- Last Updated on 07:39 AM 10/25/13
- BY The Gazette-Virginian
Two candidates for the Halifax County Board of Supervisors vying to represent Election District 6 — Larry Giordano and John Voss — faced off during a Candidates Forum Tuesday night at the Turbeville Ruritan Club.
The two challengers, who are seeking the position currently held by E. Wayne Conner, offered their opinions on uranium mining, forestal districts, education, taxes and the Halifax County courthouse project.
When asked to name their “hot button” issues, the two candidates responded candidly.
Giordano said he preferred not to have simply one hot button issue because “there of course are many issues facing Halifax County.”
He pointed out the many positives of Halifax County including The Prizery, the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, wonderfully restaurants, a beautiful countryside for crops or cattle, a museum, a place on the Southern Virginia Wine Trail, Berry Hill, accessibility to major cities and world-class healthcare, VIR, area NASCAR tracks and an Industrial Development Authority committed to attracting new businesses and assisting businesses already here.
“These are our gems, and we should highlight them and work them into the vision for the future of Halifax County. We’re a community with deep roots, and we have pride in this county and its history and rightly so,” Giordano said.
He said he believes citizens are at a critical point here in Halifax County.
“The next steps we take will shape the future of this county. My vision is for us to be committed to working together toward making sure our children have the education and skills that will enable them to compete in the job market and also to make sure that those jobs will be here. Yes, of course, there are many challenges ahead, and there is no magic bullet. I want Halifax County to not only be a place where people want to come and live but also a place the people who are here choose not to leave,” Giordano said.
Replying to his hot button issue, Voss said Halifax County is an agricultural based county.
“I feel strongly that the board of supervisors needs to have farmer representation. If elected, I would provide that voice. I believe in low taxes. I believe in expanding our tax base,” he said.
He pointed to the county’s Industrial Development Authority tasked with bringing industry and jobs to the county and said, “They need to be effective in their pursuit. I don’t believe government should stand in the way of your dream and your pursuit of happiness. Rather, the government should have your back. In a broad sense, this is how I would govern.”
The candidates were then asked if they supported lifting the moratorium on ag and forestal districts in Halifax County and where the county can find available sources of revenue to fund needed things to make a better Halifax County.
“I have a list here of over 50 different taxes we citizens pay directly or indirectly either every day, every year or sometime during our lifetime,” Voss said. “I don’t lie awake at night trying to figure out another way to tax the citizens. I believe the citizens should keep more money in their pockets in order to pay the taxes we are already responsible for.
“I believe the fairest tax of them all is the existing sales tax. It is collected from nearly everyone who wants to spend money at the retail level. It would be nice to be able to make changes to this rate as we, the locality sees fit. In Virginia, we have to live by the Dillon Rule, which lets Richmond set our local tax rate.”
Voss continued, “As to ag and forestry districts, I, as a landowner, am not enrolled in an AFD. I support AFDs 100 percent in the right circumstances. The purpose for them is to preserve farmland. I also realize an AFD makes the tax bill more affordable. I’m all about that. But I also feel that revenue has to come from somewhere else, and I’m not in favor of raising taxes elsewhere.
Voss said he thinks it’s important to note that acres in an AFD are assessed at land use values. It doesn’t change the tax rate.
“As a county, and this is where it becomes important, the percentage of assessed land value versus market value determines the percent of tax rate by which public utilities located in the county pay in their property taxes. Public utilities pay a very significant amount of tax dollars to the county budget,” he added.
Giordano said he supports lifting the moratorium supervisors earlier imposed on ag/forestal districts.
“We have about 93 percent county land in production. That is significant, and it generates a large portion of our tax base. We have a large taxpayer in this county who I am told pays about 40 percent of our tax burden, the power plant in Clover,” he said, continuing his answer.
He also pointed to the Dillon Rule that prohibits the county from being able to increase revenue.
“One way to increase revenue is to work with the Halifax County treasurer to collect approximately $2 million in back real estate taxes and another one million in personal property taxes,” Giordano said.
Halifax County courthouse renovations also were discussed after each of the candidates were asked if they would advocate for improved public facilities.
If elected to the board, Giordano said he would advocate for improving public facilities as needed by keeping a check on any maintenance issues so the county will not be ordered to make repairs as in the case of the courthouse in Halifax.
“The board needs to take responsibility to stay informed of the needs of our public buildings so the proper appropriations can be made,” Giordono said.
Voss pointed out that in this type of situation it’s important to be proactive.
“I would not wait for similar action by Judge Cunningham for improved public facilities. In the courthouse project, courtroom security is very high on the priority list. Once you get past the courtroom, the rest of the building has a tremendous amount of history and should be preserved through renovation,” Voss said. “You ask about taxes and county resources. How are we as a county going to pay for this? I’m sure the county will have to borrow the money.”
He said supervisors have no choice because “the county will be faced with a lawsuit if nothing is done.”
Although each candidate opposes uranium mining at Coles Hill in nearby Pittsylvania County, they offered differing views on the approach to fighting lifting the moratorium.
“The potential for an accident is too great,” Voss said. “I don’t think you can clean up a spill from a uranium tailings storage facility.
“Sure, Uranium occurs naturally. But, it’s bound up in the soil and rock beneath the surface. You’re extracting it and concentrating it on the surface. If it gets in the water, I think it’s game over. You can’t clean it up,” he added.
