Candidates talk spending, schools, economy
STRASBURG – Candidates running for District 6 on the Board of Supervisors responded to questions about spending, economic development and schools at a forum Tuesday.
Supervisor Conrad Helsley is seeking re-election as an independent candidate. S. John Massoud is challenging Helsley as the Republican Party candidate. Strasburg Town Councilman Robert B. “Bob” Baker and former Councilwoman Sarah Mauck are running as independent candidate.
The Shenandoah Chamber of Commerce, the Shenandoah Forum, the Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah, the Shenandoah Education Association and the Farm Bureau put on the forum at Strasburg High School. The event attracted a few dozen people, including candidates running in other local races and members Strasburg Town Council.
Audience members submitted questions just before the event. Cheri Wright, executive director of the chamber, explained before the forum that candidates could ask for a chance to give rebuttal if an opponent made a personal remark or to clarify a factual point. Each candidate gave an introduction and a closing statement and two minutes to respond to questions. Chris Boies served as moderator of the forum.
Candidates responded to the following questions:
How would you work with the Sheriff’s Office?
Helsley said the office budget has increased 22 percent compared to inflation at 8.5 percent. The public safety budget is the third highest for the county government. He said the board works very well with the sheriff.
Massoud said it’s a matter of attitude. He said the Sheriff’s Office is in a rat hole and that the county’s effort to help build a new headquarters is a long time coming.
Mauck said there needs to be a good, working relationship between the board and the sheriff. Lots of conversations need to take place between the county and the sheriff, she said, adding that there needs to 25-year plan.
Baker said he agrees on the need for a public safety building but it needs to be acknowledged that the funds are not from taxpayers but from assets confiscated from criminals. Baker noted that deputies are leaving the office for better paying jobs.
Helsley rebutted and noted that deputies receive the same raises that other county employees do.
What are the top three issues facing the county?
Massoud said the top issues facing Strasburg are high taxes, overcrowded schools, water bills and a lack of jobs. Massoud said the county needs to work with small-businesses owners. Massoud said the county has wrongly prioritized its spending.
Mauck said the top three are economic development and repeated that two more times. She said the county needs to attract more business and industry that would provide better paying jobs.
Baker said overcrowded schools, teacher pay and compensation for sheriff’s deputies. Baker said the system has lost several teachers to neighboring jurisdictions that pay more.
Helsley said the budget and what the county does with the money it has; economic development, noting that company representatives seek areas with progressive school system; and keeping rural heritage.
Massoud gave rebuttal to comments made by Helsley and Baker, saying that one principal told him that they want to use their creativity and another said economic development.
What are some opportunities for the county to cooperate with the towns?
Mauck said economic development provides such an opportunity and added that District 6 includes an industrial park that could be developed. She said cooperation could be more effective and should filter from the administration to elected officials.
Baker said one of the primary opportunities is in the field of tourism. Strasburg has a state-certified visitors center funded by the town. Another is in New Market. Baker said the county should work with the towns to boost tourism in the other towns. Baker said the county also could work more with the town to develop the industrial park.
Helsley said the county’s more than willing to help the town develop the industrial park but noted that Strasburg is driving that development since its annexation. Helsley noted that he meets often with Mayor Timothy Taylor to discuss town and county matters.
Massoud said he agrees on the importance of economic development but added that he and his opponents might not agree who can get it done. He cited his experience running a business that involves hiring employees.
Mauck rebutted, noting that the tourism money goes to the visitors’ center while the county promotes the town through mailings.
What makes you the better candidate for the board of supervisors?
Baker said he has a different perspective on some issues and cited his experience in practicing law.
Helsley said he has worked well with other supervisors and he tries to analyze the board’s actions, particularly on spending.
Massoud said he has been talking with other people in the community. Massoud said he made a promise to understand what’s important to residents. He added that he’s heard from residents who complain that they don’t hear back from their supervisors. He noted that some people claim the board is dysfunctional.
Mauck said politics is dysfunctional. Mauck said she served two terms on council and felt she did a good job.
Baker rebutted Massoud, noting that he has not received calls from Massoud.
What should the county look like economically and demographically in 10 years?
Helsley said the county should retain its rural areas, bring the residential neighborhoods closer to the towns and utilities. The county also should work to attract industries but also provide amenities.
Massoud said the county and the district should look like a rural paradise that appreciates its small businesses.
Mauck said she envisioned an area that attracts tourists who spend money but don’t stay and thus would not require services that cost the taxpayers.
Baker said he, as Strasburg’s representative on the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission, recalled a meeting in which a demographer indicated the area would focus on retirees and health care.
Do you have confidence in the school system?
Massoud said yes, recalling how impressed he felt with schools he visited. Massoud reiterated that principals did not ask for raises. Massoud criticized the school system for spending too much on new radios for buses.
Mauck said no, noting that the issue is national. She said the United States doesn’t compete as well as other countries in math and science. Mauck said government control of schools doesn’t always do a good job to inspire children.
Baker said yes, adding that he feels the system has talented teachers and students. He added the system does the best it can with the money provided by the Board of Supervisors.
Helsley said yes, noting that the system is dealing with aging buildings. Helsley questioned Massoud’s comment about principals not asking for raises. Helsley added that the School Board ultimately decides how to spend the money provided by the supervisors.
Massoud rebutted and said that the principal indeed said he didn’t want a raise.
Do you support additional staff in a department if that department generates revenue and demonstrates a need for more employees?
Mauck said yes, citing the work of the county’s Office of Community Development, specifically in the area of economic development. She would support such a move if the department was paying for itself and benefits the county.
Baker said yes but the matter would need to be fully investigated.
Helsley said yes if the revenue increases as a result of the hiring.
Massoud said no, stating that the private sector should drive the economic engine. The government can create an atmosphere to inspire the private sector.
What will you do to ensure that the School Board and county departments provide you with accurate and timely information to make budget decisions?
Baker said administrative staff should be provided with timely and adequate information. If they don’t, the board can take action that could include hiring a new county administrator.
Helsley said the county begins the budget creation process with the administration that meets with department leaders. The School Board comes to the Board of Supervisors in the spring, Helsley said. He said he thinks the process is done in a timely manner.
Massoud said he doesn’t believe people can trust government staff to spend the money in the budget. Rather, the Board of Supervisors’ job is to provide oversight of spending. The board needs to ensure money for the School Board goes to the classrooms and not wasteful spending programs.
Mauck said supervisors should talk to the School Board to hear about their needs.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org