Shenandoah County candidates weigh in on taxes, spending

Robert Baker
S. John Massoud
Mike Wakeman
Conrad Helsley
David Ferguson
Sarah Mauck
Richard Walker
Steve Baker

Candidates running for seats on the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors provided information and responded to questions prior to Election Day.

District 2

District 2 Supervisor Steven Baker is running for a third term as a Republican. Michael Wakeman is running for the seat as an independent.

Steven A. Baker

Age: 58
Prior/current political experience or position: eight years on the Board of Supervisors
Current or most recent job (if retired): Full-time farmer and owner U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected pork processing facility
Family: wife Linda
Length of time in community: Life long resident of Shenandoah County

What specific actions would you take as a supervisor to prevent tax increases?
To keep real estate taxes low we need to make sure our tax base is balanced. One way to balance our tax base is to promote business and compatible industrial growth. Specifically, I think we can start with what has been working in the last two years. In District 2, we have promoted and supported expansion and growth of our existing businesses. Two great examples in District 2 are the recent investments made by Andros Foods and Rt. 11 Potato Chips. Once completed, these projects will generate additional jobs for workers and revenue for the county.

What department budgets would you reduce first if faced with a budget shortfall?
I think a good answer to this question depends on many variables, and the answer could change based on the variables. For example, during the budget development process, let’s say the hypothetical budget shortfall comes about because funding requests from all departments exceeds projected revenue by $500,000. Under this scenario, I would first look to reduce funding for those departments that asked for additional allocations on top of the previous year.

Would you support level funding (no increases in spending from one year to the next) for government and school board budgets if no additional revenue is expected?
Yes. Under certain scenarios and conditions I would support level funding assuming we can maintain adequate services to the citizens of Shenandoah County and meet their needs.

Michael Wakeman
Age: 54
Prior/current political experience or position: none
Current or most recent job (if retired): self-employed
Family: wife Loretta daughters Kelsey and Kaitlyn
Length of time in community: life long

What specific actions would you take as a supervisor to prevent tax increases?

We simply must practice better money management techniques that incorporate line-by-line reviews of all expenditures. We have a limited amount of tax revenue in this county and it must be used wisely. We cannot continue to increase taxes on an annual basis.

What department budgets would you reduce first if faced with a budget shortfall?

That cannot be predicted first without an objective study of all department budgets, if it could be done at all. They certainly may have to hold what they have though.

Would you support level funding (no increases in spending from one year to the next) for government and school board budgets if no additional revenue is expected?

Until tax revenue flows increase, I see no other option than level funding, other than more tax increases. The people of my district are taxed out, and they have told me as much. The elderly and the working class have been decimated and it is my intention to look out for them.

District 3

District 3 Supervisor David E. Ferguson is running for a fourth term as a Republican. Richard R. Walker is running for the seat as an independent.

David E. Ferguson
Age: 69
Prior/current political experience or position: chairman of the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors
Current or most recent job (if retired): retired from Shentel
Family: wife Janet, children David A. Ferguson and Kimberly Hitt

What specific actions would you take as a supervisor to prevent tax increases?

Taxes were not raised eight out of the last 12 years as a result of my sound management skills. There has been four tax increases in the last 12 years for a total amount of 13 cents. These tax increases were the result of three high cost areas:

• Public safety from 2004 to 2013 increased 123 percent, or $7.3 million annually for a tax effect of 17 cents.
• Public education from 2004 to 2013 increased 33 percent, or $5.5 million annually for a tax effect of 13 cents.
• State annual billing for the Virginia Retirement System. The state of Virginia increased its billing to Shenandoah County in 2013 in the amount of $2.3 million to cover shortfalls in the Virginia Retirement System. This annual billing had a tax effect of 5.5 cents.

To fully fund just these three items would have required a 35.5-cent increase in the tax rate. The tax rate for citizens of Shenandoah County only increased 13 cents during the years of 2004 thru 2014. The majority of the increase in the county operating budget and capital facility cost were covered by normal growth in tax revenue. I, like other citizens, do not want tax increases. I will continue to use my business skills and past experience to address the needs of Shenandoah County’s citizens in the most cost-effective way possible.

