ELECTION 2018 | HARRISONBURG CITY COUNCIL

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November 02, 2018
ELECTION 2018 | HARRISONBURG CITY COUNCIL
 
Harrisonburg voters will be asked to select two members of City Council from among five candidates when they go to the polls Tuesday. Among the five, only one — Democrat Chris Jones — is an incumbent, while just one other —independent Carolyn Frank — has held previous elected office.
Jones, 39, is an account executive at WHSV-TV3 who is seeking a second, four year term on the five-member council. Frank, the city’s first woman mayor, served two nonconsecutive four-year council terms before losing a re-election bid in 2010. She is a retired communications technician for Verizon.
They are vying with newcomers Sal Romero, a Democrat, and independents Frank McMillan and Paloma Saucedo. Romero, 40, is coordinator of family and community engagement for Harrisonburg City Public Schools; McMillan, 54, is district manager for Kelly Services; and Saucedo, 38, is the former executive director of the Valley AIDS Network.
The Daily News-Record asked each of the candidates about their reasons for running and issues that they believe are most pressing for the city.
 
Here are their responses:


Carolyn Frank
Q: Why are you running for this seat?
A: I’m concerned the city is becoming unaffordable to senior citizens, young families and small businesses. Wages and incomes are not keeping pace with increases in taxes and services. Harrisonburg has wonderful amenities which attract many people to our community to live, work and retire. Our future quality of life will be compromised if the current trends in revenues and expenditures are not addressed. It is urgent we return to fiscal responsible policies. Experienced leadership is needed to put the city back on a path of financial sustainability.
Q: What are the biggest issues facing the city and how would you approach them?
A: Massive debt, big expensive projects in the pipeline, limited borrowing power and a looming downgrade in our bond rating threaten the financial health of our city, citizens and businesses. The city is on the State watch list as a bankruptcy risk. The city must critically examine spending and implement innovative, appropriate and affordable solutions now. We need options we can afford that will keep us financially solvent. A domino effect of high taxes pushing businesses and citizens out of the city, will results in more high taxes and an exodus from the city.
Q: Do you support the timeline approved by City Council earlier this year to build a second high school to open in 2023 instead of 2021 as requested
by the School Board?
A: Yes. According to the HH2Now questionnaire given to each candidate, school growth will not only demand a new high school, but a new middle school during the tenure of newly elected council members. Since 2016, Virginia has proposed initiatives to overhaul high school education beginning in the fall of 2018 with multiple paths to graduation. Seat time is going to be replaced with flexibility to award credits to students who get internships, apprenticeships, or earn industry certifications. These options need to be addressed in our long- range school plans.
Q: Would you vote in favor of increasing the real estate property tax by 15 cents per $ 100 of assessed value to pay for the new school?
A: No. 25% of the city’s real estate is tax exempt, the 37% city homeowners have seen an increase, already of 26 cents per $ 100 in 7 years, with some residents seeing a 57% increase in their tax bill with increased assessment. City services have increased as well. Many of the city’s taxpayers cannot afford another large tax increase. We need affordable solutions that are economically viable. We need a tax rate that attracts businesses, retirees, and first- time homebuyers to the city, not push them out to the county. Bankrupting the city is not a solution.



Chris Jones
Q: Why are you running for this seat?
A: I am seeking re-election because a significant amount of residents, business owners, students, nonprofit organizations, and members of the faith based community believe I am a good conduit between them and local government. They believe in my ability to convey their request/ needs to city staff and to follow through until they come to fruition or are modified according to our city staff’s ability to deliver.
Q: What are the biggest issues facing the city and how would you approach them?
A: There are four primary issues facing our city.
PUBLIC EDUCATION: Partner with our school board and parents to establish a proactive plan that budgets for space and money with contingencies to handle potential overcrowding issues. Public education is a quality investment when planned for intentionally. In the recent past, we have been reactive and operating under a negative mindset that our schools are a financial burden. Overcrowded schools are unsafe and costly. We must end overcrowding at our high school quickly and efficiently.
HELPING THOSE WITH LESS RESOURCE: Partner with local agencies and nonprofit organizations to help our neighbors with less resources. 26% of our neighbors are at the poverty line or below. 39% of our neighbors are asset limited income constrained and employed or A.L.I.C.E. It is imperative we press economic development for high paying “blue collar jobs” and “white collar jobs” with training opportunities.
RECYCLING. We must hire a Sustainability Coordinator. We need a dedicated person to ensure Harrisonburg is working to waste less, has a recycling program, along with energy-efficient buildings and vehicles.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM. We must hire a Community Criminal Justice Planner. This person would aggressively work to reduce the poverty to prison pipeline. Their major focus would be establishing programs to reduce repeat offenders.
Q: Do you support the timeline approved by City Council earlier this year to build a second high school to open in 2023 instead of 2021 as requested by the School Board?
A: I have been very vocal about building the second high school sooner rather than later. It’s unfortunate that current high school students have to deal with the issues that are created with an overcrowded high school. In my opinion, the delaying of this project from to 2023 versus 2021 was insensitive to our current and future high school students, their parents, teachers, and the administration.
Q: Would you vote in favor of increasing the real estate property tax by 15 cents per $100 of assessed value to pay for the new school?
A: If re-elected I would research with our city manager and city council to find ways and means to reduce other taxes and fees paid by residents to offset the cost of the tax increase associated with building and operating a new school. Reducing the meals tax and reducing the personal property tax would be two places to start.


