the Kohl’s and the Target would be out here instead of Waynesboro, but it seems those folks want out,” Bailey said.
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.