District 4 candidates participate in forum

Note: This is part two of a forum held for candidates seeking the District 4 seats on the Board of Supervisors and the School Board.

WOODSTOCK – Candidates running for District 4 seats on the Board of Supervisors and the School Board responded to questions at a forum Wednesday.

Karl Roulston and Michelle Manning participated in the event held at Peter Muhlenberg Middle School in Woodstock. Manning is running unopposed to succeed School Board member Katheryn Freakley, who chose not to seek another term. Roulston is challenging Supervisor Cindy Bailey for her seat. Bailey, who is seeking a second term, did not participate in the forum.

The Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce organized the event with the Shenandoah County Education Association, the Shenandoah Forum, Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River and the Farm Bureau of Shenandoah County.

Woodstock attorney Paul J. Neal Jr. served as moderator and read questions submitted by the audience at the venue prior to the event. At times, Neal elaborated or expanded on the submissions, inserting some of his own comments regarding the topic raised as he alternated between each candidate. After providing introductions, each candidate responded to the following questions:

What’s your position regarding raising taxes to keep up with spending. A related question was asked this way: How can Shenandoah County stay relevant and on par with nearby cities and counties if we don’t raise taxes?

Roulston – So taxes is a tough discussion to have. I am not, and never have been just a throw-money-at-a-problem guy. We’ve got some tough discussions and some tough decisions that need to be made in Shenandoah County. We have school accreditation issues. We’ve got failing radios. We have a lot of things coming down the pike and I know a lot of people are afraid to hear about – It can be foreboding, the cost that could be coming down the pike. But we’re not going to fix the problem just by raising taxes. What you need to do is find out what the problem is that you’re trying to address. An example could be the accreditation of the schools. Why are we not accredited? What do we need to fix that? We don’t necessarily need to raise taxes and magically think it’s going to get fixed. That’s no answer. That’s no way to approach this problem. Find out what the problem is. Now that might require a tax raise to implement the solution. But at least we’ll know what we’re spending our money for and what our expectations are from spending that money. So I don’t think the answer is everyone just turn the tax dial. That is not a solution. I think it might could kill this community. We don’t have a large bucket of money in Shenandoah County and what we need to try and do is manage what we have with what we have before we start talking about raising taxes. The counterpart to that is how do we stay relevant? We stay relevant by addressing what Shenandoah County needs. I don’t, I don’t care what the tax rate is in the neighboring county. I care about what I need in my county to make it a place that I want to live and raise my family and have my kids get a good education. That defines what my tax base is; not what the neighboring counties are doing with their taxes. So we need to figure out what Shenandoah County wants to be and then what it will take to get there. If we don’t have enough money to do that then we have to have another tough discussion. Do we want to raise taxes to accomplish this or not? But it is not a just raise the taxes and hope the tax fairy is gonna fix everything because that – we all hate paying taxes. We like it, we still hate it but we like it a little bit more if we know what we’re getting for our tax dollars and know what the expectations and the money being spent accomplished for us. So hopefully I answered both of those and, if not, it’s all I got.

W.W. Robinson Elementary School and North Fork Middle School are not accredited. What needs to be done to help those schools reach being accredited and then as a part of that, is there a problem, if we do things to reach the point of being accredited, are we taking resources away from something else that’s important to the education of the children, which is the main mission, because, at times we chase the result like the Standards of Learning there’s an accusation that the teachers are teaching to the test and so the focus might not be what you want them to be educated on.

Manning – Some of it goes back to what Karl just said that identifying where the actual problem lies is key to being able to begin to remedy the situation. I’m not on the School Board. I’m not privy to all of the information other than the blanket statement of what we have lost. But if we are to go forward, it’s imperative that we identify it and also make a plan to make sure that it doesn’t happen again because a Band-Aid fix, a quick fix is not going to be lasting and we’re just going to end up in the same place again five, 10 years from now, however long it takes. But there is also that component that we have to meet these state mandates and it sometimes seems to tie the hands of the administrators and teachers. It’s a little damned if you do, damned if you don’t and it actually harkens much to a conversation I had with an educator yesterday that wants to do right by the children but isn’t allowed to do right by the children and I understand that much of our funding, if we don’t check all these boxes, we stand to lose money and so there’s so many moving components that are inherently balanced on another, that it’s not just a single solution problem. I hope that in the four years that I am on the School Board that we find the answer to that solution and can solve that problem long term.

Do you have any strategies that you are considering or have thought about to help diversify the revenue stream and perhaps lessen the burden on homeowners in the county? What strategies would you have, considering some localities give land and other perks to businesses that bring higher paying jobs and revenue, which serve as competition for increasing the tax base? Or are there strategies other than increasing the tax base to diversify the revenue stream?

Roulston – I am 100 percent open-minded in any discussion about economic development. But I do think there are things that we must fix in our own house before economic development will happen and, it might be controversial, but I believe that with failing schools you’re not going to attract businesses to the area. It’s the first thing that families look for when they look to buy a new home. It’s no different with businesses. If I’m going to locate a business some place, I’m not going to move any part of my company to an area that doesn’t have good schools. I also think that we need to do a better job communicating countywide across everything. I think we need to fix our morale problem. I think we need to do a better job working and collaborating together and when we get those things in order then I think we can really focus on economic development. What we have our best foot forward right now is tourism coming in because at least that brings people here to see what Shenandoah County is. It really shouldn’t be a hard sell getting somebody to come to this area. It’s beautiful. It is a jewel. It is one of the most wonderful places to reside in in the country. We just need to fix our internal difficulties and put our best foot forward to get those businesses interested in coming here. As far as specific ideas, I have no problem developing the economic development level 5 facility for people to move in. But until we get those other things resolved, nobody’s gonna come do that. So we need to keep enticing the tourism dollar. We need to keep bring those people in and I think that we need to get an economic development position, a full-time economic development position, one that is actually somebody who knows and has that Rolodex of people that are in that game.