Fiscal Surplus, Water Rates, Charter School Among Topics at Middleburg Candidates Forum

The 10 candidates vying to lead the Town of Middleburg faced off in an April 11 meet-the-candidates forum at the community center.

Hosted by the Middleburg Eccentricnewspaper, the program featured a panel of the six Town Council candidates and another for the three men running for the mayor’s seat in the May 1 town elections.

Candidates cited concerns about the town’s water quality and water rates, its economic dependence on tourism, the need to better support and attract businesses, the county School Board’s plan to divest the Middleburg Charter School property, and support for enacting higher environmental standards for construction.

For the first time in 26 years, the town has a contested mayoral race. Councilmen Mark Snyder and Trowbridge Littleton are on the ballot along with Vincent Bataoel. Mayor Betsy Davis, 65, will not run for a seventh consecutive term. The council candidates include incumbents Darlene Kirk, Kevin Hazard and Peter Leonard-Morgan along with Chris Bernard, Kristin Noggle, Cindy Pearson and “Mimi” Dale Stein.

A key discussion among the mayoral candidates was the town’s budget reserves. Bataoel advocated scaling them back, and using some of the accumulated reserves to lower taxes or offer new services in town, but Snyder and Littleton recommended against that. Snyder, who has served on the council since 1998, said he remembered a time when the town almost went bankrupt. Littleton said that, while the town has had strong economic performance in recent years, much of the budget depends on the luxury tourism market—among the first sectors to decline when the economic slows.

A downturn could hit the town’s budget quickly and hard, he said, citing the need for a rainy day fund. “It is critical that we protect these reserves,” Littleton said.

Candidates for both mayor and council talked about concerns that water rates are high, but most agreed that little could be done about them. Revenue from the water system covers only about 65 percent of its cost, with taxes and fees from the General Fund being used to keep rates as low as they are.

Candidates who are longtime town residents noted that the system has been greatly improved with much better water quality, however there is still work to do, including replacing aging pipes in some areas of town.

Kirk noted that she’s lived through periods when residents had to boil water, when they had brown water and when they had no water at all. Today, the utility system is well-managed, she said. Littleton and Snyder said the water system was the town’s most important service and not an area to shortchange.

Some, including Bataoel and Hazard, said the town could look at ways to reduce bills for residents on fixed incomes. Noggle suggested looking for ways to better promote water conservation, which will reduce bills.

The most agreement came when the council candidates discussed the importance of the Middleburg Community Charter School. They opposed plans by the School Board to declare the property to be surplus in hopes of turning the maintenance costs over to the county government, town government or another organization. It’s the county’s oldest school building still in operation and was converted to Loudoun’s first public charter school in 2014 after School Board members pressed to shut down the elementary school. Candidates note that the school was not only important for area students, but also serves as an economic stimulus in town. They agreed that the town government shouldn’t be the landlord for the property and that pressure should be put on the School Board to retain it.

A video of the full forum can be viewed here.

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