District 5 candidates speak at forum

Dennis Morris

Note: This is the first part of a forum held for District 5 Board of Supervisors candidates.

STRASBURG – Candidates running for the District 5 seat on the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors squared off in a forum last week.

District 5 Supervisor Marsha Shruntz seeks a second term on the board. Former supervisor Dennis Morris is challenging Shruntz. Shruntz is running as an independent while Morris serves as the Republican Party candidate. Morris and Shruntz appeared at the forum held Thursday at the Toms Brook Volunteer Fire Department hall with several dozen people in the audience.

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.

Kerry Crawford, a political science teacher at James Madison University, served as moderator and allowed each candidate to give an opening statement before she read questions submitted by audience members before the forum. At times, Crawford had to remind participants they could not ask each other questions. Crawford warned candidates on several occasions that they exceeded their time for responses or rebuttals.

Marsha Shruntz

Candidates responded to the following questions from Crawford:

 

Do you support the long-term plan accepted by the School Board to go to two high schools and to dismantle the current campus community configuration of our schools?

Shruntz – The School Board’s decision to accept the DeJong-Rickart plan for the long-term plan for our county and the school system is beyond ridiculous. It’s the worst plan ever imagined for our county. It would dismantle the campus concept. They want to tear down the plan itself. They want to tear down schools and build new ones. This is ridiculous. I don’t even know why it was considered in the first place and for the School Board to accept such a plan is beyond me. I would never even consider voting for anything like that and I don’t think county citizens and parents – I don’t think it would ever be imagined at all. And that’s the way I feel about DeJong-Rickart and their long-term plan. Not only does it promote 188,000 – $188 million – Who do you think would pay for that? I got news for you. The county citizens would pay for every penny of that.

Morris – During my years on the board I’ve been through a number of building programs – the schools; a number of the schools renaming; renovations. And I commend and applaud the School Board for at least looking at a long-term plan. That plan should be a working document. Should be a document that we look at. One of my concerns, two concerns, well the first concern – I don’t think the public had a distinct honor or having time to get input as to what they may or may not want for the school building program. The No. 2 concern, if we’ve got some overcrowding schools in our county that we need to address sooner than later. So I’m not saying I’m against the plan. I think that it was hastily done without enough public input and I think that some concerns may need to be addressed before we get down the road in regards to our overcrowding, and another issue we need to look at is the accreditation of these schools and we’ll talk more about that later. I commend the schools for looking at a plan. I’m not going to endorse it at this time because, No. 1, I don’t know all the ins and outs but also I think overcrowding in some of our schools needs to be addressed sooner than later.

Shruntz provided a rebuttal – Mr. Morris, as my opponent, why did you promote the three-campus system? Why would you promote that for all your years in office?

Crawford said candidates cannot ask questions during the forum.

Shruntz – Well, that’s my statement. Mr. Morris promoted the campus concept for all his years in office and all of a sudden he wants to go along with the long-term plan of the consultants. I don’t think so.

Morris provided a rebuttal – I think if my opponent had done her homework, you know these campus concepts, we worked and that’s something that’s not being done today like it should be done is that we worked closely with our elected School Board. At that point in time, years ago, they were not elected. They were appointed in Shenandoah County. We worked with them and that’s not a decision that we as a board had to make or should make. That’s a School Board decision. They made a plan out and that was their thought process and at the time I thought it worked very well and I don’t see the campus issue, I mean the campus concept is a negative issue right now.

 

If elected, do you anticipate having to raise taxes next year and what rate would you consider appropriate?

Morris – We hear a lot about raising taxes and I look at it as a tool in the toolbox of an elected official. We as a board, when I was on the board, we had a lot of irons in the fire trying to, trying to give a little, take a little. But if you’re gonna have public services such as fire and rescue, public safety and education, those are the three big ones, and another thing we need to look at is economic development, sometimes you’ve got to put up the money to make that happen. I’m not proposing a tax increase. But I’m not telling you that I won’t increase taxes during the next four years. I think it’s being very unfair to you all as taxpaying citizens. I think it’s unfair to me as a board member or candidate to do that. We don’t know what our needs are. There are a lot of things we can look at and not have to use tax dollars. We look at the morale issue, there’s things we can do. Look at economic development, there’s things we can do. So am I gonna promise no taxes? Absolutely not. But at the same time, tax increases should be the last resort. You need to work out and the thing we don’t have on the board today, the thing we haven’t had on the board for the last three years and 10 months is compromise. That word has not entered a conversation during the Board of Supervisors in the last 3½ years.

Shruntz – I was elected on the basis that I will not raise taxes. In 2014 I was elected and I think I’ll be elected this time on the same stance. I will not vote to raise taxes for my next four years if elected. There are ways to cut spending. That’s what we need to promote. When the budget session starts you have to have a mindset for everyone, concerning everyone, our seniors, our constituents all through county. You have to have a mindset that you’re going to appreciate the mortgage payment for a father of three. You have to appreciate the medicine that the senior needs. I relate to my constituents and I think Mr. Morris has lost, my opponent has lost his sensitivity. He’ll vote every time to raise taxes. I guarantee it.

Morris provided a rebuttal – You know, I got accused of being the biggest tax-and-spend supervisor. But you know what? When you’re on the board for 36 years, it’s a whole lot different than being on the board for eight years. So over the course of those 36 years there’s some few times that you have to raise taxes in order to provide public services. Now my opponent, what she’s saying sound great. I’ll let y’all know something, in the year 2020, our enhanced 911 system goes obsolete. No parts. No service. That could mean an $8-12 million project in itself. You don’t do nothing else to do anything for the county.

 

If it comes up again, will you vote for or against refinancing the regional jail debt if it saves the county money?

Shruntz – The refunding, refinancing issue of the RSW Regional Jail comes up – we have the availability to do that three times a year. It’s actually dedicated to spring, fall and winter. You have that option, the board would, to do refunding and refinancing for the jail three times a year. Now this particular past vote that we did on this issue I felt that it would be $1.2 million debt increase for the refinancing that would fall on our shoulders and I did not, I did not vote for that. In the future, yes, maybe that would be appropriate. But I felt this past vote, I voted no for that.

Morris – I think of a bird in the hand, two in the bush. I want to commend the regional jail authority for being frugal. It was a complete, I mean, I couldn’t believe it. You know you have a chance to save Shenandoah County taxpayers $50,000 to $60,000 a year over a 25-year, probably a $1.4 million total at the end of the time frame and that’s just good business. Most people around here have probably refinanced their house or a business over the course of a lifetime. It’s good business practice and I think there again it goes back to personal agendas. Why didn’t you do this? You know you’re saving the taxpayers dollars right off the crack and we’re not lengthening the payment of the regional jail. It’s a 25-year payback with a $50,000 minimal savings a year. I mean it was a no-brainer and it should’ve been done and the taxpayers now are suffering because it wasn’t done.

Shruntz provided a rebuttal – I stand by what I said and Mr. Morris is wrong. He’s wrong concerning that refund, refinancing issue and the regional jail authority has time. We have time to do this. There was no rush whatsoever to rush into that and I think Mr. Morris is wrong.

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