What department budgets would you reduce first if faced with a budget shortfall?

I do not foresee a budget shortfall if we continue to see the economic growth we are experiencing. Shenandoah County’s unemployment rate is at 3.9 percent. Since 2010 approximately 850 new jobs have been created in Shenandoah County. There has been a total of $790 million in capital investment in all businesses announced or completed over the last four years. When Shenandoah County is compared operationally or financially to other surrounding counties, we consistently show lower operating cost for all governmental departments.

What department budgets would you reduce first if faced with a budget shortfall?

I will continue to keep all departmental budgets at a responsible level so they can effectively provide their services to the Shenandoah County citizens.

Would you support level funding (no increases in spending from one year to the next) for government and school board budgets if no additional revenue is expected?

This is where proven business experience and management skills provide their biggest asset. Whether or not additional revenue is expected, some departmental budgets may justify level funding. Some departmental budgets may be reduced. Others may require increases based on their operational needs. To say there will be no increases for government or school budgets from one year to the next, without knowing what the needs will be and their effect on the citizens of Shenandoah County, is irresponsible.

Richard R. Walker
Age: 67
Prior/current political experience or position: none
Current or most recent job (if retired): Board of Directors of Seton Home Study School in Front Royal and a part-time consultant
Family: wife Pat, two sons, two grandsons
Length of time in community: 43 years.

What specific actions would you take as a supervisor to prevent tax increases?

Require a zero-based budgeting approach regarding each department to analyze both staffing and other expenses necessary for the delivery of services.

What department budgets would you reduce first if faced with a budget shortfall?

I support elimination of the use of rollback taxes to purchase development rights whether or not there is a budget shortfall. Beyond that, analysis of required services based on the analysis above would be required to determine where additional savings could be achieved. It would be premature to target any specific department without such an analysis of specific services and costs.

Would you support level funding (no increases in spending from one year to the next) for government and school board budgets if no additional revenue is expected?

I doubt seriously that “level funding” will be an option with the increases in health insurance costs seen elsewhere and the mandated pension costs of the Virginia Retirement System. I would look for ways to offset these costs, but would not sacrifice essential services to hold to a “no-increase” mantra.

District 6

District 6 Supervisor Conrad A. Helsley is running for a third term as an independent. S. John Massoud is running as the Republican candidate. Strasburg Town Councilman Robert R. “Bob” Baker and former councilwoman Sarah K. Mauck are running for the seat as independents.

Robert R. “Bob” Baker
Age: 77
Prior/current political experience or position: currently on the Strasburg Town Council
Current or most recent job (if retired): retired attorney
Family: single
Length of time in community: have owned property in Shenandoah County since 1981, and have lived in Strasburg since 1993.

What specific actions would you take as a supervisor to prevent tax increases?

The county has to be lean and smart in how it conducts its business. There are probably better and more economical ways for it to perform some of its functions. For example, both Strasburg and the county are members of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission. In the recent past, Strasburg has taken advantage of that membership by sharing personnel with the commission and receiving commission assistance in applying for and receiving grant funding.

Consideration should also be given to user service fees as an additional revenue source. One example might be equitable landfill fees.

What department budgets would you reduce first if faced with a budget shortfall?

Again, the county has to be smart. Before cutting any departmental budget the county should ensure that there is no fat or waste anywhere in the system, and, if there is, eliminate it. If this does not solve the problem, then the services that are cut should be those that would have the least adverse effect upon the quality of life.

Would you support level funding (no increases in spending from one year to the next) for government and school board budgets if no additional revenue is expected?

If there is a demonstrated legitimate and serious need and no other agreed upon solution can be reached, then the Board of Supervisors should have the intestinal fortitude to do whatever it takes to meet that need.

Conrad A. Helsley
Age: 65
Prior/current political experience or position: vice chairman of the board
Current or most recent job (if retired): retired dentist
Family: wife Esther
Length of time in community: 40 years

What specific actions would you take as a supervisor to prevent tax increases?