Frank McMillan
Q: Why are you running for this seat?
A: I am running for City Council to address long-term sustainability problems facing our community and specifically, I am running for this seat because I believe it is unethical that a member of council would vote to raise taxes on senior citizens and low-income families while neglecting to pay their own personal taxes.
Q: What are the biggest issues facing the city and how would you approach them?
A: The biggest issue facing our city is the long- term sustainability of providing quality city services. We must provide a first- class education to our young people, this includes giving a raise to our school teachers. We absolutely must address the overcrowding issue at HHS. While facing these issues, we must beware of the fiscal stress being put on our residents from high taxation and poor business policies. If we do not pay attention to our finances, the quality of our services will diminish. The ethics issue surrounding members of the current council must be addressed with the formation of a Citizen Ethics Panel, so that we do not have any such issues with city council members in the future.
Q: Do you support the timeline approved by City Council earlier this year to build a second- high school to open in 2023 instead of 2021 as requested by the School Board?
A: Democratic Councilman Richard Baugh proposed the plan to open Harrisonburg High School #2 in 2023 and I support his well thought out decision, because it provides enough time for city debt to roll off the books. I support building the high school for our kids. In the mean time we need to look at ways to lower the total number of overcrowded students that are in the high school now. We need to send more of them to MTC and to work with Blue Ridge Community College through the dual enrollment program. If we do this now we might wipe out 50% of the overcrowding until the new school is built. If we say we care we need to move now to do whatever we can to fix this. This has been a problem for many years with but with no action plan put in place to resolve the overcrowding, other than to add trailers.
Q: Would you vote in favor of increasing the real estate property tax by 15 cents per $100 of assessed value to pay for the new school?
A: These tax increases, supported by Councilman Jones, are not good policy for working families. We must pay for the school, but there will be tough decisions to be made with our budget so we do not have to increase taxes to the degree Councilman Jones proposes behind closed doors.


Sal Romero
Q: Why are you running for this seat?
A: I’m running for Harrisonburg City Council because we have as many excellent opportunities as we have pressing challenges ahead of us in our rapidly growing and evolving city. With my experience, I’ll bring a collaborative, hands-on approach to local government and problem- solving. I’ll help ensure our Council continues to be reflective of our diverse community. What’s important to me and so many people I hear from are education, inclusiveness, and the promotion of engagement for smart, healthy growth for our city.
Q: What are the biggest issues facing the city and how would you approach them?
A: Our issues are also our opportunities. As the Coordinator of Family and Community Engagement for Harrisonburg City Public Schools, I worked on the High School Space Study Committee and I work in the current high school every day. The overcrowding is putting serious stress on the quality of our academics. This is the opportunity we have to invest in the future of our students, who are our future workers, future leaders, and the future of our city. It’s the smartest investment we can make and continues our long history of prioritizing our children, families, schools and teachers.
We also have to prioritize our economic development opportunities — and we need to ensure they’re opportunities for all. We can foster the leadership of our residents by promoting increased civic involvement. We’ve built a hardworking, productive community and we should be proud. By continuing to encourage each other to cooperatively find solutions to our challenges, we’ll retain and attract new businesses and residents, create healthy economic growth, and maintain our high educational standards.
Q: Do you support the timeline approved by City Council earlier this year to build a second high school to open in 2023 instead of 2021 as requested by the School Board?
A: I’m committed to building our new high school as soon as possible. As a City Council member, I will be dedicated to making sure we continue working with our School Board towards the most cost-effective, timely high school possible.
Q: Would you vote in favor of increasing the real estate property tax by 15 cents per $100 of assessed value to pay for the new school?
A: Limiting any required tax increases for residents is the goal I’ll pursue with City Council and City Staff. We can both prioritize building a new high school for our children, as we’ve done in the past, and prioritize lessening any tax burden for residents — especially those who are most financially vulnerable. This is the approach I would take.


Paloma Saucedo
Q: Why are you running for this seat?
A: I am running because I love and care about Harrisonburg and the people in it. My vision is of a city that is just and fair, where all people have quality of life. I am running to move to the center the voices of people who feel unheard in our city. I will prioritize the ten issues in my platform to move our city in the direction of inclusivity, sustainability, and care for every member of our community. As a leader and educator, I want our children, immigrants, black and brown people, and the poor to see an ally in City Council.
Q: What are the biggest issues facing the city and how would you approach them?
A: As a top priority I want to alleviate our overcrowded high school by building a new school as soon as possible. Another problem is high incarceration levels. If we do not decrease the number of incarcerated individuals in our city we will, once again, be faced with an overcrowded jail. The city’s unequal distribution of resources through infrastructure and investment projects in different neighborhoods needs to change. Affordable housing and housing inflation problems, Q: Do you support the timeline approved by City Council earlier this year to build a second high school to open It is important to keep our community informed, and increase the capacity/ accountability of the institutions that are responsible for implementing the most needed changes. pay for the new school?
A: Yes. Investing in the future of our children is critically important. I would make this decision as part of an overall revaluation of how the city prioritizes some projects. I’d also like to shift the conversation towards looking at our utility expenses for our city residents. It is my understanding that most residents’ financial burden incurred from the city does not come from property taxes, rather utility fees. There is a narrative being amplified by larger land holders in our city that propagates fear about increased property taxes.