Supervisor-elect Morris doubles down on campaign promises

Dennis Morris, Shenandoah County's District 5 recently elected supervisor, speaks during a legislative luncheon held at the Wayside Inn on Wednesday. The event was sponsored by the Strasburg Chamber of Commerce. Rich Cooley/Daily

MIDDLETOWN – At his first public event since regaining his seat on the Board of Supervisors, Dennis Morris echoed his campaign promises and continued to push for economic development in Shenandoah County.

“We’ve got to look at ways to diversify the tax base and not put all the marbles on real estate tax,” he said.

Morris said he believes this can be accomplished by enticing industry to the area, investing in the school system and appointing an economic development director for the county.

“We need a full-time economic development director to go out and be a bulldog. We need to go to trade shows, we need to promote Shenandoah County,” Morris said. “Warren County, Frederick County, Rockingham County – they’re eating our lunch.”

Morris spoke at the Strasburg Chamber of Commerce’s inaugural legislative networking luncheon Wednesday, an event that offers a chance for chamber members to interact directly with local, state and federal legislators.

The economic message Morris pushed at the luncheon differed greatly from that of Marsha Shruntz, who unseated Morris after his 36-year tenure on the Board of Supervisors. During her four years in office, Shruntz consistently voted against tax increases alongside supervisors Cindy Bailey and Richard Walker.

Morris, by contrast, believes tax increases are necessary for economic prosperity.

“People don’t mind spending money if it’s spent to the fullest,” Morris said Wednesday. “If it’s spent the right way, and it goes for the right reason and it’s spent wisely, it’s not a cost. It’s an investment.”

Echoing his campaign message, Morris stressed the importance of welcoming industry to the area to diversify the tax base, alleviating pressure on the real estate tax. However, the county’s problems went deeper than ideological differences, Morris said, and much of the issue rested on the previous board’s unwillingness to work together.

“Shenandoah County has kind of been stagnating because of the lack of respect and compromise over the past four years,” Morris said. “You don’t go in there saying, ‘It’s my way or the highway.’ You need to respect the people that you serve, you need to work with the department heads of county government, and that has not been done. And it’s a sad situation, because I know what Shenandoah County and the Shenandoah Valley have to offer.

“When I get in office, the Rs, the Ds, the Is go away. I’m there to serve the taxpaying citizens of Shenandoah County.”

Middletown Mayor Charles Harbaugh also spoke, sharing his experience with an economy on a smaller scale.

With tourism such a vital part of the Middletown economy, Harbaugh detailed the success of the Luminaries festival and the growth of the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park, but also the blow the community felt after a pipe bomb was discovered at the annual reenactment of the Battle of Cedar Creek, shutting down the event prematurely.

“All year long … you just sit and worry about the weather. Then you get a good day and then you can’t do anything with it,” Harbaugh said. However, despite the event being closed to spectators, the performers did still reenact the battle Sunday morning. “They got in the middle and they sang their songs, ‘Dixie’ and they sang ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’ You know, it was really emotional and it was really cool for both sides to be able to come together and make the most out of a bad situation.”

Harbaugh also reflected on his managerial role in the town, saying that the greatest challenge he faces on the job is managing personalities and people.

“‘You guys didn’t come pick the lawn and leaf bags up,'” Harbaugh said, imitating a disgruntled resident. “And it’s like, ‘OK, where you live? I’ll just go pick it up.’ You know what I mean? Because it’s a fight you don’t need to have.”

Strasburg Chamber of Commerce President Rich Orndorff said that while this luncheon focused on local officials, he anticipates Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, will appear at the next meeting and other state and federal representatives to follow in the future.