Over the last 10 years the board has been frugal with the tax dollars we have, and only raised taxes three times (for a state Virginia Retirement System mandate, after the shooting at Sandy Hook for public safety and for education). We have operated the county in a very effective and efficient matter so as to keep taxes at the level they are today: 1 cent higher than the lowest tax rate in the entire Shenandoah Valley. We all want to keep taxes low and I will strive to continue that process in the next four years.

What department budgets would you reduce first if faced with a budget shortfall?

Since we have had new investment in the county in the last year of over $117 million, I do not think there will be a shortfall in revenue. However, if that did occur, I think we would have to look at all departments and decide where we would cut services and still be able to manage the county in an efficient manner.

Would you support level funding (no increases in spending from one year to the next) for government and school board budgets if no additional revenue is expected?

Again, we would have to look at each department and determine their needs are, as it relates to providing necessary services to the citizens. Maybe we could save money in one area and use it in another area to equalize the budget. The key here is good financial management of our assets.

S. John Massoud
Age: 51
Prior/current political experience or position: former regional field director and convention manager for Ed Gillespie for U.S. Senate in 2014; 2013 convention floor manager for Jeanne Marie Devolites for lieutenant governor; finance director for the Sixth District Shenandoah County GOP
Current or most recent job (if retired): cice president of Arlington Blue Top Cabs and of Dulles Airport Taxi, a division of the Washington Flyer
Family: legal guardian of John, 18, who attends Liberty University, and Laila, 16, who attends Temple Baptist in Herndon, Virginia.
Length of time in community: eight years

What specific actions would you take as a supervisor to prevent tax increases?

The No. 1 thing I would do would be to work with the local Chamber of Commerce, both at the county level and town level to let them know that Shenandoah County is open for business and that we welcome entrepreneurship and economic development. The Chamber of Commerce is where many of our entrepreneurs have started and many local businesses feel disrespected by their elected officials. We need look no further than the Mayfest controversy to see examples of ill will toward local businesses by our elected officials. In addition, let us not think in terms of dividing the economic pie, but in terms of expanding the pie, just the way that John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan did. This is where I differ with my opponents. They only view things in terms of slicing the current budget. We should be expanding the size of our economy in Shenandoah Valley. Economic development is the best cure for low wages and economic stagnation.

What department budgets would you reduce first if faced with a budget shortfall?

We should not view things in terms of reductions as much as we should view things in terms of zero-based budgeting where, on an annual basis, each department head explains in detail why they need the allocations they request, and the board should proceed from there with how to spend the available dollars.

Would you support level funding (no increases in spending from one year to the next) for government and school board budgets if no additional revenue is expected?

Yes.

Sarah K. Mauck
Age: 63
Prior/current political experience or position: served two terms on Strasburg Town Council
Current or most recent job (if retired): food service manager for the Catholic Diocese of Arlington at a Spiritual Retreat center in Frederick County
Family: married with two children and grandchildren
Length of time in community: grew up in and around Strasburg; commuted to Washington, D.C., for 17 years; operated a business in Strasburg from 1997-2007

What specific actions would you take as a supervisor to prevent tax increases?

There are only a few ways to increase revenue in our community: raise taxes or fees, which should always be the last alternative, or increase industry. Industry has many different definitions: right now tourism and agriculture are our biggest industries. We need to expand on those two; tourists want an authentic experience and farmers need consistent outlets for their products. We also need to create more than just opportunities for unique businesses; we have to go out and woo them to our area. Investors have specific criteria for their industry; let’s work together – towns and county – to improve on them.

I cannot answer the budget cut question or the level funding question at this time. Again it is about learning all the details and not pre-guessing at this point. But I can say that for eight years on council I voted not to increase taxes and we worked hard to reduce spending. We had increases for water and sewer service improvements which are/were mandated by the State (and I can only assume more Department of Environmental Quality mandates are on the horizon). We chose to slowly spread the service increases over a couple years so as not to overburden citizens with a huge jump in fees all at once.

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

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