The Free Enterprise Forum has been holding campaign forums for the Albemarle Board of Supervisors since at least 2005 and I’ve been involved with many of them either as an independent or as a writer for Charlottesville Tomorrow.
Earlier this year, City Council Candidate Dashad Cooper did not attend a forum in the spring, dropping out at the last minutes. In late September, all five candidates on the ballot of the Board of Supervisors were invited to a forum co-hosted with NBC29 but the challenger in the White Hall District declined to attend.
Brad Rykal also did not attend the Senior Statesmen campaign forum held on October 11.
“The [Free Enterprise Forum] and Senior Statement [forums] didn’t happen because I have been focusing on community events in my district and in my backyard here in Crozet,” Rykal wrote in response to an email I sent him.
Rykal said he could not attend the Free Enterprise Forum because he was meeting with people about an upcoming Planning Commission public hearing.
The four candidates candidate who did participate in the Free Enterprise Forum/NBC29 event were first asked to give an opening statement. Here’s a selection from Mike Pruitt, the only candidate on the ballot in the Scottsville District. He said he grew up in South Carolina, moved around the United States a lot in the U.S. Navy , but never felt home until arriving in this community.
“When I moved here to Albemarle to retrain as a civil rights attorney, this was the first opportunity I had to build the kind of roots in a community that I cared about and wanted to stay,” Pruitt said. “What I’ve increasingly become worried about is that that is not an opportunity that is afford to everyone. Not everyone who grows up and comes of age in our community anymore is still able to afford to stay here and not everyone who works here has the opportunity to make this their own home.”
Supervisor Bea LaPisto-Kirtley did not face an official challenger in her first race for the Rivanna District but she does this second time around. In her opening statement, she did not address anything that she’s achieved in the past four years, nor did she give specifics on what she would do in another term. Instead, she gave an overview of her career in California before retiring to Albemarle County.
“I was a principal, I was a director in charge of 24 elementary schools when I retired,” LaPisto-Kirtley said. “I’m proud to say that my life has been one of public service.”
The public service included 20 years as a City Councilor in Bradbury, California, a community with a 2020 population of 921 according to the U.S. Census.
Newcomer T.J. Fadeley said he’s running to provide an alternative choice for Albemarle.
“A lot of people have asked me why I’m running,” Fadeley said. “The answer is to give Albemarle residents an alternative to increasing taxation and ever-growing government, to put the brakes on excessive spending, and to encourage a more efficient government, to work at reducing costly and unfruitful government growth in programs that show no return on investment.”
Supervisor Ann Mallek had this to say about her opponent.
“I wish my opponent were here because I and others would be interested in hearing his views,” Mallek said.
The four candidates present were asked a variety of questions including several on Albemarle’s cell tower policy, vocational education, the relationship between the Board of Supervisors and the School Board, and many more. I don’t have enough time to go through the entire event but the video is available by downloading it from DropBox.
But here’s one question about growth that’s worth a review.
“Over the last five years, Albemarle Supervisors have approved new residential projects at 58 percent of Comprehensive Plan density,” said Steve Rappaport. “Where do you see new growth happening? In denser development areas or in terms of expanding the development areas?”
Supervisor Ann Mallek said she understands the frustration many have with the approval of more residential units without adequate infrastructure.
“There would be far less pushback about new developments coming in if the people who live there now have sidewalks to push their stroller in order to get to the nearby facilities or the roads and bridges they need to get around smoothly,” Mallek said.
T.J. Fadeley said he would support expansion of the development areas in part to replace some of the land lost when the Commonwealth of Virginia purchased land for what was to have been Biscuit Run State Park.
“Modernizing frequently waived standards for urban, suburban, and rural areas,” Fadeley said. “Crossroad and transitional development areas I believe should be part of the question as well going forward for the future of Albemarle County.”
Mike Pruitt said the existing growth areas are where people want to live, but the current zoning code makes it difficult to build housing.
“I think it’s really incumbent upon the Board to really try and make it so that we streamline this process so there’s not such an onerous process that anyone who wants to invest the capital to try and expand either the commercial real estate or the housing properties in this community has to go through,” Pruitt said.
LaPisto-Kirtley said that many people in the community don’t want to live in a place at the upper ranges of the density limits.
“While we do want to have higher and denser, we get a lot of community push back,” LaPisto-Kirtley said. “A lot. The community pushback also delays the projects for the developers. That costs them money and time to the point where they are not able to build anymore because they missed out on opportunities for grants, [Federal Emergency Management Agency} funding, and things like that.”
LaPisto-Kirtley said Albemarle should continue to focus on the existing development areas but expansion will eventually have to take place. Until then, the county has to work to make the development areas work.
Questioning each other
The Free Enterprise Forum andNBC29 event offered the chance for candidates to ask each other one question. LaPisto-Kirtley asked a question of her opponent.
“He has been saying in the forums that we’ve been attending and such that he wants to cut the taxes,” LaPisto-Kirtley said. “Fifty-seven percent of our monies go to the schools. Fifteen percent goes for public health and safety. Fire, police, etc.”
The question: How much of those services would her opponent cut?
“So it would be none of the above,” Fadeley responded. “Because those are what every taxpayer looks to fund. Good education. Safe communities. So none of those. Where I would look to cut spending would be the 445 percent increase in three years on Community Development. That’s just shy of $30 million. The $1.2 million increased to Human Resources. All of that is money that can go to prioritize first responders and hiring more police.”
A little more on Community Development. The adopted budget for that department in Fiscal Year 2021 was $10,384,548, a year affected by the pandemic and an anticipated economic downturn that was not as prolonged as originally expected. (page 22 of the adopted FY21 budget)
The department’s budget for FY24 increased to $14,392,115. That’s more of a 38.59 percent increase. (page 53 of the adopted FY24 budget)
Here’s some more context for what program areas that funding actually covers from the FY24 budget.
“Community Development Administration, Planning, Zoning, Engineering, Inspections, and Economic Development Office. In addition, Virginia Cooperative Extension Service, and transit agencies such as the Charlottesville Area Transit (CAT) and Jaunt fall under this organizational area.”
Mallek asked LaPisto-Kirtley what she was proud about for her first term.
“I know Stony Point Volunteer Fire Department received an ambulance for the very first time in its history,” LaPisto-Kirtley said. “An ambulance also went to the East Rivanna station.”
Fadeley asked LaPisto-Kirtley about the transient occupancy tax which was increased to eight percent in fiscal year 2023. She said that was to match the amount charged by Charlottesville. Five percent goes to the county’s general fund and three percent goes to the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Pruitt asked his question of Supervisor Ann Mallek.
“You have served a significant time on this Board and you have a wealth of experience that folks like me can learn from,” Pruitt said. “I would love to hear what you are most proud of that you’ve accomplished in your service.”
Mallek pointed to the work she did both before being elected and in office to reform the land use taxation process which took gaining support from the agricultural community.
“The county now calls [it] revalidation in order to make sure that our property tax deferral for properties in agriculture and forestry, otherwise known as the land use program is actually run perfectly, cleanly, and accurately so that only those properties that qualify due to their productive nature,” Mallek said.
Mallek claimed her opponent wanted to make changes to the program.
Rykal was not on hand to answer that claim.
Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the October 14, 2023 edition.
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