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At least four on the board say the body's direction could change drastically with new members.
Sunday, May 5, 2013
After 11 years as a Roanoke County supervisor, Mike Altizer won’t be stepping down without concern.
In thinking about the direction of the county, he has posed the same few questions.
“Are we on the edge? Could we go back 10 years? Fifteen years?” he asked. “Sure we could. It just depends on the philosophies that get elected.”
He’s not alone. At least three other supervisors described feeling nervous about the future of the board and the three seats up for grabs. Each emphasized the same plea to voters: Ask questions.
Depending upon the outcome of a May 11 firehouse primary, the temperament of the board of supervisors could change dramatically, possibly altering the path of a county that, with its services and urban footprint, has thought of itself as a city.
Whoever gets elected will have little time to adjust before their first tough decision.
By the end of their fourth month in office, the board will have tinkered with the budget — an opportunity to fulfill some candidates’ promises to cut away from a general budget that’s been repeatedly downsized in recent years.
That could mean changes to sanitation and brush pick ups, a diminished economic development team or even cuts to public safety.
“Don’t tell me you’re going to cut the tax rate — tell me what services you are going to cut,” said Supervisor Richard Flora, who also is stepping down from the board. “Be honest with people, don’t jerk them around and lead them down that primrose path.”
Then there’s storm water management, the formidable elephant in the room. Or gorilla. Supervisors have invoked both animals to describe just how intense complying with that federally mandated program will be at the local level. At an April 23 work session, officials discussed the compliance process, noting that it will take “courage” and moxie for supervisors to communicate with the public on the issue.
“I do not see any way they’re going to be able to swallow the cost of this out of the general budget,” Altizer said. “Raising taxes I really don’t like, but when you’re dealt a hand from the federal and state governments where the county is going to be fined — you have to start looking at fees.”
Supervisors and county staff have estimated the eventual cost of meeting storm water requirements in the millions of dollars. It will be a tall order for at least two candidates in the Hollins and Windsor Hills districts, each of whom has vowed not to impose new taxes.
Indeed, the county’s day-to-day operations are hardly mentioned when candidates shuffle up to front stoops to campaign. In sit-down interviews, several of them bemoaned the dysfunction in Washington, D.C., instead of concrete local issues.
Catawba District Supervisor Butch Church said he couldn’t help but smile as he listened to the candidates debate at a recent tea party forum.
“My perception was totally different when I won and then took the position,” Church said. “When I got into office, I quickly realized that things weren’t really like I thought they were.”
It takes the average supervisor about 18 months to grow accustomed to the pace and politics of county governing, he said, then years to understand the depth of work done on the departmental level.
Church and Supervisor Charlotte Moore are the only two members of the board with guaranteed seats until 2015.
“It’s not all about winning an election,” Moore advised. “It should always be about what we can do to lead our county into a better future.”
Vinton District unopposed
Unlike the Hollins and Windsor Hills districts, there is no race for the Republican nomination for the soon-to-be-vacated Vinton District seat on the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors.
Jason Peters, who has served on the county planning commission since 2010, is the lone Republican vying for the spot. He has been endorsed by his predecessor.
Peters, a local banker, has said he wants to focus on improving services within the county fire and rescue operations. He also has emphasized the need for greater regional cooperation on economic development projects.
In 2009, Peters was unsuccessful in his bid for a spot on the county school board.
If elected, he will inherit the seat left by Mike Altizer, who announced in March that he would not seek re-election.
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