About 80 people gathered in Patrick Henry College’s Hodel Center on Tuesday to hear from Purcellville Mayor Kwasi Fraser and all four Town Council candidates running in the May 1 town election.
The Purcellville Business Association hosted the forum. Speaking at the event along with Fraser were Town Council candidates Tip Stinnette, Joel Grewe, Steve Warfield and Councilman Ted Greenly. Purcellville Business Association President Mary Gayle Holden said Chris Thompson, who is challenging Fraser in the mayoral election, could not attend the forum because of a medical emergency.
Holden led the forum by asking the candidates the same eight questions, which related to current areas of concern among businesses and residents.
One of the most relevant topics, given the current budget season, is the proposed 2-cent real estate tax rate increase that was advertised by Interim Town Manager John Anzivino early last month—up from 22 to 24 cents per $100 of assessed value. Although the increase was advertised before his budget presentation last month, Anzivino’s proposed budget did not include the increase.
Fraser said that a proposed increase would be a “contingency plan.” He also mentioned that the draft budget has a recommended half-cent decrease in the Fireman’s Field tax, from 3.5 to 3 cents. “We are reducing taxes,” he said.
The candidates were also asked about the new Fireman’s Field management and the concern that community members and businesses could face higher user fees as a result. Fraser said the goal in signing a contract with Shaun Alexander Enterprises and Play to Win to manage the complex was to “drive more revenue through programs and advertisement.”
The candidates also talked about spreading the tax burden between residents and businesses. Stinnette said he supported a reduction in both the town’s business taxes and the meals tax, which is the highest among Loudoun’s towns at 5 percent.
“My whole thing is about having a sustainable small community,” he said. “Business drives that word, ‘sustainable.’”
Warfield, on the other hand, said the meals tax should remain stable, since it’s a way for nonresidents to pay for services in town—keeping property taxes lower. He also said that town water rates need to be addressed because revenue generated from the fees covers less than 50 percent of the system as a whole.
Holden also asked about the town’s operational audit, which is set to begin in late May. While not directly related to the Town Hall turmoil that has resulted in a series of manager suspensions and outside investigations—with a price tag of $437,112 so far—it is expected to aid the new town manager who begins work next week and the next Town Council.
While Fraser said that the audit would establish a baseline for future government operations, Stinnette said it was long overdue.
“This operational audit could have been something that we did four years ago,” Stinnette said. “We need to uncover all the bad news and the good news, figure out what we’re doing right, what we’re doing wrong.”
When asked about Main Street congestion and whether the town has plans to address it, Greenly pointed to the county’s proposed Rt. 7/Rt. 690 interchange, which he said would be vital to alleviating the congestion. “Right now, the first thing on the agenda would be to get that interchange.”
Fraser agreed, noting that the town’s Comprehensive Plan includes a requirement to perform a traffic study for the project.
“Those who fail to plan, plan to fail,” he said. “We will accelerate the Rt. 7/690 interchange.”
When the candidates briefly discussed utility projects, Fraser emphasized that every project needs resident input. Grewe agreed, saying that his first and foremost priority is to take care of town residents. “Functionally, I have to be responsible for people in the town,” he said. “Purcellville is a functioning nexus for Western Loudoun.”
At the end of the forum, when Holden opened the floor for final comments, two candidates referenced three other town issues. As Stinnette discussed dysfunction in town government, a “diffused strategy for engaging with encroachment,” and a disconnected community, Warfield touched on traffic, turmoil in the town government and high taxes.
Fraser, who’s seeking a third term in the town’s top position, referenced the $130 million in assets that the town owns and how the Town Council plans to eventually generate revenue from it all. He also said that, four years ago, when he was first elected as mayor, the town had $61 million in debt and that it now has $55 million thanks to a debt restructuring that was completed late last year.