North River supervisors candidates address the issues

The Top Story by Chris Graham

Charles Curry stepped down from the North River District seat on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors in 2000 – but before he retired from county politics, he endorsed Mount Solon farmer Larry Howdyshell to be his successor.
Now seven-plus years later, Curry is back on the political scene – challenging Howdyshell for the North River seat.
The Augusta Free Press talked with both candidates this week – in preparation for their Oct. 23 forum at the Augusta County Government Center being sponsored by the AFP and The New Dominion.
We addressed questions to both on three main issues of discussion – the controversy over a proposed Weyers Cave industrial megasite that was on the table for consideration last year, agriculture-industry development in Augusta County, and the management of the county budget.

  

Issue – The Megasite

Howdyshell, a Republican, said last year’s discussion of the proposed megasite, which had the interest of Toyota as the possible location of a new auto-assembly plant that ended up being built in Mississippi, “got off-base when the confidentiality was broken, and information got out before we even had good information to deal with.”

“Everybody talks about the megasite, or the megastudy or whatever you want to call it, but there was two other parts to that thing – that was a three-part study to what would work in that area. And we never got – well, I think the first part would have been a large facility, that was pretty much not going to happen; and then to look at the other parts, we weren’t allowed to go ahead and do the study and see what we could accomplish over in there,” Howdyshell said.

“But the study was good – it identified some deficiencies in that area that will have to be dealt with before a whole host of things that may happen. There’s a lot of industry that is targeted – with the rezoning around the airport. There’s a lot of things happening there in that area, and it is a hot zone,” Howdyshell said.

Curry, an independent who was a Republican when he served on the board for 12 years between 1988 and 2000, feels the megasite issue will continue to be a source of controversy in the county “if the current board continues intact – because there’s been a majority of that board that supports the megasite and has not indicated that they’ve changed from that position even though there’s been serious county opposition.”

“I think that it is a major issue in this campaign,” Curry said. “It is the reason why citizens came to me and asked me to consider running – and it’s the reason that I told them that if they got signatures to get me on the ballot, I’d be their candidate, because I share the views.

“I don’t feel a majority of the board has been responsive to the citizens on this issue – because the comprehensive plan dating back to ’94 stated that the county citizens wanted moderate-sized industry and smart development and growth that was going to be managed and paced. And that certainly doesn’t fit the bill – and so when they spent over a half-million dollars to study that megaindustry site, and the opposition that it brought forth from the citizens, I think that certainly is the reason why a number of candidates have entered this race,” Curry said.

  

Issue – Agricultural Development

Curry served as the chair of an agriculture task force appointed by the board of supervisors that issued a report on the county agriculture industry earlier this year.

“Leading from the megasite issue to the ag task force, I think the two issues are in direct opposite relation to one another – and that’s one of the conflicts that concerns me,” Curry said. “We had 32 recommendations in the ag task force – which was commissioned by the board of supervisors – and a number of them have been implemented. And I commend the board for doing that – including the hiring of an agriculture director and establishing an ag industry council.

“That council recommended that a purchase-of-development-rights program be initiated – and the board did not support that,” Curry said. “There are a number of other issues that are being worked on – so I think it’s moving along, but there are a lot of other recommendations that came forth from that citizen group that have not been implemented, and all of them, I’m aware, are in the job description of the ag-development director that he is counseled to address. So at some point I suppose they will all reach the board of supervisors for further action.

“To establish a huge industry that will bring lots of folks in and increase the pressure – the residential-development pressure – on our ag land would certainly be incompatible with preserving our vital agriculture industry,” Curry said.

Howdyshell thinks the county didn’t do a good job in the past of integrating the ag industry into its overall economic-development planning.

“We talk about agriculture being the baseline for the county’s economy, but some of our ordinances restrict very heavily what we are allowing agriculture to do. And this is one thing I’d like to address in the future,” Howdyshell said.

  

Issue – The County Budget

Specifically, we asked the candidates their position on maintaining the county’s current 58-cent property-tax rate or even working toward tax cuts in the future.

“This is a constant goal of mine – being fiscally responsible,” Howdyshell said. “The last time we had a reassessment, I tried to bring it down two cents, but it seemed like the mindset is to do more programs. We need to take care of our basic needs first and overall, but then we need to look at the population. They are having a struggle – people not having any well-paid jobs, senior citizens on fixed incomes. There’s a host of things we need to be aware of – and just to create more tax burden, we need to look at that very seriously, how we handle the county’s finances.”

“Certainly that’s central to the whole plan of everything and all the decisions that are made by the board of supervisors – is the tax rate. And you’re correct – it’s been 58 cents, it was that when I was on the board, and we worked very hard to maintain that, and I would continue to work hard not to increase that tax rate. Because I don’t believe that real-estate taxes are the most desirable taxes in the world. They certainly don’t help our agriculture industry, nor other businesses as well that have to pay them,” Curry said.

“As far as residences are concerned, people who live in a home and are not operating a business or a farm are getting a pretty good deal with 58 cents – because it does not pay for the services that they use in terms of, and I’m speaking in general now, as far as schools and the emergency services and libraries and recreation and all of those things.”

“A large industry coming into the area would certainly put pressure on that tax rate,” Curry said.

“We’re growing at the rate of about a thousand houses a year – and most people that I speak to think that our growth rate is probably pretty good, and would like to stabilize it, and not inject a major increase there. But a major increase there would be created by a megaindustry – which would certainly put major pressure on that 58-cent tax rate, without a doubt,” Curry said.

     

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


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