Embattled supervisors defends controversial decisions
By Diana McFarlandNews editor
Candidates for the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors fielded questions on water, growth, a bike trail and more, while the lone and embattled incumbent defended a list of unpopular decisions and actions.
Three seats are up for grabs on the five-member board. Vying for the Newport District seat are Carrollton activist Albert Burckard and pastor William McCarty. In Smithfield, businessman Dick Grice is taking on former Smithfield Town Council member and community project manager Lawrence Pitt. And in Windsor, Carrollton Fire Chief Joel Acree is challenging incumbent Dee Dee Darden.
The well-attended forum was held Monday evening at The Smithfield Center.
The most numerous questions, moderated by The Smithfield Times Editor and Publisher John Edwards, centered on the Norfolk water deal and the proposed water line to Gatling Pointe. Candidates responded to questions on a revolving basis.
All candidates, except Darden, took issue with the proposed water line to Gatling Pointe, and the alleged reason behind it – the Norfolk water deal.
Grice objects to taking on debt to build a water line to a development that is already served by Smithfield. Instead, he wants to focus energy on attracting a heavy water user to the intermodal park to make up for deficits imposed by the Norfolk water deal. Grice said, however, that the water deal itself is a good insurance policy for the future, but a task force needs to be formed to resolve its use and the county needs to stop using it as a “political football.”
Pitt said the most egregious action by the Board right now is that it’s turned a deaf ear to residents concerning the water line to Gatling Pointe, which is unpopular. He was concerned that while ISLE 2040 was defeated, the Board still plans to move forward with the water line. He also took issue with the lack of plans for a sewer line to Gatling Pointe. As for the Norfolk water deal, he believes all contracts can be broken or renegotiated and so can this one.
Burckard pointed out that he and Pitt, along with a few other residents, have already taken legal action against the proposed water line and the court petition is still viable. He calls the water line “silly” because Gatling Pointe is already served by the town of Smithfield. He’s also in favor of renegotiating the water deal, which he said was signed in better economic times but those times have changed.
McCarty said there was a “great disconnect” between the Board of Supervisors and the town of Smithfield that allowed this situation to develop with the water line. He asked if the supervisors had asked the Gatling Pointe residents if they wanted to build and pay for a water line.
“It’s a very sad day when constituents have to come together to sue a community,” he said, referring to the petition to stop the water line. As for the water deal, McCarty said the contract was written in a way that the average person can’t understand it, and therefore, they don’t want to hear about it.
Acree said the water line to Gatling Pointe doesn’t make sense when there are other needs in the county and they already have water. He wondered what the real agenda was and were there things that residents were not being told. Acree wants the Board to work harder at getting the water deal renegotiated.
Darden said she’s no fan of the water deal, but it’s forced the county into the utility business, and currently, a good portion of the real estate tax goes into paying for water that is not yet being used. The county needs to make up the revenue loss with more customers. She said the Board has had outside attorneys look at the water deal. She said they determined it would cost a good deal of money to change, and there’s the risk of being sued by the cities of Suffolk or Norfolk. And with the uncertainty of ground water permits through the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the water deal ensures that “we will have a supply of water in the future.”
Fire and rescue volunteers
Candidates were asked about their views on the recent dispute over the facilities use agreement and what they would do to encourage new volunteers.
Grice said it was “actually embarrassing” what the county did to the volunteer fire departments during the process of agreeing on the facilities use agreement. Isle of Wight needs to encourage and reward people, not treat them “like fools and defund the volunteers.”
Pitt said the board had good intentions to standardize operations, but failed to realize that the stations were different and needed to take that into account. Volunteers should be rewarded with praise and not given a hard time, he said.
McCarty was personally grateful for the fire and rescue volunteers and didn’t think tax dollars should be used as a contract-leveraging tool. Young people should be encouraged to get involved, he said.
Acree said his station did much of the final construction work on its facility itself after the Board bowed out years ago. He said that if his station had a lock and key multi-million dollar building like the Smithfield Volunteer Fire Department and Isle of Wight Rescue Squad, they would have signed the agreement too.
Burckard, who is also a Carrollton volunteer, said the volunteers need to have their faith restored in the county, and the Board should look at other localities such as Virginia Beach to see how they attract volunteers.
Darden said losing volunteers is not new and most stations have paid career fire and rescue workers. She admitted mistakes were made during the facilities use agreement process.
She blamed “a lot of bullheadedness on both parts” and added she wasn’t aware of the history of the Carrollton station, but that work is now being done on the county’s fire and rescue facilities.
