Board candidate responds to questions at forum

MOUNT JACKSON – A Shenandoah County supervisor seeking reelection responded to questions at a candidates’ forum on Monday.

District 2 Supervisor Steve Baker participated in the forum hosted by the Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce, the Shenandoah Forum and other groups at Triplett Tech near Mount Jackson. Baker’s challenger, independent candidate Michael Wakeman, did not participate in the event.

Audience members submitted questions shortly before the forum. A chamber member and two other volunteers looked through the questions. Cheri Wright, the chamber’s executive director, made sure the questions were valuable, discarding only duplicates. New Market attorney Jim Weissenborn read the questions.

Some of the questions and Baker’s responses are as follows:

How do you plan to communicate or make yourself available for your constituents?
Baker said he listens to people, makes himself accessible and holds precinct meetings each month. Baker said he also meets with school officials and visits the campuses.

What steps do you plan on taking to ensure agriculture remains viable in the county?
Baker said agriculture is an important part of the county’s economy. The best action the county can take is to keep farmers on the land, Baker said. Without agriculture, the county would have no farmers, he added.

Do you believe the school system is adequately funded?
Baker noted the drastic cutbacks in state funding for schools that occurred about five years ago. The county has maintained funding for the system in spite of the reduction but needs remain, Baker said.

What are your top three objectives if elected?
Baker said his three objectives are to be a voice for agriculture, to follow the Comprehensive Plan and to support the school system.

How would you ensure people in your district are informed and able to give input on major county decisions?
Baker said residents can come to Board of Supervisors meetings, speak at available times on matters. Baker said he takes notes on who speaks at public hearings and what they say, and then uses the information to make his decisions.

What role did the county have in the recent decision by Mount Jackson to annex and rezone land for a development megasite?
Baker noted that the decision came as a result of an agreement between Mount Jackson and the county that created growth areas for expansion and development around towns. The agreement came about before Baker joined the board. The county had no say in Mount Jackson’s recent decision, Baker said.

Do you support the right of a farmer to place a conservation easement on his property even if the land lies in a growth area?
Baker said he does support this right.

How many times have you raised taxes; do you plan on raising them or are you looking for ways to cut spending?
The county has raised taxes three times during his tenure on the board since 2008 just as the recession hit, Baker said. Taxes remained unchanged for four years, Baker added. However, the county needed to raise taxes to cover employee contributions to the Virginia Retirement System as required by the state. The second and third increases were implemented to cover the School Board’s funding request. Baker said 75 percent of the people who spoke at the public hearing asked for tax increases.

How can we encourage volunteerism in the county?
Baker said young people need to be encouraged to volunteer with local organizations when older residents can no longer help.

What is your experience with conflict resolution and consensus building?
Baker said he’s an easy person to get along with and tries to listen and analyze. People need to reach a common ground for the benefit of the county, Baker said.

Where do you see Shenandoah County in 10 years and what will it take to get the county there?
Baker said he has been part of some of the tough decisions leaders have made that resulted in progress. The county needs to look at and plan for the future objectively, Baker said.

Do you feel the county needs more economic development?
Baker said he feels growth will come in the form of new or existing small businesses. Baker cited the county’s 3.9 percent unemployment rate and noted that companies are having a hard time filling positions.

Do you feel the county’s land use taxation program is working well or does it need improvement or modification?
Baker said the program works well to keep open space. Baker added that it costs the county less to provide services to farmland and open space than to developed properties.

What is your position on granting funds to needed positions in constitutional offices?
The county looks at funding requests each year, Baker said. He noted that some offices have seen reductions in the number of employees but they have stepped up despite being short handed.

Would you support the sheriff in his quest to build a new office and has there been any financial effect from the county’s participation in the regional jail?
Baker said the effort to build a new sheriff’s office remains in its early stages. Baker said the regional jail participation has worked well and is cheaper for the county than if it had a new facility.

The forum for candidates seeking the District 3 seats on the Board of Supervisors and the School Board takes place at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Charter House School in Edinburg.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

An earlier version of this story should have stated that Shenandoah County Supervisor Steve Baker said it costs less to provide services to open space and farmland than to developed property.