Scott K. York and James G. Kelly said their top priorities would be to limit development, but they disagreed about how to do it. Dale Polen Myers, meanwhile, said ensuring the quality of Loudoun schools as the county grows would be her highest priority.
So went Tuesday night's debate among candidates for Loudoun County's top elected post, chairman of the Board of Supervisors.
The debate, held in the supervisors' meeting room in Leesburg, was one in a continuing series sponsored by Loudoun's League of Women Voters and the Sterling Foundation in advance of the Nov. 2 election.
Before an audience of about 60 people, Myers and Kelly both repeatedly criticized York, who is viewed as the frontrunner, having soundly defeated Myers in the Republican primary and raised far more more money since the primary than either of his opponents. Myers, the incumbent, filed to run as an independent after her primary defeat. Kelly also is running as an independent.
York described an agenda that included asking lawmakers in Richmond to approve several measures that would allow the county to exert more control over the pace of development and to collect more money from developers. Loudoun, the fastest growing county in the Washington area, is adding 1,000 residents a month, and York said taxpayers should not be left to pay the bill for new schools and other facilities for the new residents.
"When you are growing at a rate of 8 percent, we cannot keep up with the services necessary to support your people and your children without increasing taxes," York said. "We need to find ways to slow the growth and to find ways for the development community to pay their fair share of the cost of these facilities."
Kelly said York's agenda relies too heavily on persuading the General Assembly to give Loudoun permission to enact growth control measures. Kelly said he supported changing planning documents to reduce the number of houses that could be built as well as downzoning portions of the county to allow fewer houses per acre. He said those steps could be taken immediately without special approval from lawmakers.
"Mr. York's campaign platform is primarily a wish list of things he wants from Richmond," Kelly said. "This is an attempt to justify why, after [York's] eight years of being in a position to manage growth, growth hasn't been managed."
Myers said her efforts to lure business to the county have saved taxpayers money because the taxes paid by those businesses are helping keep down residential property taxes. Myers also said the next board needes to focus on education.
"The children are here. Do not be confused," Myers said. "The question is how do we make sure that we take care of all our children. . . . It takes a board chairman that can work with everyone. Not one that's divisive. Not one that will only work with only certain groups because of being afraid of being seen with others."
On the education issue, Kelly said that reducing the growth rate would improve schools and leave more money to increase salaries. He said he would not tolerate animosity between the School Board and supervisors. The two boards have repeatedly clashed in recent years over budget issues. Supervisors set the amount of money that will be turned over to the School Board, which decides how to spend it.
York pledged to foster a better relationship between supervisors and the School Board. He called on the two boards to meet regularly and said Myers had not done enough to smooth relations. "This board has to work with the school system," York said.
A committee of the School Board and supervisors meets when the budgets are being prepared. York is not on that committee, but Myers criticized him for failing to attend meetings. "Mr. York never attended one of those meetings," Myers said.
Myers and York said they would work to get more state tax dollars returned to Loudoun. All three candidates talked about reworking the county's land-use plans.
Myers also said she wanted to take a second look at development plans for towns in western Loudoun to see whether they should be scaled back to allow fewer houses. She said she wanted to reevaluate "rural villages," a style of development that clusters new housing on a portion of property in exchange for preserving the rest as open space; developers are allowed to build more houses than they could otherwise in exchange for preserving open space. She said she would support a measure that would allow the county to shut off residential development if it could not afford debt for new schools and other projects.
Kelly said he supports allowing developers to transfer their development rights for property in rural western Loudoun to land in eastern Loudoun. He said that would preserve farm land in an area intended to remain rural under the county plan, concentrating construction in the east. And he said he would eliminate an affordable housing program that allows developers to build at a greater density if they provide some houses below market costs.
York said he would press lawmakers in Richmond to allow Loudoun to enact an adequate public facilities ordinance, which would allow the county to limit development in areas where there are insufficient schools and roads.
He also said he would support "impact fee" legislation that would allow the county to charge developers for every house they build.