“That’s why we wanted to be fair and equitable.”
All candidates, except Darden, were against spending money to build a bike trail from Smithfield to Nike Park, and all were against using eminent domain to obtain property.
Darden pointed to the bike trail in James City County and Williamsburg as an example, and said this was a recreational project the county is trying to finish. She said the Board only voted to use eminent domain as a “last resort” because they (property owners) failed to respond to our request.”
Acree said the bike trail was nice, but not a need and was against taking private property to build a trail for “outsiders.” Who defines “last resort?” he asked.
McCarty said it’s necessary to have things for young people to do, but at the same time, he understands the difference between a luxury and a need. He also objects to the use of eminent domain for a bike trail.
“If the government comes in there and takes your property, what stops them from taking your car, from taking your house?” he said.
Grice and Pitt questioned the reasoning behind building a bike trail on a road slated for expansion, as well as a water line. They, along with Burckard, objected to using eminent domain to build a bike trail. Burckard was opposed to building something for tourists when there are plenty of country roads available for cyclists.
Growth and ISLE 2040
Candidates were asked about the push for growth in the Newport Development Service District and the failed ISLE 2040 plan.
Acree didn’t see the sense in building a lot of multi-family units that would become rentals, but said it would be nice to have the tax revenue from new business.
Darden said ISLE 2040 was an aggressive approach that was voted down by the Board after it listened to the residents. She said the zoning is still in place for big boxes like Walmart and Lowes, but the county needs a mix of residential before retail will come to Isle of Wight.
McCarty was concerned that ISLE 2040 was hatched before the residents were heard, and the county based part of its plan on a survey that only reached about 300 people.
Burckard said the Carrollton Civic League, of which he was the former president, led the opposition to ISLE 2040, and that the problem with the plan was that it put all future population growth in the Newport Development Service District. The Newport DSD already has nearly 2,000 already approved lots so ISLE 2040 didn’t make any sense, he said.
Pitt is concerned that ISLE 2040 is not dead because the Board is forging ahead with the water line to Gatling Pointe. He pointed out that developers usually pay for utility lines, not residents, and the “paradigm is upside down.”
Grice said the focus should be on developing the intermodal park and residential housing in the Windsor area.
Route 460 bypass
Candidates were asked their views on the proposed northern bypass of Route 460.
Acree said no one supports the northern bypass and the county should listen to the residents and not make it easy for the state.
Darden said she wasn’t a fan of the northern bypass, but it was the only option provided. The Board supported it to get needed access to the intermodal park and Route 258.
“For Isle of Wight County, it’s all about economic development,” she said.
McCarty said he doesn’t know enough about Route 460 to give an educated answer. But he is bothered by the fixation on only one option, but maybe it’s not be explained properly.
Burckard is opposed to the northern bypass and doesn’t think the Board should support it because it sends a message to the state that Isle of Wight likes it when the residents do not.
Pitt said the southern route was the only one that made sense and the northern route is going to go through expensive farms and wetlands. The county should turn to state representatives for assistance.
Grice is also opposed to the northern bypass, but have heard it’s not going to get funded or built anyway. Need to talk with Windsor officials about alternatives.
Candidates were asked if they thought the county administration, rather than the Board, ran the county, and if it mattered whether or not top administrators lived in Isle of Wight.
Darden said she doesn’t care where someone sleeps as long as they do their job. It’s not the job of the Board of Supervisors to micromanage the county — that’s why they hire a county administrator and attorney, she said. People say the board is following along behind County Administrator Anne Seward, but maybe some of her ideas have been good, maybe not, she said.
McCarty said perception is reality and if there’s a disconnect, it’s not the county administrator’s problem, it’s the leaders that are at fault.
Acree said there’s a certain amount of arrogance among staff that assumes items will be approved if they make a recommendation for it. The responsibility should lie with the Board, he said.
Grice said the Board has found it convenient to give its authority to the administration, but they are the elected officials and should not rubber stamp everything.
Pitt said residents ask who is running the county, and it appears it’s the county administrator and she’s not elected.
“We can’t fire the county administrator as citizens, only the Board of Supervisors can do that, but we can vote out the Board of Supervisors,” he said.
All of the challengers said the top-level county staffers should live in Isle of Wight County.
All of the challengers supported returning to a seven days a week operation for the county’s convenience centers. McCarty said he a plan that would do that and save labor costs. Darden said the change in hours was to save money, but would like to see McCarty’s plan
“Little ideas turn into big dollars and this was one of them,” she said of the reduced hours that were enacted as a cost saving measure.