Voss said he lived through Hurricane Floyd in Halifax County, N.C. that dumped 36 inches of water in a 24-hour period.
“That is a lot of water. We live in a very similar environment with the potential of being in the track of a hurricane,’’ Voss said defending his stance on uranium mining.
“Public perception is as big a concern of mine as the potential of the stuff leaving the site and getting in the water. What I cannot have happen is I receive a letter in the mail saying that the animals I produce are no longer marketable because I’m within X miles of a uranium mine and because the public may see that as a threat to their food supply. Done. How do you make that phone call to the bank?” he asked.
Also opposed to uranium mining, Giordano said, “The negative effects could last a thousand years. The 350 jobs over 35 years pales in comparison. Let’s not make greed the deciding factor in this most important issue. This is not a fight that will be won or lost here in Halifax, even though it will directly affect us. In this fight against uranium mining, we have to support those who will ultimately cast the vote against mining. The threat of uranium mining is already having a negative effect on prospective buyers from out of the area,” he said.
The two also were asked if they agreed with appropriating funds to support entities that work to fight lifting the ban.
Voss said he did not agree with using taxpayer money to fund lobbying efforts and said he would vote no to appropriating money to the Virginia Coalition if he were on the board.
Giordano said it has been brought to his attention it may be against the law to send money from a community or board of supervisors to a private organization that will be used to lobby state officials.
He said if the money were to go to a lobbying group that community was to hire then he would be “all for it.”
ED-6 supervisor candidates were asked their opinions on how the county can produce the amount of revenues needed to fund education while keeping real-estate taxes comparable to neighboring counties.
“We need to give our children a solid foundation education to insure they will be successful if they choose to go on to college or to give them strong vocational training or advanced computer skill courses that will allow them to compete in today’s job market,” Giordano said.
“I visited Halifax High Schools Ag Program. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of activities in that program. Of course education needs funding,” Giordano said. “We don’t want to raise taxes to do it. We can’t raise taxes when people are losing their jobs, and businesses are closing. This would burden the residents of Halifax County even more. We must search for alternatives,” he said.
Giordano referred to a previous statement he had made concerning the county being owed $3 million in back taxes.
“If there is a way the board can assist the treasurer in some way to collect these funds, that would certainly help some of our funding issues,” he said.
The board of supervisors should look at each department to see where we can use available funds more wisely, Giordano added.
Voss pointed out the school budget for 2014 fiscal year is roughly $57 million, and the county is providing $13 million from the general fund.
“We spend a significant amount of money on public education. The $13 million of funding in 2014 is the most since 2011.
“I believe low tax rates help create a business-friendly environment. I believe higher taxes become unproductive and punitive. What I don’t want to see is landowners having to sell off a piece of the farm that has been in the family for generations in order to pay the taxes,” he said.
“I don’t think the county should be asked to loan money interest free and then be asked to have the loan forgiven,” Voss said referring to a $60,000 loan made to The Prizery in September 2012.
“A loan is a loan is a loan is a loan. By it’s very nature, a loan has terms as to how the money is to be repaid. If it’s not to be repaid, then it’s a gift. I make loan payments every month of every year. I’m responsible for those payments and am disciplined enough to make them on time,” Voss said.
The two candidates were asked what topic they would like to address during the forum that had not been asked.
“I absolutely love the idea of building a USDA inspected slaughter facility here in the county,” Voss said. “I want to see ag development aggressively move forward with this project. This kind of facility would give a producer the option to further diversify the farm and create value, and more importantly, over time create wealth. It would help make the tax bill more affordable,” Voss said.
“I believe delinquent taxes are a real issue. There is a list of delinquent taxes posted on the county’s website homepage. I don’t believe this list does enough or goes far enough in collecting delinquent taxes. A lot of the folks listed here are on this list year in and year out. They thumb their nose at it. It’s a significant amount of money. I would like to see more done in getting this money collected.”
Giordano said he wished to discuss a master plan for the county.
For a community this size major improvements have been made over the 14 years he has lived here.
“A vision for the entire county is I believe appropriate as we move forward,” Giordano said.
“The input of residents is invaluable to help make their community a great place to live. A long-term commitment by the board of supervisors and master plan would make Halifax County an even better place to live. This would be an achievement all could be proud of.”
Voss closed thanking relatives for their support during the campaign and to those who helped place his name on the ballot.
“I can tell you, the citizens of district 6, that, if elected, I would give the responsibility of representing you on the board of supervisors, 100 percent effort. I believe you get out of something as much as you put into it. Communication is also important. I would like to conduct meetings periodically throughout the district in order to listen to concerns and discuss issues that are important to you.
“Obviously, other means of communication are also available either through a phone call or an email,” he said.
“Agriculture is the number one industry in Halifax County,” Voss said. “Manufacturing is also important. It’s the second largest industry in the county. The Riverstone Technology Park and the Industrial Park are located in this district. We need to support them as much as well.”
In his closing statement Giordano said he is committed to working for the best interests of Halifax County.
“I bring much experience to the table. I have been a business owner for many years, and I have served on the board of elections in New Jersey and also on the board of directors for local regional theater as well as many other civic organizations,” he said. “I have the time energy and experience required to affect meaningful change here. I am not tied to any special interest group nor do I have ties to any industry.”
He ended by say his goal, if elected to the board of supervisors, is to be good for Halifax County and make Halifax County great.