Change or hold the course?

Published 7:22 pm Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Supervisors, challengers meet

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Four candidates vying for two seats on the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors shared their vision and ideas for the county’s future during a public forum Oct. 22.

Businessman Timmie Edwards is challenging incumbent Dick Grice for the Smithfield District seat, and retired engineer Rick Gillerlain is seeking to unseat incumbent William McCarty to represent the Newport District. 

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Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree is unopposed as he looks to begin a second term.{mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Edwards promises a “transformative experience” and equity for all if he is elected during Tuesday’s general election. 

“It’s time for a change,” said Edwards, stressing that the Board of Supervisors and School Board needed to have more candid discussions. 

“I pledge to come to you with ears open to listen,” said Edwards.

Grice recounted the goals he ran on four years ago — to diversify the tax base and to stop raising taxes to solve problems. He pointed out that there has been no real estate tax rate increase, while the debt has gone down through a restructuring process and the county’s bond rating has increased. The Board has also struck a deal with Smithfield to swap water and share IT services, and has achieved a good working relationship with the town. 

“Open turf wars were common and today we’re working together for the betterment of services,” he said. 

Gillerlain said his four years on the Planning Commission was a “training ground” for being on the Board of Supervisors. He also highlighted his 40 years as a mechanical engineer and how those skills would be an asset on the Board. 

“What you do not have is a technical person,” said Gillerlain of the current Board members. 

And along with his technical expertise, Gillerlain said he is also a good listener. 

“I’m not just logical. I hear the passion in people’s voices,” he said. 

McCarty listed the Board’s accomplishments over the past four years, to include changing the county administration, getting the Board meetings streamed live on Facebook and reducing the stormwater fee by 25 percent. McCarty wants to create a “citizen’s portal” through the county’s website so residents can access all of their information. 

“The voice of the people is a very integral part of this system,” he said. 

Between opening and closing statements, the candidates answered questions provided by the public. Highlights included future challenges, growth, taxes, bringing new business to Isle of Wight and adding two more members to the Board as part of the upcoming 2020 census. 

Biggest challenge 

All four candidates agreed that building new schools to replace aging facilities, as well as to address growth in the northern end of the county was the biggest challenge facing the Board of Supervisors in the near future. 

McCarty pointed out that the county also has a rapidly aging population that also needs to be addressed. 


To manage growth in the northern end of Isle of Wight, Edwards proposes a concentrated effort between the Board, residents and VDOT. 

“Take care of the tax price with them joining us,” said Edwards, adding that businesses need to come to Isle of Wight. However, with more growth, he can see the tax rate increase. 

Grice is in favor of managed growth, but believes there needs to be a way to create a time frame for the various projects coming online. The county can’t plan for schools and public safety services if it doesn’t have an idea when these already approved developments will begin construction, he said. 

Gillerlain said no one likes the rapid growth, particularly in the northern end of Isle of Wight. The Board needs to guide where the development goes, as well as plan better and smarter. 

“People are not revenue,” he said. 

McCarty said the county came up with the Development Service District concept many years ago as a tool to preserve the county’s rural character and wants to continue targeting growth in those areas. He pointed out that the draft comprehensive plan does not include an increase in the size of the DSDs and is still a work in progress. 


Edwards said property values went up and that was a tax increase. He also said that while the current Board inherited a lot of debt, “you cannot get out of debt by charging.” 

Grice said the way to keep the tax rate stable is to go through the budget line by line and make staff justify each expense. He also pointed out that the Board has borrowed just twice during the past four years and that was for the school division’s career and technical education program and the new E911 radio system.

Gillerlain views the reassessment as a “back door tax increase,” and that the county cannot keep taxing farmers over and over. 

Isle of Wight is in the land use program, which taxes farm land based on its use, not market value, resulting in a reduced rate. 

Gillerlain applauded the Board’s progress with reducing the debt, but wonders how it will continue to reduce expenses. 

“The county has sacred cows and keeps spending there,” he said.

McCarty said the Board of Supervisors has no control over the reassessment process, and did not want to speculate on the future of the tax rate, but will work to keep it low. McCarty said the Board has reduced the debt as well as increased the reserves to 20 percent of the county’s operating budget. 

Attracting business

Edwards personally prefers the rural atmosphere, but acknowledges that younger folks want progress. 

However, “You can’t have it both ways, industrialized cities and a rural community,” he said. To attract new business, Edwards said the Board needs to have a good “moral policy.” He’s heard that business can’t deal with the Town of Smithfield.

“We will make great strides to make this a business friendly environment,” he said. 

Grice said the county has put together the largest site ready pad in the region in Isle of Wight’s intermodal park and it is being aggressively marketed. Isle of Wight is also working with the Peninsula localities, as well as Franklin and Southampton to attract new business to the region. However, no one is building new retail stores, he said. 

“Everything is online. That dynamic is changing and we have to adjust to it,” he said. 

Grice said the county has held a contractor’s forum to get feedback from the construction community, as well as hired a consultant to improve the county’s image in terms of being business friendly. 

Gillerlain believes the Route 17 corridor is a good location to promote new business, particularly given the number of people who drive through the area each day. He suggested the county look at traffic studies as a way to show business the advantage of that area. He also thinks the county should use incentives and treat all businesses alike. 

McCarty said the challenge is increasing broadband access in the county. However, businesses also look at rooftops when making location decisions, and at the same time, Isle of Wight has no control over major transportation decisions. 

McCarty said reducing the stormwater fee and loosening regulations on signs has made it easier for businesses in Isle of Wight.

“Those two pieces of legislation impacted businesses to put money in their pockets,” he said.

7-member Board

With the upcoming 2020 census, the Board of Supervisors will again be tasked with setting up voting district boundaries, leaving open the question of whether to increase the Board’s membership from five to seven members. 

Edwards said that the Board could pull together with seven members, but could also pull apart. 

If five can’t do it, there’s room for improvement, he said.

Grice doesn’t believe that three people (on a five member Board) should have the power to carry a vote forward and is in favor of increasing the Board to seven members. He said that the Smithfield and Windsor town councils have seven members and a fraction of the size of the county’s budget. It’s better to have four decide what moves forward and what doesn’t, he said. 

Gillerlain said the problem with seven members is that it would heavily weight the more populous northern end of Isle of Wight. It could cause the northern end to take control of the county, he said. 

McCarty said seven members would better represent the county, but wants to know what the residents want to do. Ask the residents whether five or seven members would work, he said. 

The forum was sponsored by the Isle of Wight County Citizens’ Association, the Southern Isle of Wight AARP, the Isle of Wight NAACP, the Carrollton Civic League and the Southern and Central Isle of Wight Citizens’ Group.  {/mprestriction}